Ask E. Jean: I'm Attracted to My PhD Adviser But the Feeling Isn't Mutual

How can I make emotionally unavailable male authority figures less attractive to me?

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Dear E. Jean: I find myself insanely attracted to men in authority. In short, I’m crushing very hard on my PhD adviser. I’ve also been acting out, challenging his authority, and getting teary-eyed when he gives me the cold shoulder. (In my defense, he acted like a jerk and became rude after I suggested to him that he could be a “better communicator.”)

I admit he’s under stress. But he takes it out on me by being dismissive of my projects, ignoring my emails, and being surly when he chooses to respond to me. I’m constantly pulled between being resentful that he’s in the privileged position of not having to care about my feelings, and being attracted to him because of it! How do I keep talking to him? I’m afraid I’ll end up provoking him and making things worse. How do I learn how to bow and scrape like all the other grad students? Better yet, how can I make emotionally unavailable male authority figures less attractive to me? — Rebel Without a Degree

Rebel, My Rutabaga : Please. If I could tell people how to make “male authority figures” less attractive, the U.S. Congress would be composed of 97 percent women. But I can tell you this, Rebel, honey: Stop! Pestering! Your! Adviser! You’re in the middle of the semester. I get it. Your nerves are shot; you doubtless haven’t slept for days; your projects seem teetering on the brink of disaster—but really. Come on.

At a time when women are risking their careers to alert the world that they’re being hounded, grabbed, cornered, and humiliated at their jobs, you are this close to harassing this guy. Or perhaps “harassing” is not the word. “Bedeviling” is probably more like it. Whatever you mean by “acting out,” it’s not wise and it’s not going to advance your career. Practice being strong, Rebel. Exercise self-reliance. A superbrilliant PhD candidate should be nonconformist, yes, but keep it professional, and leave him alone.

Now, if I’ve misread your letter, and if you’re not as “teary-eyed” as you let on, but, rather, respectful and droll when you challenge him, and if the man is regularly a “rude,” “surly” “jerk” who’s not only “dismissive of” but also obstructs your projects, then that is a different matter, and you should report him to the dean.

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I write the ASK E. JEAN column in ELLE magazine.  Incredibly it's the longest, currently-running advice column in American publishing. I live in a little cabin on an island (it's about the size of a mattress) in upstate New York. I used to write for Saturday Night Live and was a contributing editor to Esquire and Outside. I have noticed one thing about writing: when I get stuck I find that walking into the kitchen sixty or seventy times to eat something really helps.

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Open Access

Ten simple rules for choosing a PhD supervisor

Contributed equally to this work with: Loay Jabre, Catherine Bannon, J. Scott P. McCain, Yana Eglit

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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  • Loay Jabre, 
  • Catherine Bannon, 
  • J. Scott P. McCain, 


Published: September 30, 2021

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Fig 1

Citation: Jabre L, Bannon C, McCain JSP, Eglit Y (2021) Ten simple rules for choosing a PhD supervisor. PLoS Comput Biol 17(9): e1009330.

Editor: Scott Markel, Dassault Systemes BIOVIA, UNITED STATES

Copyright: © 2021 Jabre et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


The PhD beckons. You thought long and hard about why you want to do it, you understand the sacrifices and commitments it entails, and you have decided that it is the right thing for you. Congratulations! Undertaking a doctoral degree can be an extremely rewarding experience, greatly enhancing your personal, intellectual, and professional development. If you are still on the fence about whether or not you want to pursue a PhD, see [ 1 , 2 ] and others to help you decide.

As a PhD student in the making, you will have many important decisions to consider. Several of them will depend on your chosen discipline and research topic, the institution you want to attend, and even the country where you will undertake your degree. However, one of the earliest and most critical decisions you will need to make transcends most other decisions: choosing your PhD thesis supervisor. Your PhD supervisor will strongly influence the success and quality of your degree as well as your general well-being throughout the program. It is therefore vital to choose the right supervisor for you. A wrong choice or poor fit can be disastrous on both a personal and professional levels—something you obviously want to avoid. Unfortunately, however, most PhD students go through the process of choosing a supervisor only once and thus do not get the opportunity to learn from previous experiences. Additionally, many prospective PhD students do not have access to resources and proper guidance to rely on when making important academic decisions such as those involved in choosing a PhD supervisor.

In this short guide, we—a group of PhD students with varied backgrounds, research disciplines, and academic journeys—share our collective experiences with choosing our own PhD supervisors. We provide tips and advice to help prospective students in various disciplines, including computational biology, in their quest to find a suitable PhD supervisor. Despite procedural differences across countries, institutions, and programs, the following rules and discussions should remain helpful for guiding one’s approach to selecting their future PhD supervisor. These guidelines mostly address how to evaluate a potential PhD supervisor and do not include details on how you might find a supervisor. In brief, you can find a supervisor anywhere: seminars, a class you were taught, internet search of interesting research topics, departmental pages, etc. After reading about a group’s research and convincing yourself it seems interesting, get in touch! Make sure to craft an e-mail carefully, demonstrating you have thought about their research and what you might do in their group. After finding one or several supervisors of interest, we hope that the rules bellow will help you choose the right supervisor for you.

Rule 1: Align research interests

You need to make sure that a prospective supervisor studies, or at the very least, has an interest in what you want to study. A good starting point would be to browse their personal and research group websites (though those are often outdated), their publication profile, and their students’ theses, if possible. Keep in mind that the publication process can be slow, so recent publications may not necessarily reflect current research in that group. Pay special attention to publications where the supervisor is senior author—in life sciences, their name would typically be last. This would help you construct a mental map of where the group interests are going, in addition to where they have been.

Be proactive about pursuing your research interests, but also flexible: Your dream research topic might not currently be conducted in a particular group, but perhaps the supervisor is open to exploring new ideas and research avenues with you. Check that the group or institution of interest has the facilities and resources appropriate for your research, and/or be prepared to establish collaborations to access those resources elsewhere. Make sure you like not only the research topic, but also the “grunt work” it requires, as a topic you find interesting may not be suitable for you in terms of day-to-day work. You can look at the “Methods” sections of published papers to get a sense for what this is like—for example, if you do not like resolving cryptic error messages, programming is probably not for you, and you might want to consider a wet lab–based project. Lastly, any research can be made interesting, and interests change. Perhaps your favorite topic today is difficult to work with now, and you might cut your teeth on a different project.

Rule 2: Seek trusted sources

Discussing your plans with experienced and trustworthy people is a great way to learn more about the reputation of potential supervisors, their research group dynamics, and exciting projects in your field of interest. Your current supervisor, if you have one, could be aware of position openings that are compatible with your interests and time frame and is likely to know talented supervisors with good reputations in their fields. Professors you admire, reliable student advisors, and colleagues might also know your prospective supervisor on various professional or personal levels and could have additional insight about working with them. Listen carefully to what these trusted sources have to say, as they can provide a wealth of insider information (e.g., personality, reputation, interpersonal relationships, and supervisory styles) that might not be readily accessible to you.

