Advice for Prospective Graduate Students


When choosing a research advisor, some important things to keep in mind are:

1. Work for someone whose chemistry you can really enjoy and want to be doing 6 days a week, 8-10 hours per day. This is a typical workload in a research active group at a Tier 1 university. Consider very carefully if you like the chemistry of the group you will be joining. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of obtaining a PhD? If research work is not your number one priority during your PhD program you WILL NOT be successful. There are easier ways of earning money than getting a chemistry PhD – don’t do it unless you love what you do.

2. Talk to the professor’s group: a) Are they happy? – ask as many people as possible since one negative or positive answer may not be representative. b) What jobs do people from the group get, how many permanent jobs, and does the advisor actively helps students find a job? c) Consider how the advisor runs the group. It may be hands-on (likely for assistant professors) and hands-off (for most, but not all, tenured faculty). Working for an assistant professor will give you more publications, more guidance, and more support; however, funding levels may be lower, and the prof will have less contacts - getting a job may be harder. Choose the style you think works best for you... a hands off boss may sound like a good idea, until you are in your fourth year with no definitive research direction! d) Consider the length of PhD. While it depends on the exact field, some professors are famous for keeping good students for a long time. e) Ask the group how much independence on their projects they have. Can they pursue a related line of research they have discovered?

3. Although obtaining publications is very important for obtaining a job, it is highly  dependent on the particular field of chemistry you may be interested in. Check SciFinder and see how many papers/year the professor you want to work with publishes. Too few papers means that it could be difficult to publish.

4. Before joining the group inquire about funding levels. Are graduate students required to teach? Are there difficulties in purchasing reagents and equipment? If funding is poor, you may find yourself not being able to achieve full potential because you will have to spend time teaching and will not be able to carry out all research that you want. However, you should not discount assistant professors – they will almost always have lower funding levels, but this will be compensated by greater involvement in your research.

5. Improve your English skills. Companies are unlikely to hire someone who does not

speak English well. A related issue is the composition of the group. Be wary of homogeneous, non-American populated groups – your English will not be improved and you will not adapt to the culture of United States.

This was modified from a very similar document found on the Daugulis webpages.