Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Choosing a Supervisor, part 8

What kind of collaborator is your potential supervisor? Are most of their research papers written with their PhD students, with colleagues within their own university, with researchers elsewhere, or by themselves? Is their name the last name listed on every paper that comes out of their research group, or are they first authors on several? The answer to these questions gives you indirect evidence as to which type of collaborator they are.
Personally, I try to find a nice balance between these different strategies, avoiding the "my name goes on every paper because it is my research grant" approach that some supervisors demand. Some papers from my group are solely authored by yours truly (e.g., "Formally Counting Electronic Votes (But Still Only Trusting Paper)""); others are co-written by nearly every member of my research group because everyone pitched in and helped, each finding a facet that fit their strengths and interests (" CLOPS: A DSL for Command Line Options").
But not all supervisors work this way. In all honesty, some supervisors, due to over-commitment or neglect, only meet with their students once a quarter, even when their students are begging for supervision. Some you have to book a month in advance for a half and hour, and even then you are not guaranteed that they show up.
Others have an open door policy and, even though they have very full agendas, make time for their students whenever they are needed. I try to be this latter kind of supervisor, but on rare occasion I feel like the former.
The kind of supervisor that is always "missing" is actually a good supervisor for some kinds of PhD students. Hard-working, independent students who like to drill down on a topic for weeks or months in between taking breaths of air with nudges from their supervisor work well in such groups. But if you are the hand-holding type that wants lots of face-to-face time with your supervisor, or you do not really know what you love to do and are good at in research, I would suggest you stay away.

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