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How to do research about professors?


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So we are all applying to universities, and as they always say, advisor is very important.


How can we make sure that our future advisor is a good guy? How do we know he will have time for us, treat us good, and watch our progress?


We apply to universities after checking professors' papers and citation count, but an excellent reserach record does not mean he is a good choice. So if there is no information on websites like ratemyprofessor and google, how can I learn about them?


1) Asking former Ph.D. students? What if they forward my mail to advisor? Can I trust them with confidentiality?


2) Asking professors that published with advisor? That seems even more dangerous


What is your suggestion? How can I make sure that my commitment will pay off. How to make sure I will be happy with my advisor?

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People have reputations. Ask your professors about potential advisors. 


Talk to current and past students of the professor. People are unlikely to out right write bad things about someone in an email (can they trust you with condidentiality?), but they may say things they won't write. The tone of an answer can tell you a lot, as will the choice of words. On visitation days, go out with the students if there is any kind of event that involves students only (and preferably some alcohol). Ask about people, but also about life in the department in general. Find the unhappy people, the ones that avoid the prospectives, and ask them about their lives, what they would do differently. They are the likeliest to tell you the truth about a terrible advisor. Observe the professors-students interactions at department events (if there is a visitation day, there will be a reception-like event) - do they talk to one another, are they friendly? Or are there closed 'cliques' and people don't seem to really know or care about each other? 


Talk to the professor, at least on the phone if not in person. You can learn a lot about your chemistry from simply meeting with them and trying to have a conversation. It won't address all your concerns, but it may raise some immediate red flags. 


Ask about facts (some of the prof, some of students) - How many students (who) has the professor had in the past ~5 years? What are they doing now? Are there people who left the program without graduating or changed advisors in the middle -- if so, how many, and what is the reason (NB you might get different answers from prof and students, which would be something to look out for)? Also ask the professor and their students about the prof's mentoring style - hands on/off, availability, etc. 


(To answer your questions, you could email students if you can't visit, but I'd ask to talk on skype if possible. I would not write co-authors. They won't have the information you seek, and it'll put them in an awkward position.)

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