Professor Talks

September 12, 2011

The first full week of classes felt very long. This was not due to the actual classes, but rather the faculty talks given afterwards. From 1 to 3:30 everyday we had professors trying to persuaded us to join their lab. The classroom was full of the thirty of us first years. Off to the side were terribly bland turkey croissant sandwiches, tuna salad sandwiches, and cold bottled water. Each day brought new professors, but the exact same bland sandwiches. This blandness was a theme for the talks.

During some of the worse talks, I took notes on what the presentations tended to be about.

What They Say

  • All about my research, including those projects that I am not taking students for.
  • How I am funded, but not my funding stability.
  • “Here’s an old photo of the group.”

All, save one, of the presentations were done in powerpoint. Rarely did the speaker get up and move. Coming from the theatre, I expect a presenter to grab the audience’s attention. There were three speakers who accomplished this. One did not use powerpoint and instead simply spoke to us. One used humor and really expressed his enthusiasm. Instead of saying, “I have one opening in project X.” he pleaded, “We need your help!” (He also did not say how many students he wants to take, which was a wise tactical maneuver.) The last one was actually not taking students, but he tended to simply tell stories. These presenters all moved around and made eye contact with the crowd. They also tended to say much more of what I wanted to hear.

What I Wanted to Hear

  • My approach to research is hands-on/hands-off.
  • My students tend to take courses in X.
  • We have X type of meetings every Y days.

That first bullet is huge. Because only one person described his approach to managing students, I have had to talk to students to figure it out. My approach to picking an advisor is very focused on their managerial skills as opposed to their technical skills. I know that every professor has good research going on, but I want a professor who knows how to manage. Having had bad and good managers before makes me well aware of the pains of mismanagement.

Furthermore, a good manager tends to have good business sense. Thus, they will understand things like networking. This will make a huge difference in terms of getting a career that I really want. Sadly, professors really are caught off-guard if they are asked any type of business question. They relish rhapsodizing about their research, and so really want questions about it. Ask them how many hours they expect you to put in per week or how many weeks vacation, and they start to wonder if you are really passionate. I had one meeting go sour for this very reason.

I have till the end of September to make up my mind. This is one of the most important decisions in my life. It will define my next five years and shape the opportunities to follow. So, yeah, no pressure or anything. ^_~


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