Rule 3: Expectations, expectations, expectations

A considerable portion of PhD students feel that their program does not meet original expectations [ 3 ]. To avoid being part of this group, we stress the importance of aligning your expectations with the supervisor’s expectations before joining a research group or PhD program. Also, remember that one person’s dream supervisor can be another’s worst nightmare and vice versa—it is about a good fit for you. Identifying what a “good fit” looks like requires a serious self-appraisal of your goals (see Rule 1 ), working style (see Rule 5 ), and what you expect in a mentor (see Rule 4 ). One way to conduct this self-appraisal is to work in a research lab to get experiences similar to a PhD student (if this is possible).

Money!—Many people have been conditioned to avoid the subject of finances at all costs, but setting financial expectations early is crucial for maintaining your well-being inside and outside the lab. Inside the lab, funding will provide chemicals and equipment required for you to do cool research. It is also important to know if there will be sufficient funding for your potential projects to be completed. Outside the lab, you deserve to get paid a reasonable, livable stipend. What is the minimum required take-home stipend, or does that even exist at the institution you are interested in? Are there hard cutoffs for funding once your time runs out, or does the institution have support for students who take longer than anticipated? If the supervisor supplies the funding, do they end up cutting off students when funds run low, or do they have contingency plans? ( Fig 1 ).


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Professional development opportunities—A key aspect of graduate school training is professional development. In some research groups, it is normal for PhD students to mentor undergraduate students or take a semester to work in industry to get more diverse experiences. Other research groups have clear links with government entities, which is helpful for going into policy or government-based research. These opportunities (and others) are critical for your career and next steps. What are the career development opportunities and expectations of a potential supervisor? Is a potential supervisor happy to send students to workshops to learn new skills? Are they supportive of public outreach activities? If you are looking at joining a newer group, these sorts of questions will have to be part of the larger set of conversations about expectations. Ask: “What sort of professional development opportunities are there at the institution?”

Publications—Some PhD programs have minimum requirements for finishing a thesis (i.e., you must publish a certain number of papers prior to defending), while other programs leave it up to the student and supervisor to decide on this. A simple and important topic to discuss is: How many publications are expected from your PhD and when will you publish them? If you are keen to publish in high-impact journals, does your prospective supervisor share that aim? (Although question why you are so keen to do so, see the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment ( ) to learn about the pitfalls of journal impact factor.)

Rule 4: It takes two to tango

Sooner or later, you will get to meet and interview with a prospective PhD supervisor. This should go both ways: Interview them just as much as they are interviewing you. Prepare questions and pay close attention to how they respond. For example, ask them about their “lab culture,” research interests (especially for the future/long term), and what they are looking for in a graduate student. Do you feel like you need to “put on an act” to go along with the supervisor (beyond just the standard interview mode)? Represent yourself, and not the person you think they are looking for. All of us will have some interviews go badly. Remember that discovering a poor fit during the interview has way fewer consequences than the incompatibility that could arise once you have committed to a position.

To come up with good questions for the prospective supervisor, first ask yourself questions. What are you looking for in a mentor? People differ in their optimal levels of supervision, and there is nothing wrong with wanting more or less than your peers. How much career guidance do you expect and does the potential supervisor respect your interests, particularly if your long-term goals do not include academia? What kind of student might not thrive in this research group?

Treat the PhD position like a partnership: What do you seek to get out of it? Keep in mind that a large portion of research is conducted by PhD students [ 4 ], so you are also an asset. Your supervisor will provide guidance, but the PhD is your work. Make sure you and your mentor are on the same page before committing to what is fundamentally a professional contract akin to an apprenticeship (see “ Rule 3 ”).

Rule 5: Workstyle compatibility

Sharing interests with a supervisor does not necessarily guarantee you would work well together, and just because you enjoyed a course by a certain professor does not mean they are the right PhD supervisor for you. Make sure your expectations for work and work–life approaches are compatible. Do you thrive on structure, or do you need freedom to proceed at your own pace? Do they expect you to be in the lab from 6:00 AM to midnight on a regular basis (red flag!)? Are they comfortable with you working from home when you can? Are they around the lab enough for it to work for you? Are they supportive of alternative work hours if you have other obligations (e.g., childcare, other employment, extracurriculars)? How is the group itself organized? Is there a lab manager or are the logistics shared (fairly?) between the group members? Discuss this before you commit!

Two key attributes of a research group are the supervisor’s career stage and number of people in the group. A supervisor in a later career stage may have more established research connections and protocols. An earlier career stage supervisor comes with more opportunities to shape the research direction of the lab, but less access to academic political power and less certainty in what their supervision style will be (even to themselves). Joining new research groups provides a great opportunity to learn how to build a lab if you are considering that career path but may take away time and energy from your thesis project. Similarly, be aware of pros and cons of different lab sizes. While big labs provide more opportunity for collaborations and learning from fellow lab members, their supervisors generally have less time available for each trainee. Smaller labs tend to have better access to the supervisor but may be more isolating [ 5 , 6 ]. Also note that large research groups tend to be better for developing extant research topics further, while small groups can conduct more disruptive research [ 7 ].

Rule 6: Be sure to meet current students

Meeting with current students is one of the most important steps prior to joining a lab. Current students will give you the most direct and complete sense of what working with a certain supervisor is actually like. They can also give you a valuable sense of departmental culture and nonacademic life. You could also ask to meet with other students in the department to get a broader sense of the latter. However, if current students are not happy with their current supervisor, they are unlikely to tell you directly. Try to ask specific questions: “How often do you meet with your supervisor?”, “What are the typical turnaround times for a paper draft?”, “How would you describe the lab culture?”, “How does your supervisor react to mistakes or unexpected results?”, “How does your supervisor react to interruptions to research from, e.g., personal life?”, and yes, even “What would you say is the biggest weakness of your supervisor?”

Rule 7: But also try to meet past students

While not always possible, meeting with past students can be very informative. Past students give you information on career outcomes (i.e., what are they doing now?) and can provide insight into what the lab was like when they were in it. Previous students will provide a unique perspective because they have gone through the entire process, from start to finish—and, in some cases, no longer feel obligated to speak well of their now former supervisor. It can also be helpful to look at previous students’ experiences by reading the acknowledgement section in their theses.

Rule 8: Consider the entire experience

Your PhD supervisor is only one—albeit large—piece of your PhD puzzle. It is therefore essential to consider your PhD experience as whole when deciding on a supervisor. One important aspect to contemplate is your mental health. Graduate students have disproportionately higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to the general population [ 8 ], so your mental health will be tested greatly throughout your PhD experience. We suggest taking the time to reflect on what factors would enable you to do your best work while maintaining a healthy work–life balance. Does your happiness depend on surfing regularly? Check out coastal areas. Do you despise being cold? Consider being closer to the equator. Do you have a deep-rooted phobia of koalas? Maybe avoid Australia. Consider these potentially even more important questions like: Do you want to be close to your friends and family? Will there be adequate childcare support? Are you comfortable with studying abroad? How does the potential university treat international or underrepresented students? When thinking about your next steps, keep in mind that although obtaining your PhD will come with many challenges, you will be at your most productive when you are well rested, financially stable, nourished, and enjoying your experience.

Rule 9: Trust your gut

You have made it to our most “hand-wavy” rule! As academics, we understand the desire for quantifiable data and some sort of statistic to make logical decisions. If this is more your style, consider every interaction with a prospective supervisor, from the first e-mail onwards, as a piece of data.

