I am a fresh PhD student and I need to choose an advisor to guide my research. Currently I find it difficult to choose.

One professor's current project pretty well matches my previous research experience. Although I would not say I am interested in it, at least I don't hate it. But I find most of his students will need 7 years to graduate the PhD program under his advisement. The speed of this professor's life is really slow. The most important thing is that he rarely gives his students constructive suggestions when they confront problems in the research. I know a PhD needs to have the ability to conduct experiments independently, but some kind of guidance is necessary.

As for the other professor, his project is really exciting and he published many papers with high impact factors. It is not that related to my previous experience but it may use some of the techniques I used before. I like it but some of my friends told me this professor is really picky and tough. With him as an advisor it may be difficult to get job after graduation.

Currently I am working with the first professor. I try my best to make myself get interested in the work, but I am still hesitant.

What advisor should I choose to achieve a satisfying research experience?

  • 16
    some of my friends told me this professor is really picky and tough — That one. You want that one.
    – JeffE
    Dec 14, 2013 at 14:22
  • 1
    I try my best to make myself get interested in the work, but I am still hesitant. If you are having a hard time being interested now, just give it 3 to 4 years, and imagine how much worse it will be. Especially after this work you aren't even that interested in has been rejected from multiple venues of publication, you are working late nights revising the papers you aren't even that interested in instead of going out and socializing, etc.
    – mikeazo
    Jan 4, 2016 at 19:55
  • I just realized this is a few years old. What did you do and how did it turn out?
    – mikeazo
    Jan 4, 2016 at 19:55
  • @mikeazo, slightly more than a year, really...
    – vonbrand
    Jan 5, 2016 at 23:55
  • @mikeazo, misread the date :-(
    – vonbrand
    Jan 6, 2016 at 0:00

4 Answers 4


Ultimately, I would choose to work on what I'm interested in rather than what I have experience in, assuming that you have enough background to follow your interests (but in a 7 year PhD program, you'll have time to learn the techniques you'll need) and that there is a future for you after completing the program.

(Learning how to use capital letters and to punctuate your sentences properly will also help in the future.)


Always, always, always pick the advisor who is less of a jerk. Doing so serves numerous purposes:

  1. The project will be more enjoyable, because you're not working with a jerk.
  2. If the initial project doesn't work out it will be easier to switch to a new topic, because you're not working with a jerk.
  3. Even if the whole program doesn't work out, it will be easier to get support for switching labs/schools/careers, because you're not working with a jerk.
  4. It means fewer talented students will pick jerks as advisors, which will (hopefully) help weed out jerk advisors.

In short: talk to the students. Make sure you're not signing up to work with a jerk.

  • 7
    Note, however: "Jerk" does not mean "tough". You want your advisor to have high standards and to hold you to them.
    – JeffE
    Dec 14, 2013 at 14:30
  • 2
    Yes, agreed. Tough: good. Jerk: bad. @user9983: seems like you have a pretty good handle on the "tough" question. Now go find out about the "jerk" question!
    – Dnuorg Spu
    Dec 14, 2013 at 14:31

A Professor here. In general, you want to go with the Prof. who is research active. If a supervisor doesn't provide constructive feedback, that simply means he/she doesn't care, has no idea how to do research and don't know the area. That means you're on your own. If you're lucky, you'll learn how to swim and churn out passable work.

On the other hand, the 'tough' Prof. produces world class work (based on your description). This is 'normal'. Simply look at the best chefs in the world. Do you think they sacrifice quality? Their name goes out with every dish/paper! Same principle applies. So if you want, and have the capability, to play with the best, then the tough Prof. should be the one. For sure, it'll be a baptism of fire, but if you're capable, you'll find yourself running with the best. More importantly, you'll learn why they are the best; their secret: they care very very ... much about their work.


One friend started doing a PhD under a world-renowned star, and gave up something like a year later. He told me he met his advisor twice, once when agreeing to the thesis and once crossed him casually in an aisle. As star he was elsewhere most of the time. He switched to a "second tier" advisor, and was very happy with his decision.

  • 1
    Big profs are like the bugs zapper (device with blue light). They attract students, and when the student enrols, they get zapped.
    – santa
    Aug 10, 2015 at 4:16

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