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Younger/newer faculty vs. older/tenured faculty


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I was hoping I could start a discussion for those who will be working with (or are considering to work with) newer faculty.

For a few reasons, I consciously made an effort to reach out to younger professors when searching for programs to apply to this year. Of course, this meant being open to working with newly-hired faculty. Going into this, I did some preliminary research into what this experience could be like. Relative to older and more tenured professors, newer professors are likely to be

- more eager and excited to conduct research and publish

- more knowledgable in the newest, cutting-edge techniques and resources in your field

- more invested in the success of their students (mainly because their position advancement depends on it) 

- more personable, both as a younger person (assuming you are younger, too) and as a more recent PhD graduate

There are also some downsides, of course. They may not have a more established network of resources and contacts, and they may not be as encyclopedic in their knowledge, but I think I value the interpersonal benefits more than the luxurious ones, if that makes any sense. There is also the possibility of your advisor not advancing their tenure and choosing to move to another program early in their career, leaving you to follow them or make some drastic decisions where you are at. This is a risk I am willing to take.

During my undergrad, I was involved in research under a well established and respected scientist in my field, but I also had some experience working with newer faculty, which I greatly enjoyed. The person I will be pursuing my PhD under is a brand new hire and I will be their first student. Our research interests and methodology overlap very well. During my visit, we got along well and I feel comfortable with the idea of working with them and the department as a whole. My advisor did their PhD at a top program in my field, at a very prestigious university (something that I value greatly). However, the department I will be in is relatively small--but it is very formidable and rapidly growing (my visit and my cohort size confirmed this). The research I will be involved in will be completely new to the department and university. The university is semi-prestigious and well regarded, as a whole.

Is there anyone here that has had a similar experience to this in the past, or are currently experiencing this, or will be in this position next year? 

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On 3/17/2019 at 11:06 AM, goosejuice said:

I was hoping I could start a discussion for those who will be working with (or are considering to work with) newer faculty.

For a few reasons, I consciously made an effort to reach out to younger professors when searching for programs to apply to this year. Of course, this meant being open to working with newly-hired faculty. Going into this, I did some preliminary research into what this experience could be like. Relative to older and more tenured professors, newer professors are likely to be

- more eager and excited to conduct research and publish

- more knowledgable in the newest, cutting-edge techniques and resources in your field

- more invested in the success of their students (mainly because their position advancement depends on it) 

- more personable, both as a younger person (assuming you are younger, too) and as a more recent PhD graduate

There are also some downsides, of course. They may not have a more established network of resources and contacts, and they may not be as encyclopedic in their knowledge, but I think I value the interpersonal benefits more than the luxurious ones, if that makes any sense. There is also the possibility of your advisor not advancing their tenure and choosing to move to another program early in their career, leaving you to follow them or make some drastic decisions where you are at. This is a risk I am willing to take.

During my undergrad, I was involved in research under a well established and respected scientist in my field, but I also had some experience working with newer faculty, which I greatly enjoyed. The person I will be pursuing my PhD under is a brand new hire and I will be their first student. Our research interests and methodology overlap very well. During my visit, we got along well and I feel comfortable with the idea of working with them and the department as a whole. My advisor did their PhD at a top program in my field, at a very prestigious university (something that I value greatly). However, the department I will be in is relatively small--but it is very formidable and rapidly growing (my visit and my cohort size confirmed this). The research I will be involved in will be completely new to the department and university. The university is semi-prestigious and well regarded, as a whole.

Is there anyone here that has had a similar experience to this in the past, or are currently experiencing this, or will be in this position next year? 

This was my experience for my master's degree, and it worked out well for me. I don't have much to add because I think you've summarized the pros and cons well. I found that my advisor was eager, ambitious, invested in us, and had a good appreciation for what it's like to be a grad student these days. (I particularly appreciated this last one. It could be really difficult to have an advisor who is out of touch with things like the current job market in your field or how things have been changing for students, financially and otherwise.) On the other hand, it may have helped to have an advisor with a more established network, especially when moving on to finding jobs and/or PhD positions.

I've been given the advice that finding a supportive advisor whom you get along with is the most important factor in choosing a program. I'm not sure that the prestige of the program where your advisor did their PhD is that important. If it means that their background is particularly strong in areas that you're interested in, or that they've worked with people you may be interested in working with in the future, then that's definitely a bonus, but you should look for those things regardless of the prestige of their degree.

It's possible that professors could leave the department at any point, but yeah, it makes sense to think about this if there's a possibility that they may not receive tenure. I've been told that it's okay to actually ask professors whether they plan to stay at their current university long-term (or at least long enough to advise a student through a master's or PhD.) Obviously this isn't always planned (especially the tenure situation), but it might be nice to know if they are considering looking for jobs elsewhere. However, I haven't actually been brave enough to ask this of any potential advisors :) 

One thing I would suggest is to make an effort to connect with students in other labs. Even if your advisor is bringing on other new students at the same time, you won't have the benefit of being around students who have experience in the department and can help you navigate the program. Your advisor may actually not even know the answers to some of your questions about things like classes, paperwork, requirements, tuition and fees, etc. So definitely make an effort to establish a support system of other graduate students!