However, there is considerable value in trusting gut instincts. One way to trust your gut is to listen to your internal dialogue while making your decision on a PhD supervisor. For example, if your internal dialogue includes such phrases as “it will be different for me,” “I’ll just put my head down and work hard,” or “maybe their students were exaggerating,” you might want to proceed with caution. If you are saying “Wow! How are they so kind and intelligent?” or “I cannot wait to start!”, then you might have found a winner ( Fig 2 ).


Rule 10: Wash, rinse, repeat

The last piece of advice we give you is to do this lengthy process all over again. Comparing your options is a key step during the search for a PhD supervisor. By screening multiple different groups, you ultimately learn more about what red flags to look for, compatible work styles, your personal expectations, and group atmospheres. Repeat this entire process with another supervisor, another university, or even another country. We suggest you reject the notion that you would be “wasting someone’s time.” You deserve to take your time and inform yourself to choose a PhD supervisor wisely. The time and energy invested in a “failed” supervisor search would still be far less than what is consumed by a bad PhD experience ( Fig 3 ).


The more supervisors your interview and the more advice you get from peers, the more apparent these red flags will become.


Pursuing a PhD can be an extremely rewarding endeavor and a time of immense personal growth. The relationship you have with your PhD supervisor can make or break an entire experience, so make this choice carefully. Above, we have outlined some key points to think about while making this decision. Clarifying your own expectations is a particularly important step, as conflicts can arise when there are expectation mismatches. In outlining these topics, we hope to share pieces of advice that sometimes require “insider” knowledge and experience.

After thoroughly evaluating your options, go ahead and tackle the PhD! In our own experiences, carefully choosing a supervisor has led to relationships that morph from mentor to mentee into a collaborative partnership where we can pose new questions and construct novel approaches to answer them. Science is hard enough by itself. If you choose your supervisor well and end up developing a positive relationship with them and their group, you will be better suited for sound and enjoyable science.

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Sai Kanth Dacha

Sai Kanth Dacha

Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University

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What to Look for in a Potential PhD Advisor

12 minute read

Published: July 17, 2020

“Is he ghosting me?”

“Is she mad at me? Did I say something wrong?”

“Am I good enough? Does s/he even recognize and appreciate what I’m doing?”

Although these sound like the thoughts of someone worried if their partner/spouse is mad at them, these are also the kinds of thoughts that PhD students riddled with Impostor Syndrome often have about their advisors/PIs.

"Impostor Syndrome"

This apparent similarity might seem strange at first sight, but there is often a deeper reality to it: a PhD advisor, and by extension the relationship that a student has with their advisor, has enormous influence over the graduate school experience of the student. Just as a romantic relationship requires effort, communication, honesty and integrity, so does the relationship with one’s PhD advisor.

The struggle is real

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but doing a PhD is quite challenging, especially these days. Grad school application processes are notoriously expensive. Acceptance rates tend to average around 5-10% for STEM fields in the US , and can be low as 2–5% for some programs. International students have the added complication of getting a visa: in 2018, rejection rate for non-immigrant F-1 visa was around 35% . Once they’re in, graduate students world over are often not compensated well enough. In the face of ever-increasing cost of living, this leads to financial stress . Anxiety, stress, impostor syndrome, loneliness, concerns about the future, funding issues are only some of the all-too-familiar challenges that PhD students have to face on a daily basis; all while trying to do something completely new and original that no one in the world has ever done before! It is perhaps no wonder that PhD dropout rates in the US are as high as 50% .

Program structures and academic supervision also have a big role to play. Specifically, the relationship that you have with your advisor can greatly influence your PhD experience. The stories that I’ve listened to from my friends and colleagues over the past few years have made me realize exactly how bad things can get. Together with my own advisor struggles, these stories have given me a better perspective now on what it is that one should look for in a potential PhD advisor. This article is an attempt to give words to my thoughts on this subject — while my grad school experiences are still fresh in memory — in hopes that it will be useful to a prospective PhD student that is looking to find a thesis advisor.

The “Obvious”

1.1) research areas, type of work:.

Assuming acceptance into a PhD program, the first “obvious” thing to look for in a potential advisor is their research interests. Often times, incoming PhD students already have a few research groups in mind before they join the program. This is good practice, but is far from sufficient.

Perhaps the best advice that I’ve received on this topic is from my current advisor, when I first met him before joining his group: look for what it is that you would do on a day-to-day basis and see if you find that exciting, rather than make a choice purely based on research topics. Are you an experimentalist and enjoy hands-on work? If so, would you want to do system-level work or are you more interested in device fabrication? Or are you more inclined to do computational or theoretical work? Asking these questions in addition to what area you want to work in can greatly help in deciding which research group to join.

1.2) Funding:

Funding for universities and scientific research is awfully lacking in many countries, and this is often reflected in the number of active researchers per million population. My own home country India, for instance, has only about 150 researchers per million . Availability of grant funds can vary from one field to another, but generally speaking, there isn’t enough to go around. I have known far too many of my own peers who have had to either TA (in addition to doing research) for multiple years on end, or switch groups because funds ran out. As a result, it is usually helpful to check with a potential advisor if they are willing to fund you for the entire duration of your PhD.

The Less Obvious (And underrated)

2.1) the human being:.

Professors, especially the more popular ones, are some times made out to be larger-than-life figures who can do no wrong. The fact of the matter is that they are human beings, and have personalities and flaws just like everybody else. This might not matter to most people that interact with them, but it does to their PhD students.

A professor that I once worked with drew pleasure from needlessly ridiculing some of his students in front of other people. Another professor I knew would yell at his students as though they were his servants. The advisor of one of my friends is infamous for making his students spend many days on a report or a proposal, only to organize an 8 hour meeting soon after to rephrase everything the way he likes it. Another friend of mine has an advisor that has consistently given preferential treatment to one specific student in the group that she seemingly liked better. I could go on, but you get the point. In all of these cases, the personality of the advisor only affected their student(s), and no one else.

This is not to say that all advisors are bad people; in fact, in my experience, many are good people. But the point is, whether an advisor is a decent human being or not is often overlooked by many before they decide to work for him/her. Does s/he seem like a reasonable individual? Will they let you stay home if you fall sick, or will they expect you to come in no matter what? Do they seem like someone that would care for your mental health and your progress? These questions are important ones that both current and new graduate students must start asking.

As with toxic personal relationships, toxic professional relationships with PhD advisors are bad for students’ mental health. Suicide rates are high enough among PhD students as it is, and the last thing that you’d want as a first-year PhD student is to end up in an advisor situation that could make you regret your choice of doing a PhD. It is therefore a good idea to do your due diligence.

Some of this is hard to assess before joining a group, of course. But talking to current group members and asking the right questions can give you a good sense of things. This, of course, is still not a sufficient enough or a clear-cut enough solution, but it’s a good start. And if you somehow do hear something about what kind of a person s/he is, you would know to not neglect that information.

2.2) The Researcher:

Some researchers prioritize publishing as many papers as possible over all else, and go after quantity over quality. In my field, I have seen competitor groups that try to publish a new paper for every slightly-different result that they get in the lab. More often than not, this has made me desperate to get my work out as quickly as possible (in other words, prematurely). About a year ago, I insisted to my advisor that we submit some experimental observations that I made in the lab to a popular conference in my field. He said no. I persisted, and he still said no. He was not convinced that the data that I had collected was good enough to be published anywhere, despite my confidence in it.

