I have been offered a PhD position by an inexperienced professor in a great institution in Europe. Despite the fact that the institution is very strong in my area, since the position was offered by this particular professor, I would have to commit myself to working with him for my thesis. This professor is young, and relatively inexperienced, but I enjoy the things he works on, and we seem to get along well.

My question is, would having an inexperienced advisor hurt my growth as a scientist, or my career in general? Will I have the time during my PhD to also work on the side with other, more renowned professors in the department, or is one usually focused in a single research project?

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    This may vary quite a lot between european countries (e.g. in France you would have lots of other, more senior profs in your group, whereas in Germany the prof is the department). If you feel comfortable stating which country it is, you might get better answers.
    – nengel
    May 3, 2018 at 10:59
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    @nengel: I am in Germany. No prof here is the department. The same thing is the case for any other department I collaborate with. I would propose the size of the department and number of (senior) professors depends a lot more on the field and how prominent and established that field is in your institution than on the location.
    – skymningen
    May 3, 2018 at 11:08
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    @nengel That is because the computer science department used to be a Fakultät, but now we only have large ones. (Basically Medicine, Humanities, Math& Science and Languages I think.) These structures differ between universities and in our case are also subject to change. (At least one other German university introduced a similar change at a similar time.) This discussion is not relevant to the question anymore, so I would propose to end it. But really, I would say 99% of "Fachbereich" have way more than one prof in Germany.
    – skymningen
    May 3, 2018 at 11:15
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    @skymningen: Oh, interesting! Anyway, this is drifting a bit off-topic, but I definitely felt my time in a research lab in France was more "communal" than my time in Germany.
    – nengel
    May 3, 2018 at 11:21
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    Are you concerned that your career will be hurt because your advisor isn't renowned yet, or because your advisor isn't competent yet?
    – Ray
    May 3, 2018 at 16:55

6 Answers 6


An inexperienced advisor can hurt your career by being relatively unknown. This means they may not have access to the same network and that their recommendation letters do not carry the same weight. Inexperience in supervision may, for example, lead to unrealistic expectations. Or an inexperienced advisor can be very good for your career, by quickly rising to fame with the awesome publications the two of you will write together and being fresh in everybody's memory when writing recommendation letters. They may spend plenty of time on working with you.

An experienced advisor can hurt your career by being never there. They may already have made their name, have extremely high expectations from PhD students, to the level of cause them to be overly stressed and quit. Or they may be very good for your career, as dedicated as can be to PhD students, prioritising them above most other duties, having realistic expectations from PhD students, and having great influence when writing recommendation letters.

Bottom line: an experienced advisor may be better for you than an inexperienced one, but that certainly does not have to be the case. And keep in mind: a very good/famous scientist is not always a very good PhD advisor.

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    Whether experienced or inexperienced professors have higher expectations for their students is questionable. My limited experience so far indicates the opposite of what you are saying, plus I would expect a senior professor to have a better overview and be more realistic. Perhaps it can go either way, though. May 3, 2018 at 13:52
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    @RichardHardy True. It can go either way. I've added those points.
    – gerrit
    May 3, 2018 at 14:16
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    An inexperienced advisor can hurt your career by being unknown. — At least in my field, it is essentially impossible to become a professor without being "known".
    – JeffE
    May 3, 2018 at 22:31
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    @JeffE I think that was meant relatively, not absolutely -- for example, you might be known in your field, but perhaps only to a certain niche, or by people who read all new papers and have noticed yours. Contrast that with someone who's a household name in the field. (And, of course, there's a full range between the two points.)
    – anon
    May 3, 2018 at 23:52
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    @JeffE In addition to what Nic Hartley says, not everywhere is it required to be a full professor to be an advisor. For someone I know, her advisor is known nationally in the UK, but not very well known internationally.
    – gerrit
    May 4, 2018 at 8:00

One indicator of what you can expect is his publication record prior to his professorship. This is not a perfect indicator, but it's a starting point from which to evaluate his potential impact on your career. If he has published regularly and in good journals, and if his co-authors/former supervisor is well-known it could mitigate the fact that he is just starting his career.

Another thing to consider is how established his lab is, physically speaking. Are you going to be able to actually do research right away, or will the first year of work be mostly heavy lifting and setting up equipment before you can start generating data? If the lab is not yet set up, it can be a big risk.

All that said, having an advisor who is going to be highly motivated to publish and who you get along with are both huge pluses. If you get along well and are one of his first students you can probably count on a lot of support.

There's no really clear answer to this unless you actually linked his research profile (which you probably shouldn't do). Certainly starting with a young professor comes with risk, but if he is clearly motivated and you get along that can mitigate a lot of it.


There is no way that I would say, "Inexperienced? NO! Forget him!" But his experience is one factor -- among many -- that you should take into account. You want someone who will assign you work that will not only be interesting but will look impressive to the people you will eventually be looking to hire with. Also, you need someone who can advise you on how to navigate a job market that is often extremely competitive. And, yes, you want someone with connections. My own situation years ago was that I had an advisor who was actually quite well known, working in a European institution. But he didn't know enough about the US job market, which I would eventually have to go back to, to help me out at all in the ways I suggested above. I went back completely unprepared to find a job.

That being said, there are advantages to new guys -- energy, "young blood", inspiration, innovative ideas, etc. So there are many things to take into account. You just have to "sum up" everything and see whether the overall "total" is what you need.

  • I suspect that a young professor, on average, has a better grasp of what's to be considered as impressive at a particular point of time. A young professor is much likely to have done some impressive work recently; otherwises their chances on the job market would have been slim. Old professors have perspective, but many of them lost touch with their field decades ago. Aug 7, 2020 at 7:33

This topic has been discussed several times on this site, you may want to search for previous answers.

There is no rule such as working with young or well-known professors is good or bad, it depends case by case. Since you enjoy the things he works on, and you get along well, there is nothing to worry, as you are in a great institution . With all due respect, I do not agree with the following answer of gerrit.

An inexperienced advisor can hurt your career by being unknown. This means s/he may not have access to the same network and that her/his recommendation letters do not carry the same weight.

Unknown researchers have no way to get into great institution. He either has strong publication record or strong network or both of them (very often).

Will I have the time during my PhD to also work on the side with other, more renowned professors in the department

This is often possible in most places I know, but I don't think this is a good idea. During PhD, you will be most productive and produce the strongest thesis when you focus on one project.


Well, yes, he could 'hurt your career', but so could a lot of things.

I have two advisors. One is in late 70s, basically has seen it all, the other is in his late 30s, not tenured, and I'm his first PhD student.

There's advantages and disadvantages to both. My passing or failing does not phase older supervisor. He's pretty much hands off. "good luck, here's some money, hope you don't die".

My younger supervisor would bend over backwards to help you, but is obviously inexperienced. "hey! let's do all the things, and let's do them tomorrow!"

If you're asking this sort of question, you've probably never been in a 'real world' situation, and could use a little more experience.


Most of this answer is for a PhD student. Master's students usually can get through in a relative calm matter.

I am in the US and was in an Electrical Engineering program so that's what I know, other majors or other geographical areas may or may not be the same.

Where I went to grad-school a student had an advisor who didn't achieve tenure and was on the way to leaving. This student was not retained. There may have been a coincidence here, but it did seem to me an interesting set of facts.

On the other hand, some advisors who have been full-professors already overwork their students and ask hard questions at oral exams.

My advisor was much nicer to me than I realized at the time, but it takes years to realize this.

One professor told me that the advisor-grad-student relationship is always problematic.

In any event do the best you can.

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