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Merits and demerits of starting a PhD under an emeritus professor


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I have to decide between attending UMCP with no strings and UIUC with the condition of working under an emeritus professor. I like the professor's work and probably would have done my PhD under him if I had been admitted without this condition. However, I am apprehensive about the emeritus status of the professor. He spends most of the time in another country but is available anytime to talk on skype and visits the university every 10-12 weeks. My question is whether this is enough? Do people need more face-to-face time with their professors? (More info: I have been pretty independent in my masters. Department - ECE)

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How independent you'd like to be changes from person to person. Personally, I wouldn't like the setup you are describing. I'd much prefer someone close whose office I can stop by once in a while to just ask whatever is on my mind. I also think it's important that someone is around to check up on you because sometimes things can go wrong and people can spend a lot of time feeling lost and unproductive; if no one is watching, it can take a while to recover. That said, I know other people who like to be very independent and don't meet with their advisors very often at all, which wouldn't work for me but seems to work for them.

 

A related and very important question is if there is any kind of guarantee that your professor will still be around and active 4-5 years from now, when you are working on your dissertation, and if there is anyone else who could advise you on a more day-to-day basis. This is important both because you will need to form a committee and it's generally nice to have someone around to talk to whenever you need it, but more generally you may end up in serious trouble if your potential advisor is the only person that can advise you and he ends up not being able to do so for whatever reason (this is true not only for emeritus professors, but it's kind of obvious why it's a relevant concern in their case). If the only person you are interested in working with is an emeritus professor, I'd think twice before going down that route.

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The above poster has made some really good points. As someone whose professor isn't emeritus but she just isn't around (to her credit it's not like she's doing nothing with her time, she's already a leading scholar in her field despite being green to the field and so she's got about 15 projects on the go at any one time) and it's been incredibly hard. I am an independent worker; I don't really need much more than my books and my blanket fort in my living room, but I'm also a student and a human and sometimes I just need to verify my ideas with the person that is supposed to be my academic guidance throughout my thesis writing process. I would personally never do a dissertation under someone that I knew I was guaranteed not to see - I would maybe ask if you can speak to some students of this professor to see if they really are available by Skype. I think in that instance, you're okay, because you can still contact them in a hurry if need be, but if they seem checked out, then I'd never be able to accept that offer, knowing what my past year has been like.

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How independent you'd like to be changes from person to person. Personally, I wouldn't like the setup you are describing. I'd much prefer someone close whose office I can stop by once in a while to just ask whatever is on my mind. I also think it's important that someone is around to check up on you because sometimes things can go wrong and people can spend a lot of time feeling lost and unproductive; if no one is watching, it can take a while to recover. That said, I know other people who like to be very independent and don't meet with their advisors very often at all, which wouldn't work for me but seems to work for them.

 

A related and very important question is if there is any kind of guarantee that your professor will still be around and active 4-5 years from now, when you are working on your dissertation, and if there is anyone else who could advise you on a more day-to-day basis. This is important both because you will need to form a committee and it's generally nice to have someone around to talk to whenever you need it, but more generally you may end up in serious trouble if your potential advisor is the only person that can advise you and he ends up not being able to do so for whatever reason (this is true not only for emeritus professors, but it's kind of obvious why it's a relevant concern in their case). If the only person you are interested in working with is an emeritus professor, I'd think twice before going down that route.

 

Thanks a lot fuzzylogician for the valuable inputs. I don't have any doubts that he will be available at least for the next 5-6 years. Also, it is not the case that he is the only faculty at the university working in my field. Thank you for the suggestions. These will be very helpful in making my decision.

 

The above poster has made some really good points. As someone whose professor isn't emeritus but she just isn't around (to her credit it's not like she's doing nothing with her time, she's already a leading scholar in her field despite being green to the field and so she's got about 15 projects on the go at any one time) and it's been incredibly hard. I am an independent worker; I don't really need much more than my books and my blanket fort in my living room, but I'm also a student and a human and sometimes I just need to verify my ideas with the person that is supposed to be my academic guidance throughout my thesis writing process. I would personally never do a dissertation under someone that I knew I was guaranteed not to see - I would maybe ask if you can speak to some students of this professor to see if they really are available by Skype. I think in that instance, you're okay, because you can still contact them in a hurry if need be, but if they seem checked out, then I'd never be able to accept that offer, knowing what my past year has been like.

 

I have talked to the current students and they say that he is actually quite devoted to guiding them. He is available any time via Skype. Thank you for sharing your experience. I will definitely take it into consideration while making the final decision.

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