The publication-starved graduate student in me was disappointed and a little heart-broken, but I later realized that he had taught me an important lesson about scientific integrity. (The data that I was so confident about later turned out to be not so reliable after all!) In my view, the kind of researcher that your advisor is will greatly shape what kind of researcher you will go on to be.

2.3) Willingness to Invest in You:

Time : There is some times a misconception among the general public that professorship can be a laid-back job, but most professors that I’ve interacted with are incredibly busy people. In addition to managing multiple research projects, students and postdocs, they are often shooting for new grants, teaching courses, are on various committees and also taking care of their kids and family. While part of their unavailability is therefore more than understandable, some advisors don’t end up making enough time for their students at all. Whether or not you actually get advice from your advisor on a regular basis is key to your growth as a researcher.

Resources: Would a potential advisor invest in your learning and training, or would they rather have you do only what matters for churning out papers? The whole point of a PhD is for you to learn about a subject in as much depth and breadth (in that order) as possible. It is therefore crucial that your advisor gives you the space and opportunities to learn and grow. This could mean anything from providing access to learning material to letting you attend summer schools and academic conferences.

Both of these are important aspects for a good learning experience, and it is a good idea to discuss them with current students of the advisor before making a decision.

2.4) Expectations and Communication:

New professors are often under pressure to publish at a faster pace to be able to keep their jobs. This usually means greater pressure on his/her graduate students to work harder. Older/tenured professors are a bit more “relaxed” in this regard. Neither is necessarily better than the other for a graduate student, but the potential workload and pressure is something to consider. Make sure you know what is expected of you before making the commitment, especially if you have other responsibilities (other jobs, kid(s) to take care of etc.).

Part of doing so is to be able to communicate with your advisor freely. For a long time, a friend of mine has had issues communicating her concerns with her advisor about sexist micro-aggressions directed at her by certain members of the group. The advisor was a woman too, which would ideally have meant that my friend should have felt safe to voice her concerns. But she didn’t. The reason there was simple: the advisor was far too detached from the individuals that made up the group, and communication between her and her students (especially my friend) was non-existent.

The moral of the story is that being able to communicate with your advisor freely about anything and everything is important, to say the least. To those that aren’t going through the PhD experience themselves, this might seem like asking for too much, but as any grad student that has suffered from issues such as this would tell you, communication matters.

Also “Obvious” (But overrated)

3.1) “connections”/”popularity”/h-index:.

It could be tempting to readily join any “popular”/highly-published/well-connected professor’s group if they will have you, but this could prove counterproductive if you have not paid close enough attention to the more fundamental aspects that I’ve mentioned above. The professor that I mentioned before — the one that likes to ridicule his students needlessly in front of others — is extremely well-known in a worldwide scientific collaboration. He is one of the most brilliant people that I have ever met. But I would not want to do my PhD with him.

3.2) University Affiliation:

This is a popular one too. Wouldn’t it be “cooler” to introduce yourself as a PhD student at Harvard or Cornell rather than one at Florida State? It probably would, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better. It is true that Harvard or Cornell might offer you a better overall student experience than some lesser-known universities (not that Florida State isn’t well-known), but there are so many more important things for a PhD. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned above, research environment in the department, access to research facilities and potential collaborators are much more crucial for a well-rounded research experience — irrespective of whether that is at an Ivy League school or some other. These factors are not relevant for undergraduate studies, but for graduate research, they most certainly are.

It is easy (and tempting) to fall into the illusion that h-indices and rankings matter a lot, but more often than not, that illusion breaks as quickly as it comes once the PhD grind begins. Working with a well-connected advisor at an Ivy League school surely has its benefits, but only if you are able to get the support that you need from them to be able to get through grad school in one piece.

The Bottomline

If there is anything that you take away from this article, I hope it is that there is more than what meets the eye when it comes to choosing a PhD advisor. Beyond what the numbers will tell you, the human being that your future advisor is is something that matters. Deciding to do a PhD is a huge commitment. Perhaps today more than ever, graduate students all over the world are facing increasing difficulties with financial compensation, stress, work-life balance and mental health. Having a supportive advisor by your side can greatly help make these 5–6 (hopefully not more) years a better experience.

Checking all of these boxes might not be possible for many. An advisor situation without any issues whatsoever might be even more unlikely. I certainly have had my own challenges and struggles in this regard. I’ve realized that some level of friction and some compromise is almost inevitable, and that that is not necessarily a result of you or your advisor not doing enough, but rather a reflection of the difficulty and complexity of undertaking scientific research. But by asking the right questions before (or even after) making the commitment, and by demanding what is only fair, we not only help our individual selves, but we also help build an environment where the needs of graduate students are better heard. And that, in my view, ultimately only strengthens academia and the scientific community at large.

I am incredibly grateful for the extremely considerate human being and the brilliant researcher that my advisor is — in that order. My hope is that you will be too, for your future advisor.

Emailing a Professor

Needless to say, this article is neither “expert advice” nor “peer-reviewed”. But it was written with the hope that at least some of it will be useful. All this is is the inner thoughts of a 4th year PhD student that has hit multiple roadblocks on his research and is waiting for his advisor to respond to some of his emails.

This story was originally published by the author on Medium .

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What Makes A Good PhD Supervisor?

Dr Harry Hothi

  • By Dr Harry Hothi
  • August 12, 2020

Choosing a Good PhD Supervisor

A good PhD supervisor has a track record of supervising PhD students through to completion, has a strong publication record, is active in their research field, has sufficient time to provide adequate supervision, is genuinely interested in your project, can provide mentorship and has a supportive personality.


The indicators that you’ll have the best chance of succeeding in your PhD project are multi-factorial. You’ll need to secure funding, find a research project that you’re interested in and is within your academic area of expertise, maybe even write your own research proposal, and find a good supervisor that will help guide you through PhD life.

As you research more into life as a doctoral student, you’ll appreciate that choosing a good supervisor is one of the most important factors that can influence the success of your project, and even If you complete your PhD at all. You need to find a good supervisory relationship with someone who has a genuine research interest in your project.

This page outlines the top qualities to look for as indicators of an ideal PhD supervisor. But before we get to that, we should be clear on precisely what the supervisor is there to do, and what they are not.

The Role of a PhD Supervisor

A PhD supervisor is there to guide you as you work through PhD life and help you make informed decisions about how you shape your PhD project. The key elements of their supervisory role include:

  • To help ensure that you stay on schedule and maintain constant progress of your research so that you ultimately finish your PhD within your intended time frame, typically three to four years.
  • To advise and guide you based on their knowledge and expertise in your subject area.
  • To help you in the decision-making process as you design, prepare and execute your study design.
  • To work with you as you analyse your raw data and begin to draw conclusions about key findings that are coming out of your research.
  • To provide feedback and edits where necessary on your manuscripts and elements of your thesis writing.
  • To encourage and motivate you and provide ongoing support as a mentor.
  • To provide support at a human level, beyond just the academic challenges.