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3 hours ago, morawel said:

This was my experience for my master's degree, and it worked out well for me. I don't have much to add because I think you've summarized the pros and cons well. I found that my advisor was eager, ambitious, invested in us, and had a good appreciation for what it's like to be a grad student these days. (I particularly appreciated this last one. It could be really difficult to have an advisor who is out of touch with things like the current job market in your field or how things have been changing for students, financially and otherwise.) On the other hand, it may have helped to have an advisor with a more established network, especially when moving on to finding jobs and/or PhD positions.

I've been given the advice that finding a supportive advisor whom you get along with is the most important factor in choosing a program. I'm not sure that the prestige of the program where your advisor did their PhD is that important. If it means that their background is particularly strong in areas that you're interested in, or that they've worked with people you may be interested in working with in the future, then that's definitely a bonus, but you should look for those things regardless of the prestige of their degree.

It's possible that professors could leave the department at any point, but yeah, it makes sense to think about this if there's a possibility that they may not receive tenure. I've been told that it's okay to actually ask professors whether they plan to stay at their current university long-term (or at least long enough to advise a student through a master's or PhD.) Obviously this isn't always planned (especially the tenure situation), but it might be nice to know if they are considering looking for jobs elsewhere. However, I haven't actually been brave enough to ask this of any potential advisors :) 

One thing I would suggest is to make an effort to connect with students in other labs. Even if your advisor is bringing on other new students at the same time, you won't have the benefit of being around students who have experience in the department and can help you navigate the program. Your advisor may actually not even know the answers to some of your questions about things like classes, paperwork, requirements, tuition and fees, etc. So definitely make an effort to establish a support system of other graduate students!

Thank you for the response! I'm glad to know I have been thinking about the right things.

Regarding my advisor's history in their PhD program, my value for that comes from them knowing what it took to be successful in that program, and that will hopefully translate into what they may expect from me to be successful in this field. I know they will be thinking of what they did in their program when advising me, and I think that is the next best thing to getting into the program they were in to begin with. 

Relevant anecdote: last year, I applied to a program to work with a fully tenured professor who told me that they were moving to another university and bringing their whole lab with them, which sounded bizarre to me. I have learned since then that tenured faculty moving to other universities is not out of the ordinary, nor is bringing old lab members with you.

Thank you for the advice. I thought I asked a lot of great questions when I visited initially, but since that visit, I have come up with so many new questions that I wish I had asked when I was there. One thing I was told by older faculty at the program I will be entering, however, was that working with new faculty is exciting in a lot of ways. You get to take part in building their lab and group, which I look forward to. 

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On 3/17/2019 at 11:06 AM, goosejuice said:

- more invested in the success of their students (mainly because their position advancement depends on it) 

- more personable, both as a younger person (assuming you are younger, too) and as a more recent PhD graduate

1

These two generalizations may be overly broad.

If a younger scholar is seeking tenure and the primary criterion is a significant publication, that scholar may not be as invested as advising as her students hope.

"Personable" is not necessarily the same thing as "collegial" or "professional." If you have a good interpersonal relationship with a younger professor, how is that dynamic going to persist or change when it's time for her to stand on your head and what you need to know is vastly different from what you want to hear?

An additional consideration. There's a difference than being an SME in a cutting edge field than being an expert teacher. A person who is the former may be right there with you as you tease out a theory/interpretation. A person who is the latter may be better suited to getting the best out of you so you can express that interpretation in a way that makes sense to others. 

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Something else to consider with a new faculty member - they are learning how to be a supervisor and mentor. You won't have any grad students to ask about how they are as a supervisor, and even the POI won't really be able to answer this based on their experience (it will be more aspirational or focused on what they hope to be).There's more of a risk that they may end up being the kind of supervisor you're not well suited for. If you have a good feeling about them after meeting them, it will probably turn out just fine. 

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8 hours ago, Sigaba said:

These two generalizations may be overly broad.

If a younger scholar is seeking tenure and the primary criterion is a significant publication, that scholar may not be as invested as advising as her students hope.

"Personable" is not necessarily the same thing as "collegial" or "professional." If you have a good interpersonal relationship with a younger professor, how is that dynamic going to persist or change when it's time for her to stand on your head and what you need to know is vastly different from what you want to hear?

An additional consideration. There's a difference than being an SME in a cutting edge field than being an expert teacher. A person who is the former may be right there with you as you tease out a theory/interpretation. A person who is the latter may be better suited to getting the best out of you so you can express that interpretation in a way that makes sense to others. 

I'm pretty sure publications both independent and co-authored with a student are fairly important to a new professor seeking tenure. Part of your job as a professor involved in research is to produce new literature through your students. At least it is in my field. 

8 hours ago, gillis_55 said:

Something else to consider with a new faculty member - they are learning how to be a supervisor and mentor. You won't have any grad students to ask about how they are as a supervisor, and even the POI won't really be able to answer this based on their experience (it will be more aspirational or focused on what they hope to be).There's more of a risk that they may end up being the kind of supervisor you're not well suited for. If you have a good feeling about them after meeting them, it will probably turn out just fine. 

Yes, this is absolutely right and one of the main concerns. One of my main focuses in building initial rapport with my advisor was inquiring about their style of advising students. Their response wasn't very different from the general response I get from more senior faculty. How they go about it may be new to them and myself, but, again, since they went through the process as a student themselves (fairly recently, too), I have more confidence in their ability to know what their grad student would expect or work best with. 

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