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POI with 10 PhD advisees - too many?


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I've been accepted at a program where my potential advisor already has 10 PhD advisees and 7 M.S. advisees (no post-docs).  This seems like a big lab to me (will I get enough attention?).  Any red flags when a prof already has so many PhD students under him?  Any specific questions that I should be asking of this lab?  Thanks in advance!

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There is another lab at my school in which the PI has about 13 advisees.  What I noticed from this lab so far is that there is not a lot of cohesion between them.  There is not as much sense of community within them and I think that results from everyone having their own thing going on and not all are on campus as much.  This may not be true of every big lab.  Another thing is that they don't have regular lab meetings and because of so many students they have a hard time all meeting together.  Attention does seem spread kind of thin between them, and I notice that the students who need more guidance often have to rely on each other or seek advice and help from other professors like my PI.  

I would ask the POI what their routine is, like lab meetings and the community between all the students.  Do they collaborate with each other much or are people more so doing their own thing.  How available the POI is and how they schedule to keep up to date with all their students.  I'd ask the students in the lab how responsive and available the POI is.  Also another important question is where these students end up after graduating and how many of them continue through the program to its finish.

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That does sound like a lot of advisees! I agree with everything that kaister said, but want to emphasize that you should also consider your own work style. Are you [generally] pretty independent and self-motivated? In a big lab, you'll almost certainly need to be. This doesn't mean that your advisor can't/shouldn't help you or answer your questions when needed, but you'll probably need to do a lot of the work unsupervised and not count on constant feedback from your advisor. If that sounds like you, then great! I think working independently is a skill that all graduate students should have anyway, but not everyone thrives in that kind of working environment. If you'd prefer a mentor who is very hands-on during all steps of the research process, you might not be happy in such a large lab (just because your advisor will have such little time to devote solely to you-- he has 17 other students to attend to, plus his own work/grant writing/teaching load/etc.).


Another thing to consider is physical space and lab equipment. One of the labs that I applied to was also on the large side (14 students total, 6 of which are PhDs), and my POI told me upfront that he'd love to have me, but even finding enough bench space for me to work on would be difficult. The lab also has a limited number of computers and microscopes available-- far fewer than there are students who need to use them regularly. I don't know what the situation is in your lab of interest, or what type of equipment you'd potentially need to share/compete over, but it's something to consider (you should ask some of the current students about this). It's not an insurmountable issue, but it could be a big inconvenience... especially if a majority of the current students will be in the lab for a while (i.e. they're years away from graduating).

Edited by zabius
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I think I was student #12 when I came and #13 started in the spring. Now, we're not a lab based group so there weren't those sorts of space issues. There were/are issues, however, with getting personal attention. Basically, it ebbs and flows based on where you are in the program and based on the overall set of student needs. In my case, I have to be proactive if I really need help with something since it's unlikely my advisor will notice. This works fine for me since I don't mind working independently but, it can also be frustrating when you actually do need feedback to have to wait several weeks to get a meeting. I hope that makes sense.

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Some labs are huge while others are quite small.


I recall a prof in my undergrad who had a huge lab, with something like 9 students under him and some 10 or so research assistants. 


All of the students under him obtained funding and had publications, each seemed competent and entirely well informed of the research done by others.



I've also seem some professors go from 3 students under them, to 2, to 1, to none - as no one applied to work with them.



Don't let size determine lab fit, meet with the professor of interest, ask how their lab runs, tell them your wants and needs.


Then do similar with a grad student who is there if possible.

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