It’s important that you know from the outset what a supervisor isn’t there to do, so that your expectations of the PhDstudent-supervisor relationship are correct. A supervisor cannot and should not create your study design or tell you how you should run your experiments or help you write your thesis. Broadly speaking, you as a PhD student will create, develop and refine content for your thesis, and your supervisor will help you improve this content by providing you with continuous constructive feedback.

There’s a balance to be found here in what makes a good PhD supervisor, ranging from one extreme of providing very little support during a research project, to becoming too involved in the running of the project to the extent that it takes away from it being an independent body of work by the graduate student themselves. Ultimately, what makes a good supervisor is someone you can build a rapport with, who helps bring out the best in you to produce a well written, significant body of research that contributes novel findings to your subject area.

Read on to learn the key qualities you should consider when looking for a good PhD supervisor.

Qualities to Look For in A Good PhD Supervisor

1. a track record of successful phd student supervision.

Good PhD Supervisor taking students to Completion

A quick first check to gauge how good a prospective supervisor is is to find out how many students they’ve successfully supervised in the past; i.e. how many students have earned their PhD under their supervision. Ideally, you’d want to go one step further and find out:

  • How many students they’ve supervised in total previously and of those, what percentage have gone onto gain their PhDs; however, this level of detail may not always be easy to find online. Most often though, a conversation with a potential supervisor and even their current or previous students should help you get an idea of this.
  • What were the project titles and specifically the areas of research that they supervised on? Are these similar to your intended project or are they significantly different from the type of work performed in the academic’s lab in the past? Of the current students in the lab, are there any projects that could complement yours
  • Did any of the previous PhD students publish the work of their doctoral research in peer-reviewed journals and present at conferences? It’s a great sign if they have, and in particular, if they’re named first authors in some or all of these publications.

This isn’t to say that a potential supervisor without a track record of PhD supervision is necessarily a bad fit, especially if the supervisor is relatively new to the position and is still establishing their research group. It is, however, reassuring if you know they have supervision experience in supporting students to successful PhD completion.

2. Is an Expert in their Field of Research

How to find a good PhD supervisor

As a PhD candidate, you will want your supervisor to have a high level of research expertise within the field that your own research topic sits in. This expertise will be essential if they are to help guide you through your research and keep you on track to what is most novel and impactful to your research area.

Your supervisor doesn’t necessarily need to have all the answers to questions that arise in your specific PhD project, but should know enough to be able to have useful conversations about your research. It will be your responsibility to discover the answers to problems as they arise, and you should even expect to complete your PhD with a higher level of expertise about your project than your supervisor.

The best way to determine if your supervisor has the expertise to supervise you properly is to look at their publication track record. The things you need to look for are:

  • How often do they publish papers in peer-reviewed journals, and are they still actively involved in new papers coming out in the research field?
  • What type of journals have they published in? For example, are most papers in comparatively low impact factor journals, or do they have at least some in the ‘big’ journals within your field?
  • How many citations do they have from their research? This can be a good indicator of the value that other researchgroups place on these publications; having 50 papers published that have been cited only 10 times may (but not always) suggest that this research is not directly relevant to the subject area or focus from other groups.
  • How many co-authors has your potential supervisor published with? Many authors from different institutions is a good indicator of a vast collaborative professional network that could be useful to you.

There’re no hard metrics here as to how many papers or citations an individual needs to be considered an expert, and these numbers can vary considerably between different disciplines. Instead, it’s better to get a sense of where your potential supervisor’s track record sits in comparison to other researchers in the same field; remember that it would be unfair to directly compare the output of a new university lecturer with a well-established professor who has naturally led more research projects.

Equally, this exercise is a good way for you to better understand how interested your supervisor will be in your research; if you find that much of their research output is directly related to your PhD study, then it’s logical that your supervisor has a real interest here. While the opposite is not necessarily true, it’s understandable from a human perspective that a supervisor may be less interested in a project that doesn’t help to further their own research work, especially if they’re already very busy.

Two excellent resources to look up publications are Google Scholar and ResearchGate .

3. Has Enough Time to Provide Good PhD Supervision

PhD Supervisor should have enought time to see you

This seems like an obvious point, but it’s worth emphasising: how smoothly your PhD goes and ultimately how successful it is, will largely be influenced by how much time your research supervisor has to provide guidance, constructive academic advice and mentorship. The fact that your supervisor is the world’s leading expert in your field becomes a moot point if they don’t have time to meet you.

A good PhD supervisor will take the time to meet with you regularly in person (ideally) or remotely and be reachable and responsive to questions as and when they arise (e.g. through email or video calling). As a student, you want to have a research environment where you know you can drop by your supervisors’ office for a quick chat, or that you’ll see them around the university regularly; chance encounters and corridor discussions are sometimes the most impactful when working through problems.

Unsurprisingly, however, most academics who are well-known experts in their field are also usually some of the busiest too. It’s common for established academic supervisors to have several commitments competing for their time. These can include teaching and supervising undergraduate students, masters students and post-docs, travelling to collaborator meetings or invited talks, managing the growth of their academic department or graduate school, sitting on advisory boards and writing grants for funding applications. Beware of the other obligations they may have and how this could impact your work relationship.

You’ll need to find a balance here to find a PhD supervisor who has the academic knowledge to support you, but also the time to do so; talking to their current and past students will help you get a sense of this. It’s also reassuring to know that your supervisor has a permanent position within your university and has no plans for a sabbatical during your time as a PhD researcher.

4. Is a Good Mentor with a Supportive Personality

PhD Supervisor Relationship

A PhD project is an exercise in independently producing a substantial body of research work; the primary role of your supervisor should be to provide mentoring to help you achieve this. You want to have a supervisor with the necessary academic knowledge, but it is just as important to have a supportive supervisor who is actively willing and able to provide you constructive criticism on your work in a consistent manner. You’ll likely get a sense of their personality during your first few meetings with them when discussing your research proposal; if you feel there’s a disconnect between you as a PhD student and your potential supervisor at this stage, it’s better to decide on other options with different supervisors.

A good supervisor will help direct you towards the best outcomes in your PhD research when you reach crossroads. They will work with you to develop a structure for your thesis and encourage you to set deadlines to work to and push you to achieve these. A good mentor should be able to recognise when you need more support in a specific area, be it a technical academic hurdle or simply some guidance in developing efficient work patterns and routines, and have the communication skills to help you recognise and overcome them.

A good supervisor should share the same mindset as you about finishing your PhD within a reasonable time frame; in the UK this would be within three to four years as a full-time university student. Their encouragement should reflect this and (gently) push you to set and reach mini-milestones throughout your project to ensure you stay on track with progress. This is a great example of when a supportive personality and positive attitude is essential for you both to maintain a good professional relationship throughout a PhD. The ideal supervisor will bring out the best in you without becoming prescriptive in their guidance, allowing you the freedom to develop your own working style.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

To sum up, the qualities you should look for in a good PhD supervisor are that they have a strong understanding of your research field, demonstrated by regular and impactful publications, have a proven track record of PhD supervision, have the time to support you, and will do so by providing mentorship rather than being a ‘boss’.

As a final point, if you’re considering a research career after you finish your PhD journey, get a sense of if there may any research opportunities to continue as a postdoc with the supervisor if you so wanted.

