How I chose my advisor #phdchat

A Twitter grad student, @ilovebraaains, asked how people chose their graduate advisors:


And although I've written a handful of posts on how I got into graduate school, I suppose I never addressed how I ended up in Kerry Jordan's Multisensory Cognition Lab at Utah State University.

I reported about how I spent a year outside of academia -- because of rejection, not by choice. I concluded by showing that I inevitably was accepted into USU and Kerry's lab after 14 months. Although my applications to research assistantships across America was not very particular to what I personally wanted to research, my concept of what I wanted from a PhD advisor was definitely shaped and was very specific.

After the year of switching my @nickwan account from music journalism to science related, I was noticing talks about graduate student exploitation and "tradition" in the form of ridiculous expectations -- all of which scared me. I didn't want to be stuck with some advisor who was self-serving or "traditional" in the sense of publication/impact factor expectations. So, I was interested in someone who wanted me to develop in my own direction -- with their advising. What a concept!

My undergraduate advisors talked to me about the stereotypical differences between younger advisors versus older advisors. They said that being "in the trenches" with a young advisor is a really good experience, since we are all fighting for funding and publishing like crazy people. That was a work environment I was attracted to. They told me more senior advisors were less "in the trenches" and either had money coming in from various grants/sources or weren't very active in the field. They didn't say much more than those generalizations, but for whatever reason... I wanted trenches. I think I was driven by wanting to get good at grant writing and "trenches" translated to "grant writing" to me.

Based off conversations with peers, I was attracted to open access publishing. Being from a small liberal arts college (some call these "SLACs"), I had many bouts with paywalled articles. Our library had limited access to online publications, but much of the time we had to order hardcopies through the library -- which took ~3 days to get the article. In a word: inefficient. I saw the value in open access journals and how that helped me in a big way. I wanted an advisor who also saw the value in open access publishing.

Lastly, I wanted an advisor who wasn't afraid of social media. I wanted someone who didn't think it was a waste of time or a distraction but a good tool for networking or meeting like-minded people. Not surprisingly, Kerry is also very supportive of collaborative research projects and cross-departmental/cross-discipline research. Two things I didn't think about, but two things I like a lot.

Finding these things out took ~4 emails and an interview or two. At this point, I had already talked to a bunch of PIs looking for RAs, so I was expecting some of the regular answers... but Kerry was pretty open in her responses. And that openness really made my choice easier.

There's obviously never one way to decide on an advisor. And my interaction is not necessarily typical from what I've heard. But opening a line of communication and understanding your advisors wants and your wants is the important take-home message.

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