I've just finished the fourth year of my engineering PhD in the US and am anticipating graduating next year. In that time, I've essentially been conducting research independently, through no fault of my own. I have an advisor and committee, who all seem to be happy with my work, even though none of them have a good understanding of what I'm actually doing.
My advisor seems to think this is fine. He says he appreciates how independent I am and that he considers me to be more than capable as a researcher and that I don't need any guidance. While being independent has been fine recently, I feel like I have wasted a large amount of time in the first 2-3 years of my PhD pursuing foolish ideas that never materialized into papers. Currently I have two papers published in top journals, in addition to one paper in submission and some other work in the pipeline.
As I'm starting to think about my graduation and next steps in my career, I have a few questions about my current situation.
- Who is going to write my recommendation letters? (at least partially answered by this answer)
- Is it bad to have never worked in an actual collaborative effort to publish (e.g. a paper with 3-4+ authors)? Is it OK to have most of your papers be sole author? In general, when hiring committees look at a CV, do they take into account how many authors a paper has? I don't want to be seen as less productive because I don't have any collaborators.
- I feel like I've been at a disadvantage in my PhD, and that I could have been substantially more productive if I had guidance and a research group to work with. I've been told that this will be taken into account when people are evaluating my CV and research, and that people will see how independent I am and this will be seen as a strength. But is that really true? I could see it going in the opposite way, with people wondering why I couldn't find anyone to work with and thinking there must be something wrong.
I think there are a lot of questions/discussion talking about advisors who don't help with research. The question being asked here is, can an independent phd student be competitive against a phd student with a research group, in relation to how they would be ranked by a hiring committee. Will academics understand that an independent phd student has a harder situation and take this into account when choosing a candidate who will be most productive in the future?