Monday, March 16, 2009

Advisor Matchmaking

Helping out with the grad admissions process at Maryland always makes me re-examine my department. This year, the theme to that re-examination seems to be the process of finding an advisor. At Maryland, for many people this process is self-directed. You think about what area you might want to do research in, take some classes, talk to some professors, and eventually ask one to be your advisor. I think part of the reason that some students have such trouble with this is that it's similar to asking someone out on a date - complete with all the anxiety that they'll say no, already have too many other dates, not want to commit to dating you for the next five years, etc. There are of course ways to ease into the advisor-advisee relationship (ways to have the first date without committing to marriage) - taking a class, doing an independent study, talking to them about their research, etc. Perhaps these can make the proposal less daunting, though I imagine that for the extremely shy, even doing these things is terrifying.

Still, I believe that this process is definitely better than the pre-arranged marriage. While the powers-that-be might assign you an advisor that you get along with and is in the area that you declared interest in when you entered grad school, you might instead end up with an advisor with a drastically different working style or change your mind about what you want to do. Even if you meet them once or twice before the marriage commences, it still bypasses the important courtship phase. Rushing the process does a disservice to all involved.


Alex McFerron said...

I am trying the independent study route myself because I want to make sure that the work style is a fit and that i can understand my future advisor.

Anonymous said...

Is it really that hard? I did an M.S. and a Ph.D in different schools and in both cases I knew who I wanted to work with right off the bat. And they were both princes of advisors.

Anonymous said...

Sorelle, that's exactly what I felt like when asking a prof to be my advisor! I have never heard anyone else make that comparison though. In fact, I think that , to some extent, if you have to directly ask someone to be your advisor (i.e. rather than it coming naturally out of some project) and you *don't* feel a little nervous about the possibility of rejection, then maybe they are not the right person for you!

Benoit said...

At CMU, we even called it the marriage process, until a few (five?) years ago.

It was a bit different in that we got paired up within the first month or so, which is of course extremely stressful. You had time to court one or two professors with a bouquet of minor research results, and then you got an arranged marriage.

However, it was also quite easy to switch advisors. Until you've progressed in your research, the penalty for switching advisor was essentially nil (except for the need to find someone new).