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Some tips on how to find a PhD advisor

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Hey guys, 

So i recently finished a Phd an I have some tips for new gras that could be quite helpful in looking for a potential advisor.

Academia as if today is a very messy business. It is highly political and money driven. Students who are entering this world have no clue what they are getting into so I want to write down few pointers that could be helpful in telling them about things they should consider before starting their PhD:

(1) In your PhD the most ingenious thing you will do is to choose the right advisor.

Note that the system is over bad and is there to exploit you rather to teach or guide you. They know you are young, idealistic, don't know anything and depend on them. Most professors are just looking for menial labor to work for their agenda, write papers, graduate and let you go to industry while you think you were not made for academia. A very small minority is actually good and can teach you well, hone your potential and take you somewhere. Your PhD will be highly influenced by your advisor. As a proof, see the thesis of any students of a professor and they would look similar as they are less of a product of student's individual capabilities but more of their advisor's. You are merely just a "research assistant" and you will basically become their copy, as everyone does. So choose someone whose copy you want to become.

(2) You would know what your advisor knows. Their field will be your field for a foreseeable future after your PhD. Just look at different professors and you will see that for majority of the professors their publications are related or continuation of their PhD work. So again choose someone depending on what you would like to know and pursue after your PhD. It takes considerable effort to know a field from inside out to make novel contributions and/or to change fields. So choose VERY wisely what field you are getting into. Most likely right after an undergrad you have no clue about what any field is like or what you want. Thus doing a Masters from a good school is highly advisable before starting a PhD.

3) Academia is basically a paper writing business. And PhD students are basically tools for the system to keep churning out papers. IMO more than 95% of papers are crap and are basically written by naive (mostly international) students coming from poor countries who are in developed world and are attached by strings to stay here through their advisors and are just happy to be in a developed world. The professors very well know this precarious situations and take full advantage of it. There are many professors who will only take smartest of students from poor countries as they don't have many options to leave and go back. Spending 5 years to think deeply about some obscure problem to advance someone else's career is not worth it.

You as a student who has a natural human proclivity to learn and use your time productively and be creative and use your potential (even if you exactly don't know what that is). Professors exactly know this desire and thrive on that. The bad ones would use that proclivity for their needs and make you work for them and write papers and by the time you would graduate and realize that this is not what you wanted to do, they would have next victims to repeat the process. The good ones will align with your proclivities and give your space and intellectual stimulation to develop yourself.

4) Every advisor wants keep their ship running at full speed and want to take the most out of their student. This is not necessarily a bad thing and can actually be a good thing if the advisor is highly knowledgeable and reputed and is doing excellent work. It is the best way to learn and grow. However, probably more than 80% of faculty in top schools are not this type. Most are enjoying the tenure system, not caring what problems they are working on, if they are meaningful and if that would help students get a job in academia. All they care about is getting 2-3 journal papers out and show the committee you have done something and graduate you and get some grants based on the work to do the same to the next student. It is a very factory/industrial approach on how students are being churned out of the system which feed the industry in US and are very important part of that system. There are a lot of people in academia who are completely exploiting their tenured position.

5) Your early years are one of the most productive years of your life where you have the maximum potential to grow and learn. Your PhD thesis and advisor is a defining feature of your life. In academia you would always be known as a student of this and this until you produce a big enough result so you are known on your own. More than 70% students have no idea about this and randomly choose an advisor based on instinct or whosoever they found acceptable enough. And not surprisingly most people (I would say more than 90% ) look back and don't like what they achieved in their PhD or regret it all together. But a careful thinking of your taste and what's out there can drastically reduce these unwanted accidents.

5b) In your early 20s you are the most active, idealistic, most malleable and in the best shape in your life. Only work with those who deserve the best of you on this planet.

6) As I said before, pretty much all professors in academia are exploiting the students to maximum who are naive and cheap labor and young and idealistic. Given the statistics, it is possibly the most common thing to land up with the wrong advisor who use you as paper writing tool and graduate you while you waste the best years of your life neither enjoying nor learning nor making money-- worst of all worlds.

7) In academic job market, recommendations and the big name of the advisor is probably the most important thing. There are people with much better results who don't get an academic job while a mediocre thesis but big advisor gets you a position.

Finally be very selfish. Only work with smart, competent and best of the people and surround yourself with smartest people on the planet to do best in life.

[Source:reddit/ wiki_acads]


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  • 1 year later...

Thanks for the information, currently I do not plan to get PhD yet, but when such advice is given by a person who has passed it is great!))

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