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In few months I will join a new research center department of an excellent university in Northern America. My field is computer science and bioinformatics. This new department has mainly hired young principal investigators and scientists, all 35-40 years old.

I have visited the labs and clearly have seen the advantages of this new young environment: flow of new ideas, enthusiasm, friendly relationships, opening of mind. But I am sure there are also some flaws of this situation.

So I am asking you all: what are the main flaws, defeats, disadvantages of being part of a department lead by young principal investigators?

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You may see raw behaviors/decisions by your colleagues in such young environment. Young researchers may not have older/senior professor's experiences in both professional and daily life-style. This may have bad effect on the researchers there. But exceptions always exist and not all the young environments have similar advantages/disadvantages. –  Enthusiastic Student Aug 4 at 13:32
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I think this question is too broad: not all young PI are the same, and the age is not necessarily an adequate marker: some getting their PhD at 25 and working as a postdoc for 10 years does not work in the same way than someone working in industry until 30 and then getting a PhD. –  userxxxxx Aug 4 at 13:33
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The question is likely going to collect anecdotes, predisposing you to be more sensitive to probably unnecessarily small problems. Just keep a positive attitude, focus on enjoying the positives; the specific negatives will soon reveal themselves, if any. Also personality is not just dictated by age; you can put many 35-40 year-old PIs in a team and each of them can have a different outcome. This question is thus overly-broad. –  Penguin_Knight Aug 4 at 13:44
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I don't agree that this question is more broad than many others we have answered before. Voting to leave open. –  xLeitix Aug 4 at 13:51

1 Answer 1

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Some of the disadvantages of young professors vs. more senior staff may be:

  • Less established in their field. One advantage of a very senior professor for a PhD student is that the senior professor often knows all or at least most of the important players in the area. Hence, he can put the student in contact with interesting collaborators, and open up doors for internships or postdocs. A younger professor may not yet have a network that broad.
  • Less experienced. This one is obvious, but more senior professors are typically more experienced. They have advised many students before, and make less "beginner's mistakes" (e.g., expecting too much from a student, and then getting angry because the student did not live up to those expectations).
  • Less laid-back. Non-tenured professors need their students to perform, as their own career is very tightly coupled with their students (mis-)fortunes. Many a high-potential assistant professor will not take an unsuccessful research project lightly. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage - an ambitious student and a non-tenured professor may push each other to achieve great results, but the same professor and a more average student may lead to some friction and bad feelings.
  • Less money. Younger professors tend to have less research grants (yet). This has implications for you even if you personally have a stipend from another source, as it means there is less money for travel, less money to fund research students, etc.
  • Less pull in the faculty. This may be more relevant in some places than in others, but I have certainly seen faculties where working with an assistant professor had the disadvantage that your group was at a disadvantage whenever any sort of global resources were distributed. The senior professors were often able to acquire resources (they did not actually need) basically by appealing to their seniority.
  • Higher chance that your advisor moves. Non-tenured professors are much more likely to change university (voluntarily or due to not getting tenure) than ones that are already tenured. Especially take this into account if the tenure review of your professor is planned for the next years.

These things just came from the top of my head, I will edit the answer if I can think of anything else.

Sidenote: yes, these are all stark simplifications. No, none of those points has to be true for any given young professor.

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