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I am a second year grad student who is trying to find advisors in two people (quite brilliant scientists!) who are going to join my grad school as faculty. They are going to be in campus only rarely now but will be full-time here from the next year.

  • Does this situation sound very bad or scary or depressing or something wrong?

  • Am I late into the game?

So I have done studies and have written up research drafts in areas related to these scientists and have been trying to get into discussions with them over emails. Both sounded quite interested in me - one of them met me for a few hours of discussion while in campus about a month ago - and the other one said "we should keep in touch and meet when I am there the next time" etc.

  • But I get very scared and nervous when I don't get replies from them after even a week from the last email (stating my progress in their respective subjects)- I am always thinking if they struck me off from their mind - did they just forget me - did they decide I am not worth it etc. etc.

[...I am getting sick of just the unbearable tension of the fear of having been dropped...]

Anyway is the implicit expectation that I am going to read up all current papers in their fields and be able to come up with a paper on my own? (...thats what I am trying to do but clearly thats not easy!...) I don't know how "advising" is supposed to work with so little contact (...may be there is a culture conflict because in my previous institute one met one's professors daily and even multiple times a day at times...)

[just a side information - may be irrelevant but still for completeness of information - I think I am way ahead of my peers in terms of depth and breadth of knowledge and speed of learning new papers and my grad school grades are all at the top..]

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    how advising work depends largely on the advisor and his/her style. In one extreme, some advisors are really picky and check every tiny thing you do. On the other extreme, some really have no clue what you are doing till you show up in their office. DO NOT ever think you are better than your peers (even if you actually are ! ).. – seteropere Jun 22 '13 at 8:28
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    I am a second year grad student who is trying to find advisors — Wait. What? You don't have an advisor yet? – JeffE Jun 22 '13 at 11:41
  • @JeffE Well..I didn't find an interest overlap with any other prof around till now.. – user6818 Jun 22 '13 at 14:54
  • @JeffE through the last semester I have been attending the group meetings of one of the profs and its through him that I came to know of one of these two people with whom my interests were more aligned. – user6818 Jun 22 '13 at 15:09
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I personally would be a little too concerned about a graduate student who keeps trying to "hard sell" themselves before I arrived. Partially this is because, if I were just starting a new position, I'd be worried about a million things, including winding down my previous employment situation, preparing for a move, figuring out all the different things that have to be done in the new position, and so on. Others may very well be different, though!

Note that I don't think it's wrong to be active when you sense a good opportunity, such as working with a scientist you hold in high regard as an advisor. However, being too aggressive may be just as damaging as being too passive. Steer clear of both extremes. For instance, have the advisors in question asked you to send them weekly updates? Have you asked them to schedule a phone or Skype chat? Do you know if they are even "at home" or if they're on travel when they're not responding?

Advisors have their own personal styles, and your style should mesh with theirs. If it doesn't, it will likely be an unproductive and unhappy situation for both of you.

  • When no frequency has been predefined, I would think its just best to keep updating the profs on my progress as and when I have something to say - We have been planning a Skype meeting for sometime now but it hasn't happened yet. – user6818 Jun 22 '13 at 15:08
  • That's a reasonable approach if they asked you to do this work (or at least agreed with you that you should do it). However, if you're doing this "unsolicited," then you're effectively asking them to commit time to reading and evaluating this work when they may not actually have the time to do so. – aeismail Jun 23 '13 at 0:20
  • @aesmail The works started off in two different ways (1) the first person happened to attend my group meeting talk and he made very useful comments and then I started corresponding with him after that and he met me once and gave me various feedback on future emails- but has been now silent since 1 week! (2) The second person when contacted by me gave me a list of topics that we could probably work on and then I sent him details of my studies on those topics - and then he has also been silent for a week! - – user6818 Jun 23 '13 at 1:22
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    You are not yet their advisee. They are under no obligation to respond to your email on any sort of schedule! The innocent explanation is they're on vacation, and haven't seen your recent emails. It's also possible they've had more important issues to deal with. It's also possible that they're not appreciative of the emails—particularly if you've already been sending them frequently without being asked to do so (which appears to be the case here). – aeismail Jun 23 '13 at 5:37
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    The issue is they have not agreed to supervise you. You should have checked with them if they wanted these updates, how often they would like to talk or meet with you, and so on. If they haven't given any indication that what you're doing is appreciated, then you may want to back off a little. Wait a few weeks before contacting them again. Ask them about how to continue this process. At this point, they may not be as willing to do so as before. – aeismail Jun 23 '13 at 5:56
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Understand that faculty, even junior faculty, can get over a hundred emails a day, and even dealing with only the most urgent of these, such as

  • Bureaucracy from the department chair / funding agency program director / etc.
  • Requests from existing students and collaborators
  • Reminders about late paper reviews
  • Conference and travel logistics
  • Letter of reference requests
  • Complaints about grades from undergrads

takes up a huge chunk of their time. Recruiting good students is also usually a high priority... but if you've already agreed to work together next year, and have established an outline of what you can be doing until then to prepare yourself, I wouldn't read too much into a slow response to your follow-up emails, especially if they are in the form of long reports.

The best approach is probably the direct one: ask them what you can do between now and the fall to get a head start on the research project, and what kind of updates, if any, they would like from you between now and then.

  • @user16875 Both these people are currently post-docs and will be permanently moving here as faculty in 2014. – user6818 Jun 22 '13 at 15:12

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