I am planning my PhD and am applying to various labs and professors.

I am getting positive responses, but I am having trouble making a decision as to which lab to go for. How can I judge the quality of research of a group? What parameters shall be kept in mind while making a decision? I usually look for relevant research interests.

  • I have removed the previous tags (neither of them really applies to the core question) and added research-group. But I am not really happy about this either. Does somebody have a better suggestion?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 9:16
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    @Wrzlprmft I added two tags to the question. Please re-edit the question if you find these tags irrelevant too.
    – enthu
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 9:53

4 Answers 4


How can I judge the quality of research of a group?

This is the wrong question.

What you should be asking is "How can I judge which research group will best support my educational and career goals?" And yes, this is a very different question. And while lab productivity may be correlated with the future career prospects of its members, the two are not identical. Some great researchers are terrible advisors.

  • Are the lab's students happy?

  • Do the lab's students have a consistent strong track record of publishing new results?

  • Are the lab's students strongly represented at conferences, workshops, and the like? In particular: Are the lab's students given ample opportunity to present their research outside their home department?

  • Are the lab's students given ample mentoring and support, both in developing their own research agendas and in applying for external fellowships, lab exchanges, internships, postdoctoral positions, faculty positions, and so on?

  • Are the lab's students given ample opportunity for substantial intellectual contributions to the lab's published research, or are they just lab/code monkeys?

  • Does the lab's research agenda closely match your own research interests and abilities?

  • Most importantly: Where do the lab's former students work now? (The worst possible answer is "We don't know.")

Almost none of these questions can be answered accurately without physically visiting the lab and talking directly to the students without the PI present. If travel is impractical, use Skype / Google hangout / Facetime / whatever. Or telephone. Or, if all else fails, email.

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    +1; great researchers may also have very large groups with the result that you rarely get to meet with them and are supervised by a postdoc instead. Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 2:20
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    As an additional comment that is somewhat in the spirit of JeffE's answer, also consider which labs' research are the most interesting to you. The more passionate you are about your topic, the easier it will be to produce and publish good quality research.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 8:16
  • @JeffE I cannot judge all this while sitting in Asia and applying in Europe....what do you have to say about this?
    – Marviii
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 8:19
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    Well, of course not. You have to ask them.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:41

A couple of major factors to consider would be to research and read the research papers produced from each of the research groups, paying particular attention to:

  • How many articles are published, particularly in high quality journals relevant to the field of interest

  • Is there a consistent strong track record of publishing new results?

  • Their history of representation and contributions to conferences, workshops and the like

Also consider the availability of resources (physical and intellectual)

Perhaps arrange some visits to the labs, so that you can gauge how well the members work together.

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    +1 for visits to labs. Most grad school visits include meeting with professors and touring labs so this is probably not something you even need to schedule yourself (although I would certainly mention it if you've been in contact with professors to make sure it happens). At that point it's relatively easy to identify a very active group with a lot of resources. Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 12:16
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    Also +1 for visiting. Here are suggestions what to ask about during that visit. Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 18:01
  • thank you all.....but the problem is that I am an international applicant...i cant manage touring labs..
    – Marviii
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 8:22
  • Is it possible to do a video link up (via skype or similar) tour?
    – user21984
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 8:26

JeffE lists many proper good factors. Few extra to add to the list:


  • Is the group in a good department, university? These also influence your experience and your resume. It's also nice to have fallback options if the fellow leaves/dies/loses funding, or you have a conflict.

  • Is it in a town you like and can have fun in? For most people major urban centers are a draw.

Group specific:

  • How fast do his students get their Ph.D.?

The H index truly is the measure you're asking for. Other considerations I'd throw in before you make such a key decision:

  • professor's background/age/culture
  • is the prof a hypomanic, and to what extreme
  • how well you identify with the other students
  • how expediently are they finishing PhDs compared to your plans for life
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    The H index truly is the measure you're asking for — No, it isn't.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 18:36
  • @JeffE why it isnt?....
    – Marviii
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 8:17
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    The h-index is at best a rough estimate of the square root of the total number of citations. The only way to judge the actual quality of the lab's research is to actually read the papers, with reading how their work is cited a close second. But even if h-index actually measured quality, it would be the wrong yardstick to use when looking for potential PhD advisors. See my answer.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:40
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    There's an interesting parallel between a citation statistic which you feel is not correlated with quality, and Stack Exchange votes/reputation which may also have nothing to do with quality.
    – geac
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 18:56

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