Can you do a PhD part time while working answered

Is it really possible to do a PhD while working? The answer is ‘yes’, but it comes with several ‘buts’. Read our post to find out if it’s for you.


Find out the differences between a Literature Review and an Annotated Bibliography, whey they should be used and how to write them.

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How to attract the right PhD candidate

How to attract the right PhD candidate

Finding the right PhD candidate to work with you can be a challenge. You may be overwhelmed with a large number of applications and find it difficult to sieve the information, or you may struggle with getting the right candidates to apply for your position. In this post, we look at which steps you can take to attract the right PhD candidate.

Many articles online for prospective PhD candidates focus on how important it is for PhD candidates to select a good advisor . On the other side of the medal, it is important for us as advisors to select a good PhD candidate – not just an excellent student, but someone with whom we will be able to work well and meet the goals of our research.

Describing the vacancy

Finding the right candidate start from describing the open position you have. While sometimes we as advisors tend to be a bit vague about what we have available, I encourage you to consider an open position for a PhD researcher in just the same way as you would consider any other vacancy.

Most likely, your university has standard procedures for announcing vacancies (although you may not be making use of these and prefer to hire a student you know or who is recommended to you through your network). I recommend that you use the standard procedures, talk with your HR advisor, and take the description seriously.

First and foremost, articulate clearly the type of research the PhD candidate will be carrying out. Secondly, make sure to think through the skills you are looking for in a candidate: which skills do you want at the beginning of the PhD, and which skills can the candidate develop under your supervision? Last but not least, include financial information. Findings from indicate that about three quarters of those looking for PhD positions want to find information about the availability of funding in the vacancy. Your university then will also typically add some additional information about the university itself, the PhD program, and other relevant information about working and studying at your university to round off the job description.

Interviewing candidates

Once you have received applications of candidates, you can filter the profiles to see those who match your ideal candidate best, at least on paper.

To get a better idea of the candidate, an interview is always recommended . When the candidate is local, an in-person interview is an option, and when the candidate lives abroad, a videoconference can be the closest thing to an in-person interview.

As you prepare yourself to interview the candidate, make sure to prepare questions that focus on the following topics:

  • Content: Learn about the past (research) experiences of the candidate. Test their insight in technical matters with a discussion of a selected number of articles, presentation, or a few short general exam-like questions. Inquire about the courses they have taken before, and skills they have acquired in the past.
  • Working style: How have their previous supervision relationships been? Do they work best with hands-on or hands-off supervision? How often do they expect your input? How do they plan towards deadlines? As you will be working closely together, think about how your working styles align (or not).
  • Expectations: As you are looking for someone to work closely with you, clearly define your expectations in terms of working hours (part-time of full-time schedule), trajectory of the research in terms of resources and time, and other expectations the student need to be aware of if you would consider advising them.
  • Opportunities: Make it clear to the candidate what you are offering, in terms of funding, your time availability, opportunities to attend and present at conferences, support to attend courses or acquire new skills in other ways, access to scholarly journals, archives, or labs, and any other opportunity the candidate should know about.

On-boarding your student

When you have reviewed applications and interviewed candidates, the time is there to select the candidate who will be the best fit for your research and for you as a supervisor.

Then, the real work starts! Just as for any other job, take the time to on-board your student. Many doctoral supervisors just throw a bunch of articles at their new PhD candidate with the instruction to “go and make a literature review”, but it is in your interest, the student’s interest, and your research project’s interest to spend extra time with the PhD candidate to make sure they are off to a great start and feel supported in their new journey.

Work together with your university for clearing any administrative hurdles. Besides that, spend time to introduce your new student to the rest of your lab , get them started in their PhD and research, and develop the rhythms you will use in supervision and mentoring.

Attracting the right PhD candidate is not very different from hiring a junior employee. In reality, PhD advisors don’t often give the right importance to this process. In this post, you learned about how to write a clear vacancy, which topics to discuss during the interview, and how to on-board your candidate and set them up for success.

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Dr Eva Lantsoght

Dr. Eva Lantsoght is a Full Professor in Civil Engineering in Ecuador and tenured assistant professor in the Netherlands. Her blog PhD Talk addresses the mechanics of doing research, PhD life, and general academic matters. Find her @evalantsoght or at

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What’s a PhD Advisor?

  • Katie Baker
  • November 27, 2023

student with Phd advisor

PhD advisors, otherwise known as doctoral supervisors or dissertation advisors, play pivotal roles in helping doctoral students from the research phase of their PhD to preparing for their oral examination (PhD viva). Naturally, the academic faculty members play pivotal roles in guiding doctoral students through the labyrinth of their research journey. 

Doctoral students may only have one PhD advisor, but advisors take on a myriad of roles as they act in the capacity of a critic, mentor, and when it is called for, collaborator.

There are many intricacies to the multifaceted role; in this article, we will discuss the academic and non-academic influences advisors have on a doctoral student’s tenure. Even though every doctoral student and advisor works differently, on this page, we will also cover how to make the most out of the mentor-student dynamic and the limits on how much assistance a PhD advisor can provide.

What is a PhD Advisor?

Though the role of a PhD advisor may be many-sided and adaptable, in simple terms, they are there as guides to keep you on the right trajectory through your experience as a doctoral student.

It is their role to ensure your work meets credible academic standards, both to help you pass your oral examinations at the end of the PhD journey and to ensure a high calibre of research output for the university. Advisors also assist in aligning doctoral research with the department’s objectives, which, in turn, helps to attract a steady stream of research funding. 

However, as a doctoral student, you will need to bear in mind that you are expected to work on your own initiative, create your own deadlines, and organise your own schedule between checking in with your advisor and submitting written work at regular intervals. Always remember your advisor is there to help you overcome your hurdles, not do all the leg work for you. 

How Do PhD Advisors Support Doctoral Students?

As a PhD student, you should consider your advisors as the first port of call for all research-related queries. Aside from their obligation and responsibility to assist your research, which they took on when they agreed to become your supervisor, they are also experts in your academic field and have credible experience in researching it. More often than not, supervisors will have already assisted other students through their doctorate degrees and have a strong publication track record. 

As experienced and esteemed as the best PhD supervisors are, always remember that they are not experts in your particular topic – no one is, hence why your research proposal was accepted by the university.

It isn’t uncommon to find that advisors provide more assistance in the earlier stages of the PhD research process, whereas as your expertise starts to outshine your advisor’s, you will need to become more self-reliant, as the onus is on you to direct the line of inquiry through your research.

Here are just a few of the ways advisors can assist:

Advisors can help you to steer clear of academic ground that has already been covered to ensure your PhD presents original and creative knowledge.

  •     Advisors can help to refine research questions and develop the methodology you will use to answer your research questions.
  •     Advisors will provide feedback on your work at regular intervals to ensure that if you do veer off track, you will be back on the right course before you waste too much time exploring dead ends.
  •     Advisors will rigorously challenge your assumptions before pushing you to delve deeper into the research area they have academic credibility in.
  •     Advisors can point you in the right direction of valuable literature and help you find the right place to position your work within the academic conversation.
  •     After you have submitted your thesis, your advisor should help you to prepare for your oral examination by arranging mock oral examinations and getting you accustomed to defending your thesis. 

