My situation is the following: I have a very productive but not respected advisor. By productive I mean that he has published a lot, and with not respected that his work is not cited by anyone except himself (his top paper has 20 citations, 15 from himself).

I will get my master's degree in 6 months, so I need to decide where to do my PhD. To be honest I don't know is my advisor doing real science. Am I judging his career too hard? At least I would not hope to be in the same situation as he is after the next ten years. Also, he demands me to do things exactly as he wants, so I have been thinking this issue a lot.

If you think I should not continue with him, can you tell me what kind of publication record I should demand from my advisor?

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    If you intend to continue in academia, reference letters become very important. A reference letter from a respected advisor will be much stronger than one from a non-respected advisor. – Bitwise Jul 13 '13 at 17:02
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    his top paper has 20 citations, 15 from himself — You need hard data. How does that compare with other faculty in your field, at similar career stages? (In my department, that citation profile would make me very nervous about the likelihood of getting tenure.) What do other faculty in your department think? – JeffE Jul 13 '13 at 19:48
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    To say that your advisor is not respected seems a bit harsh. Maybe his research does not make any impact, by why turn that into a reflection of the community on him as a person? – Dave Clarke Jul 13 '13 at 20:34
  • One factor you didn't mention is: how do you think your advisor might react if you jumped to a different advisor when you began your PhD studies? Would he think that was a good move – to give you more breadth – and thus support it? Or would he regard that as a slap in the face? If the latter, I'd seriously consider switching institutions. – J.R. Jul 15 '13 at 9:15

There are reasons for setting aside the issue of your potential PhD supervisor's publication record for the purposes of deciding whether to carry on working with him - these reasons are set out in other answers.

You also need to think about whether your - or any - potential PhD supervisor's working habits is a good fit with yours. When considering whether to continue with specifically this supervisor, you comment as follows:

Also, he demands me to do things exactly as he wants, so I have been thinking this issue a lot.

So - is this a good thing for you, or a bad thing? Was that working relationship a positive or not? You mention that you've been thinking about this a lot, and I urge you to be clear about the answer in your own mind before you commit to a PhD program. Perhaps working like this was okay for a MSc project; I suspect that it could well be a problem during a PhD.

What were the experiences of other PhD students in this regard? Did they all have similar feelings regarding how he manages the research of his team?

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One of the issues you need to consider is how far along the advisor is in his career. If he is a relatively junior faculty member, then a lack of citations is not necessarily so serious, if they're being published in high-quality journals respected in your field. However, if he's getting a lot of publications in low-tier journals, that could be a sign of a bigger problem. If the faculty member is more experienced (and has been working a long time), this is very much a red flag.

I might recommend that you not continue with the same advisor, but this is only partially motivated by the quality issue. Another thing to take into account is that you should be preparing yourself to have a variety of educational experiences throughout your career, and that means working with multiple people, and on more than one project. If you have only one advisor, you will have only the experiences you've gained working with that one advisor, as well as only have learned the philosophical viewpoints associated with working with the one advisor.

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  • My advisor has been a faculty member at my university for 5 years now. He received his PhD about 10 years ago. Thank you for suggesting to participate in multiple projects - I haven't considered that possibility seriously before. – soon_to_be_grad_student Jul 13 '13 at 16:04

The first question you should answer is: what do YOU want? Then: Where are your interests within your field? Are there opportunities ot develop elsewhere? Are there any reasons not to move?

These are of course personal question than can only be answered by you yourself. As fo rthe advisor, well 20 citations does not sound like much at all, depending of course on how senior the advisor is. I do not think that the publication record is necessarily the best criteria for selecting a graduate school, the quality (reputation) of the department and university is probably more important. It may be wise to visit and talk to other students about the conditions as well, if that is at all possible.

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  • I have talked to his current PhD students. At least one student was considering to switch to another university (although partly for family reasons). – soon_to_be_grad_student Jul 13 '13 at 16:06

"Also, he demands me to do things exactly as he wants, so I have been thinking this issue a lot." I too had an issue with authoritarian education.

A group can own a great deal so long as the individual members of that group, here and there through the group, do not have as their sole and only goal (pronoun, capital) I alone must have, I want the power of the group, I want this, I want that. You have to feel that way, you see, if you haven't go confidence in the rest of the group. If you can't have confidence in the competence of your fellow students, then you have the necessity of taking the job on your own back.

A teacher can provide data or facts, but one worth their weight in gold, is one that has the student learn but is respected for thinking for themselves by guiding them to apply the data.

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