Advice for potential graduate students
Advice for potential graduate students, especially prospective Ph.D. students:
Earning a Ph.D. is a process guided by an advisor from which you learn. You and the advisor must be very comfortable with each other and you must be willing to learn from him or her, which requires trust. It is a very personal relation! This is to a lesser degree true for an M.Sc.
To be successful you must become deeply interested in the topic of your research – but nevertheless, select your Ph.D. advisor before you decide on the topic.
I am often asked what to do to become a graduate student under my supervision and thus jot down here some suggestions:
1. How to select an advisor?
You have two sources of information about a potential advisor:
- The publications of a potential advisor.
They tell you about his (her) research interest and his research approach, style, history, etc.. Read them! Most researchers have a large collection of papers they have published available on the Internet.
- The success of researchers who have studied with the potential advisor.
Most academics have a list of students they have advised in the past on their home page and you can see how successful these students were. Do the former students of your potential advisor publish? What jobs do they hold? Are these the types of careers you hope for yourself?
2. How to make yourself attractive for the advisor?
After you have selected an advisor, you must "sell" yourself to him, especially if you expect a scholarship or similar financial support during your studies.
The following approach may be more promising than just sending your CV to as many professors as possible:
- Read many (all) of his or her research papers.
- Identify the topics that are listed as "future research" at the end of them and use the web and your library to check which ones are still open questions and still of interest.
- Investigate a few which you are interested in and start working on them by researching the literature, reading background material, until you have an idea how you would do it.
- Write down a short description of the research you would like to do and send it to your potential advisor. It MUST NOT be longer than one page, and touch 3 points:
- your motivation,
- the research hypothesis you see, and
- your approach.
Again: not more than one page!
I, at least, will read and consider suggestions of interested students who have read my publications and propose on a topic that I have found interesting in the past with MUCH more interest than just a CV from a person I have never heard or seen and who does not relate to my current interest.
Code of Conduct has to be obeyed.