In addition to in-person meetings where your work is discussed, the basic expectations of a PhD supervisor also include reading drafts of your thesis and responding to your emails within a reasonable timeframe. 

 While some doctoral students want to meet their supervisor every month, others are happy to meet once every semester. There’s no hard and fast or one-size-fits-all rule for the best arrangements to make with your supervisor; the most important thing is to decide on a schedule which suits you.

Non-Academic Support

PhD advisors can provide invaluable networking support by introducing you to academics in your field, making you aware of conferences worth attending and encouraging collaborations, which may extend beyond your PhD. Even after you become a doctor, it can still be the case of “it’s not what you know, it is who you know”!

Aside from the academic support a PhD advisor provides, advisors should also be tuned into the non-academic needs of their research proteges. After all, the PhD path is not solely an intellectual challenge; it can present itself as an emotional and psychological marathon. If you encounter problems that seem insurmountable, your advisor is one of the best-placed people to prove that there is a way around the roadblocks, whatever they may be. 

PhD advisors aren’t only there if you hit a brick wall with your research, they can also assist with challenges unique to you and adopt a more holistic approach to their mentorship, should your academic life be negatively affected by other external factors. However, while they can support you through the inevitable ups and downs of the research process, be wary of becoming wholly reliant on their advice on time management, work-life balance, and mental health support.

Boundaries of PhD Advisor Support

To ensure your professional relationship with your advisor remains positive and productive, it is crucial to understand the boundaries of PhD advisor support. For example:

    Advisors cannot carry out your research for you – independence is a key element to the research process.

    Advisors cannot roadmap every step you need to follow – finding your own path is crucial.

    Advisors are not proofreaders – they are there to improve the structure of your thesis, not improve the grammar and punctuation.

    Advisors should never be expected to tend to personal matters beyond the scope of the academic relationship.

    Advisors aren’t always available at the drop of a hat; they have their own research, teaching responsibilities and other advisees to tend to. Always be respectful of this and agree on a communication schedule which works for you both. 

Final Thoughts

PhD advisors shape the outcome of your research and your development as a scholar. Their critical thinking skills, competence in communicating academic ideas and ability to synthesise complex information are all skills you will want to be influenced by as you are working towards the completion of your PhD. 

They are so much more than an academic mentor, consider them as the cornerstone of your doctoral experience. Never forget the onus is on you to maximise the academic relationship, understand its limitations, and utilise the full spectrum of support. The PhD journey is yours to embark upon, but a savvy advisor is a compass that ensures you do not lose your way.

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Academia Insider

PhD advisors – Insider information you need to know!

Choosing a PhD advisor that matches your preferred management style and will support you through your entire postgraduate qualification will make your PhD much nicer. It cannot be overstated – your PhD will be dictated by your PhD advisor. That is why you need to be incredibly careful when you choose who you work under.

PhD advisors should help you grow as an academic and help you overcome issues and hurdles with your PhD research. They will be responsible for ensuring that everything you do meets academic credibility expectations and increases your chances of a successful career.

Although this is the ideal definition of a great PhD advisor – the reality is really simple.

PhD advisors have huge pressures from the University to bring in money, graduate students, contribute to the administrative tasks of the department and university, and publish peer-reviewed papers in high-quality journals.

This article will help you make the best choice for your PhD advisor and, hopefully, answer some common questions that people have about PhD advisors and supervisors.

What does a PhD advisor do?

A PhD advisor is an experienced professor or researcher who provides guidance to students enrolled in a doctoral program.

There is no formal qualification for allowing a supervisor to take on students, however, quite often new professors co-supervise PhD students before they are allowed to supervise their own.

The advisor can also help students plan and complete their dissertation, take classes, and manage their time.

Importantly, they provide advice on:

  • research topics
  • research methodology
  • techniques, and methods that would be most beneficial for the student’s unique project
  • academic writing style
  • navigating the academic career path
  • submission to journals and peer-reviewed publications
  • preparation of conference materials
  • attending conferences
  • giving academic talks
  • and much more.

Additionally, advisors often help with writing assignments, editing drafts of manuscripts, and reviewing literature related to the research topic.

Depending on the relationship they have built with their students, they may also serve as a mentor or role model for the student throughout the duration of their PhD program.

My PhD supervisor relationships evolved dramatically over the time that I was a student and some got better and some got worse throughout the three year project. Nonetheless, each supervisor was able to help me in different ways and all of my relationships remained professional.

What do you call your PhD advisor/supervisor?

When referring to one’s PhD advisor, the most commonly accepted term is “supervisor”.

This title reflects the role of the advisor in providing guidance and support throughout the doctoral journey.

“Supervisor” can sometimes sound a little bit clinical given how closely you end up working with them.

Each supervisor/student relationship is unique and will require maintenance to ensure that it continues to provide value to both the supervisor and the student over the course of the entire project.

One of the most important things that they can do is provide invaluable feedback on drafts and papers before they are submitted for assessment. They shouldn’t allow you to submit your thesis unless it meets the fields criteria for quality and rigour.

A good relationship between PhD student and supervisor will lead to a successful outcome for both parties.

How do I choose a PhD advisor? Find a supportive supervisor

When choosing a PhD advisor, it is important to consider their research interests and expertise and match them with your research interests. You can find this information on the department’s website or their staff page.

Also, it is important to look at their publication record as you need a supervisor that is publishing regularly in academic journals to help accelerate your career in the early stages.

It is also essential to find an advisor who will be willing to mentor you and who will be open to collaboration and feedback. Have a meeting with them and ask every question you need to ask without fear.

You need to rely on some initial “gut instincts” on whether or not you would be able to work well with this person.

Sometimes popular supervisors do not have the time to dedicate enough mentoring energy to all of their students – just because they are popular does not mean they will be the best fit for you.

You can check out my YouTube video below for how to choose a PhD supervisor and all of the secrets they won’t tell you.

It is important to choose an advisor with whom you have a good rapport and can communicate effectively with.

It is also essential to evaluate their track record of success in helping students complete their PhDs and how they approach supervision.

It is not necessary that they have graduated many students – or any at all. However, evidence that they will be a good supervisor is often found in the number of students they have been able to graduate within a typical PhD lifetime (3-5 years).

Obtaining Information on Potential PhD supervisors

As a potential PhD student, it is important to obtain information on potential advisors before committing to one.

Faculties in the graduate program are often busy and have many graduate students seeking their supervision.

One of the best strategies is to search for recent publications from the faculty member and get to know them through meetings or conversations.

attracted to phd advisor

Supervisors love talking about their latest papers and research and it may be easier to say that you want to meet up to talk about their recent paper than trying to talk about potential PhD positions in the group.

Meeting a PhD advisor in person helps the student understand the faculty’s research interests better and allows them to gauge if they will be able to work with them effectively.

Another way of obtaining information about a potential advisor is by talking to other graduate students who already have them as supervisors; these students can provide valuable feedback on working with that particular professor or committee member.

It is important to get to know your potential supervisor before you commit, so you can make sure that the choice of advisor best suits your dissertation project and future plans.

What do PhD advisors look for in students?

When looking for a PhD student, advisors look for candidates that are motivated and passionate about the topic they are researching. They are also looking for someone who can help boost their career by publishing as many papers as possible.

