I will be starting a math PhD program in the Fall with hopes of working with a professor who graduated recently (between 4 and 6 years ago). This professor is working in my desired field, but I'm not so sure how established he/she is. Their previous advisor is very famous in this field of math. This professor has < 11 publications so far and is assistant professor (the university is ranked in the 70's on US News).

I would like to work in academia after my PhD. Am I risking a lot by working under this professor? Is there a way to see how well-established or well-known this professor is in his/her field? I have read a couple of their papers, but I don't know how to gauge the caliber of the research.

I should also say that there is another professor at this university who has been around longer, and is doing research in my "2nd choice" area. There's a third professor who is well-established in his field (I think), but whose research is more general and classical with little connection to my desired field.

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    It may be relevant whether there are any more experienced professors at that school who would be plausible alternative advisors or co-advisors. Apr 17, 2018 at 23:25
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    At around 70s in the USN rankings, very few (but not none) PhD graduates end up at research universities. How happy would you be with a teaching-oriented academic position requiring minimal research? If you really want a research-oriented position, how important is it to you to have other alternatives if you don't eventually succeed in getting a research-oriented position? Apr 18, 2018 at 6:35
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    I see that this is US-specific, but the general sentiment that I see repeated often here is that what really matters is your publication record. If you can find a supervisor who is supportive and who can guide you to produce excellent research, you should be golden regardless of how "new" somebody is. I often also heard that PhD-students of very famous scientists sometimes have a hard time establishing their independence as it is difficult to not look at their PhD work as "work done by a student of X" or even simply "work by X".
    – penelope
    Apr 18, 2018 at 13:25
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    Look at who the young professor is collaborating with. If this person is well connected with established researchers, you won't be working in a total vacuum. (At first I was concerned that this professor might be a bit isolated in her/his department, or that the department might be on the small side.) Apr 19, 2018 at 2:17
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    Sometimes working with a really famous name, but not being the biggest hot shot in the group, is the kiss of death because you get a mediocre LOR at the end. This spot might give you the chance to be a big fish in a small pond and build up your skills and self-confidence. Apr 20, 2018 at 3:16

1 Answer 1


As valuable as your professional connections and mentors are and will be in your career, please do not rely on other people or university rankings to shape your oncoming accomplishments. The responsibility in how successful your future in research will be depends on you-- how well you understand theory and can apply it, which academic and career risks you're willing to take, and the quality of the relationships you cultivate in your field. You may want to also consider more than just the potential mentor's Rolodex and publications portfolio. Is he/she professional? Genuine and authentic? Veracious? Objective? To help you make a better choice, what-if this-- if the person (that you described above) were you post-PhD, would you want you to be your chair? Much success to you.

  • Thank you for reminding me that there's more to this than just stats. Although the on-paper stuff does matter a lot for the job market, you have a good point. Lately I am worried about my future, when I should be present in the present!
    – Freddie
    Apr 19, 2018 at 23:53
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    It's a daily reminder for me too. Really excited for your new frontier.
    – C. Love
    Apr 20, 2018 at 1:16

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