Some background: I'll be starting my PhD in computer science this fall and just noticed that my prospective advisor won one of the 2015 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowships.

Obviously the standard caveats apply: a good researcher can be a terrible advisor, and my success in a PhD and beyond will depend mostly on me.

But, even though it feels a bit petty: I know advisor reputation and network matters both during and after the PhD. Can I talk this as a positive sign for both, and how positive? More practically, how well might a Sloan fellowship track with making tenure? Having my primary advisor not make tenure would be dicey.


  • 2
    The question about the likelihood of getting tenure can't be answered at this level of generality. At some institutions, hardly anyone gets a Sloan and it would be strong evidence that tenure is likely. At other places, lots of people get Sloans and it tells you little or nothing. – Anonymous Mathematician Apr 29 '15 at 3:07
  • 1
    @Anon: I can think of very few departments where getting a Sloan Fellowship might not be safely positively correlated with getting tenure: MIT, Penn, maybe Yale. All in all, calling it a "positive sign" seems fair. – Pete L. Clark Apr 29 '15 at 3:21
  • I agree that it's a positive sign, and even at the schools you mention there's presumably a positive correlation. But there are perhaps a dozen schools at which getting a Sloan would give only rather weak evidence regarding tenure. To be fair, I probably should have said "relatively little" rather than "little or nothing". – Anonymous Mathematician Apr 29 '15 at 3:40
  • 2
    @AnonymousMathematician Huh. This must be field-dependent. I don't know of anyone in CS who got a Sloan but not tenure. – JeffE Apr 29 '15 at 9:30
  • Hmm, I just looked up a list of past Sloan fellows in mathematics and spent a minute or two looking over it. I haven't computed any reliable statistics, but my quick impression is that most people who get Sloans at the Princeton math department don't get tenure (which fits with their tenure policies), a substantial fraction don't at MIT, and most but certainly not all do at Stanford. So it looks like it's only a weak signal at the very top schools, but the signal becomes stronger much more quickly than I had realized (so Pete was right). – Anonymous Mathematician Apr 29 '15 at 17:54

The Sloan research fellowships are distinguished awards for early career faculty. This means that your prospective advisor is considered a very talented young researcher. However, it also means that your prospective advisor is not very far along in their career. There are some cons to working with a young assistant professor as an advisor, including the risk that your advisor might leave the institution or not get tenure (not terribly likely for someone talented enough to get a Sloan fellowship but more of a risk in the generic case of working with a new tenure track faculty member.) I think that most people would recommend picking a more experienced and well known advisor.

| improve this answer | |
  • "However, it also means that your prospective advisor is not very far along in their career." Well, it depends what you mean by this. The requirements for the Fellowship definitely say early career. They do not however strictly prohibit the candidate from being tenured, and the PhD can be awarded up to six years prior to the Fellowship. Six years after a PhD is a good while, especially for researchers of this caliber. – Pete L. Clark Apr 29 '15 at 3:03
  • For instance, one of the 2015 Sloan recipients (in math) is Melanie Matchett Wood: math.wisc.edu/~mmwood. She is 2009 PhD and has been tenure track at Wisconsin since 2011. "Not very far along in their career" are not words I would use to describe her. The outcome of her tenure case is not in any doubt. She is very strong even for a Sloan Fellow, but the profile of the others is pretty similar. – Pete L. Clark Apr 29 '15 at 3:06
  • I think 6 years past PhD is still pretty green. Someone this young will not likely have graduate a student yet, for example. – Wolfgang Bangerth Apr 29 '15 at 3:09
  • @Wolfgang: I don't really agree. In many academic fields, people get tenure about six years after their PhD. This happens in math only if you are really good...which some of the Sloan Fellows are. At least half of the tenure-track faculty in my department since I arrived have taken on a PhD student within six years of their PhD (including me). I think though that the culture of PhD students is a bit different in math than in most other STEM disciplines: in math, you can happily do your work without any students whatsoever, and therefore many people do for quite a while. – Pete L. Clark Apr 29 '15 at 3:16
  • 2
    I think that most people would recommend picking a more experienced and well known advisor. — I don't. In my experience, faculty with Sloan fellowships are better known than most tenured faculty in the same field. – JeffE Apr 29 '15 at 9:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.