You can actually boost your chances of being accepted into a PhD research group by expressing your desire to publish as many papers as possible

They want someone who is willing to put in the hard work and dedication required to complete a complex research project.

They also look for:

  • students who have strong analytical skills and can think critically.
  • someone with excellent writing abilities
  • the ability to effectively communicate their research findings.
  • good work ethic,
  • enthusiasm for learning, and
  • willingness to collaborate with other researchers.
  • someone who is organized
  • good time management skills so they can stay on track while working on their project.

An advisor looks for a student who can contribute to their field of study and research group in a meaningful way to progress their own career in academia.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about PhD advisors.

I have shed the insider secrets for finding your PhD advisor and what they really look for in a student.

No matter what you decide, a PhD will be hard work but selecting a fantastic advisor will make it much easier for you.

Do your research and don’t take this decision lightly.

attracted to phd advisor

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

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Kshitij Tiwari Ph.D.

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When to switch PhD advisors: Signs and Strategies

A PhD advisor is an important figure in a graduate student’s academic journey. They provide guidance, support, and feedback on research work. When signing up for the PhD program and undergoing the interview process, you asked questions to get to know your advisor better to evaluate how well you fit the lab and you also evaluated the advisor’s approach and profile .

However, a time may come when a student feels the need to switch advisors. But when is the right time to do so and how to go about it ? In this blog post, we will discuss the signs that indicate it’s time to switch PhD advisors and the strategies that can be used to make the switch as smooth as possible.

Table of Contents

Can you even switch PhD advisors?

Signs it is time to switch advisors.

Strategies for for m aking the s witch

Intra-University versus Inter-University switch

Kickstarting research after switching advisors, key takeaways.

Let’s address the million dollar question first: Can you even switch PhD advisors or are is selecting a PhD advisor like a one time deal and your are stuck with them forever?

Yes, you can switch PhD advisors. While it is not a decision that should be taken lightly, it is important to prioritize your academic success and well-being. If you feel that your current advisor is not providing the necessary support or is hindering your progress, then switching may be necessary. However, before making a decision, it is important to consider the potential consequences and ensure that you have a solid plan in place.

Lack of Communication

Communication is vital in any advisor-student relationship. If your advisor is not responding to your emails, not providing feedback on your research work, or not taking your concerns seriously, it may be time to consider a switch.

Lack of Expertise

If your research interests change or you realize that your advisor’s area of expertise doesn’t align with your research goals, it may be difficult to work together effectively.

Personality Conflicts

In some cases, a personality clash with your advisor may make it difficult to work together or make progress on your research.

Lack of Support

A supportive advisor provides funding, resources, and connections to help their students succeed. If you feel like your advisor isn’t helping you reach your academic goals, it may be time to switch.

Unavailability or Excessive Workload of the Advisor

If you find it challenging to schedule meetings or receive timely responses to your inquiries, it can hinder your progress and impede effective collaboration. Additionally, if your advisor’s workload is so extensive that they are unable to provide the necessary guidance and support, it can hinder your academic growth and research development.

Strategies for making the switch

When preparing for a transition to a new advisor, it’s important to take certain steps to ensure a smooth and successful switch. Here are some key considerations:

Developing a Transition Plan

Develop a plan to guide you through the transition process. Identify key tasks and milestones, establish a timeline, and determine how to manage ongoing projects and transfer research materials. Set clear goals and expectations for the new advisor-student relationship.

Notifying Relevant Stakeholders

Inform relevant stakeholders about the upcoming advisor change. Schedule a meeting with your current advisor to discuss your decision and express gratitude. Notify your department or program coordinator to ensure they are aware of the change. Update committee members, if applicable, and discuss any adjustments to the committee composition.

Managing Paperwork and Administrative Processes

Familiarize yourself with the administrative requirements of your institution. Coordinate with administrative offices to complete necessary forms or documentation. Ensure a smooth transfer of administrative responsibilities, such as funding and project management, to the new advisor.

Building Rapport with the New Advisor

Establish a positive relationship with your new advisor. Schedule an initial meeting to introduce yourself, discuss research interests, and align expectations. Seek guidance on preferred communication style and meeting frequency. Familiarize yourself with the new advisor’s research work and areas of expertise. Maintain open and effective communication throughout the transition period.

For international students pursuing a PhD in a foreign country , switching advisors within the same university (intra-university switch) or moving to a different university (inter-university switch) both have their own advantages and considerations. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

When you switch advisors, it’s crucial to kickstart your research effectively to ensure a smooth transition and maximize your productivity. Here are some key strategies to consider:

Establishing Clear Expectations and Goals

Begin by having a detailed discussion with your new advisor to establish clear expectations and goals for your research. Clearly communicate your research interests, objectives, and any specific milestones you aim to achieve. This will help align your advisor’s guidance with your aspirations and set a solid foundation for your work.

Regular Communication and Progress Updates

Maintaining regular communication with your new advisor is vital to stay on track and keep them updated on your progress. Schedule periodic meetings to discuss your research, share any challenges you encounter, and seek advice on overcoming them. By maintaining open lines of communication, you can receive timely feedback and ensure that you are making progress in the right direction.

Seeking Guidance and Support from the New Advisor

Take advantage of your new advisor’s expertise and seek their guidance and support whenever needed. They can provide valuable insights, suggest relevant literature, and help you navigate any research roadblocks. Engage in discussions with them to brainstorm ideas, refine your research methodology, and gain new perspectives that can enhance the quality of your work.

Building a Positive and Productive Working Relationship

Building a positive and productive working relationship with your new advisor is essential for a successful research journey. Be proactive in seeking their input and demonstrating your commitment to your research. Show respect for their expertise and value their time by being prepared for meetings and following through on agreed-upon tasks. Cultivating a strong rapport will not only contribute to a conducive research environment but also foster mutual trust and collaboration.

Deciding to change PhD advisors is a major decision that requires careful consideration. Identify the signs that suggest it is time to switch and use effective methods to ensure the transition is seamless. Ultimately, your academic journey should be a rewarding experience, so selecting the right advisor is essential.

Related resources

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Middle East/South Asia Studies

Congratulations to the 2024 suad joseph graduate grant recipients.

  • by Wilson T Xieu
  • April 11, 2024

Congratulations to the 2024 Suad Joseph Graduate Grant Recipients:

Whitné Moussan

Title of Research: The Ideology of Risk and Resilience: Tracing an Absent State through Ethnopsychiatry and Difference in Lebanon

Faculty Advisor: Assistant Professor Fatima Mojaddedi

Title of Research: Views from the Province: An Eighteenth-Century Ottoman’s Reckoning with Science

Faculty Advisor: Professor Baki Teczan

Reema Saad 

Title of Research: Muslim Women Negotiating Menstruation and Religious Piety on TikTok

Faculty Advisor: Professor Laura Grindstaff

Temirlan Tileubek

Title of Research: The Nature of the Rule of the Russian Empire in Central Asia

Faculty Advisor: Associate Professor Ian Campbell

Laura Catterson 

Title of Research: Echoes of a Rebellious Past: Contemporary Adaptations of Modernist Iranian Literature

Faculty Advisor: Associate Professor Amy Motlagh


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