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After extensive research online, it's clear that possibly the best way to choose a PhD program is to find an advisor first, and worry about the program later. In other words: find someone with whom you would love to work and who researches a topic that is close to your own interest (or one where you'd fit); then consider their program as a good possible alternative, as long as it provides good coursework for your area. You'll have to learn most of the stuff you need to learn for your thesis on your own anyway.

This sounds like a great idea. After all, a major part of the PhD will be spent doing research and the team where you fit in is a very significant part of that. So far so good.

However, it's hard to know how to actually do that. How do I find out whether a specific faculty member is doing something that fits my interests? I have a clear idea of what I would like to do, but it's not very clear how I can reconcile that with the interests of specific programs, let alone people.

Reading articles seems like it's a possibility (which I've started doing), but some of the subjects are quite specific and advanced. I feel like getting a good, overall picture of the research will take a significant amount of effort and time - which would be fine for a more in-detail filter of candidates (say, a dozen), not as a starting point (more than two dozen).

So, to recap:

How do I find a good fit for a possible PhD advisor in order to choose a good PhD program for me?

Additional details: I'm looking to apply to a PhD:

  • in Computer Science (specifically AI, knowledge representation and reasoning)
  • in the United States
  • with my own funding (I've been selected for a scholarship which should take care of most of the money issues)

Thanks so much!

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    I've never liked the advice "choose an advisor first, then the program," at least not when stated so absolutely. What if you get there and your dream advisor isn't taking on students? – user37208 Aug 1 '16 at 21:24
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    Short answer: Google; all the information you need is on the web. Long answer: Yes, it will take a significant amount of effort and time, like anything else worth doing well. – JeffE Aug 1 '16 at 23:07
  • Excellent point. Care to elaborate or perhaps provide alterate advice in an answer? Any input would be awesome! :) – Juan Carlos Coto Aug 1 '16 at 23:26
  • @JeffE cool. If you make this an answer, I'll upvote. It would be great if you added more details re: Google; Google what? How much detail? Do you have personal experience with this? Thanks! – Juan Carlos Coto Aug 1 '16 at 23:28
  • A typical thing to do is ask your current professors for suggestions. – Kimball Aug 2 '16 at 6:57

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