I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a good advisor in achieving a PhD success. My unsorted reflections about picking a good advisor were well summarized in the article “How to Pick a Graduate Advisor” by Prof. Ben Barres in 2013. These are some key advice from the author and I believe in deeply.
Pick an Advisor Who Is a Good Scientist (50% importance)
- If your prospective advisor has not published a good research paper in good to top journals in over 5 years, this is a serious warning sign (what is the chance you will just happen to be the one student in that lab to publish?).
- If the professor doesn’t attend top conferences frequently, this indicates he/she isn’t in the network of his/her research area. At least means he/she isn’t active. If he/she is invited as a keynote speaker in top conferences/seminars/workshops, he/she is a key researcher in the field with good reputation.
- Working with a young faculty member who is skilled in the latest techniques, still has a small lab, and therefore much time to mentor you, can often be an excellent choice.
Pick an Advisor Who Is Also a Good Mentor (50% importance)
- If only a very small percentage of alumni go on to have their own labs (whether in academia, industry, or government), this is a warning sign that little successful mentoring is happening.
- It’s especially important for someone planning to purse a academic position after getting the PhD. Check how many alumni PhD becomes professors in universities or researchers in companies like Google brain.
- Talk with some of his or her current and previous trainees. Ask them whether this faculty member is a good mentor in terms of spending sufficient time with each student. Make sure to ask whether the students are generally happy. If not, this is a warning sign.
- A professor can change. A good advisor as an assistant or associate professor doesn’t guarantee a good advisor as a professor.
- Do pick an important question but don’t pick the same topic that everyone else is working on.
- Pick a research topic that is the expertise of your advisor. If a research is his/her major research, it’s much easier to get help from the advisor. At least, the research is your advisor’s research interest.