Choosing a PhD Advisor

It’s finally that stage of your graduate study that comes down to choosing a PhD advisor. Working to complete a PhD takes time, effort, and a lot of energy. It’s generally expected that this experience will be formative and significant, and choosing the right support during this process can make or break your experience in the future. From publishing your work, to receiving appropriate feedback during the research, writing and creation, choosing the right advisors is an important part of the process.(Also read Dealing with a demanding PhD advisor)

Here are some top tips for choosing a PhD advisor:

choosing a PhD advisor Know their work

This should go without saying, but knowing your potential future advisors’ work is important to selecting someone qualified, with adequate knowledge and experience in your area of expertise. Knowing the team you are selecting to support and guide you can transform the process. Advisors do not have to be in your identical focus or field to be useful in your journey, but there should be clear reasons why one might have an advisor on your team.

choosing a PhD advisor Speak with other students or graduates

Has this potential advisor worked with other students in the past? Take time to check with them about the experiences they have had, and align those experiences with what you might need, or think you will need, especially when it comes to feedback and revision. Personal knowledge and experience is the best teacher, and there are few better ways to know how someone might be as an advisor, than to speak with those who have utilized your selected candidate in the past. Listen, and ask for specific examples, when possible.

choosing a PhD advisor Speak with other faculty

If you don’t know how an advisor might be as a part of your team, it might be worth checking in with a trusted faculty member, or other advisors, to ask about their experiences with the person in question. They might have a different or unique opinion on the way that person would work with you and your style; this could compliment or challenge the ways you work, or be at odds with the way you think. These differences are not bad, but they can be illuminating, and peers are a great way to understand with greater depth.

choosing a PhD advisor Look for strengths, similarities and differences

It should go without saying, but an advisor should be able to bring a new perspective, and challenge old ideas that you might have, giving you and your work strength, insight, and credibility. When looking to form an advisory team, or work with an advisor, look for ways that their knowledge will support your own, and challenge you to create a better, more well-rounded work. This is the biggest reason one should search for an advisor in the first place, and taking the time to these attributes can be incredibly useful, later. Know what you need and how you work, and search for someone who can balance their own knowledge and experience, while providing fresh insight.

Ultimately, the best advice is to speak with your potential advisor directly. Ask them questions, learn about their priorities and passions, as well as where they might see room for you to grow. Take time to learn to know about each other, and trust your instincts.

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