October 20, 2011
I keep trying to mark when I am an official graduate student. Now that I have been assigned to a professor, I feel more official. But I am still not a candidate for the PhD. You have to pass prelims for that, which is not until the end of my second year. Anyway, I am very happy about who I will be working with.
Let me back up and explain how I chose my professor. At UT, after all of the faculty talk to you, you get about a month to figure out who your top three are. Then you list them, and write a paragraph about why you you ranked them as you did. (Other schools have you list more, or require you to talk to X many profs, or rotate with profs, etc.) So, you are totally on your own for how to screen the profs. You are basically picking your boss and your work for the next 5 years.
Naturally, I needed some guidance. I first read “A PhD is Not Enough”, which had a lot of good advice. For one, it really convinced me to steer clear of any assistant profs. Suffice it to say they their need to get tenure runs counter to your need to graduate. Next, I remembered the advice I heard on recruiting weekends. “Pick the person, not the project. Your project will change.” So, I drafted a sheet of questions I wanted answered and set out to talk to three professors. Naturally, they all wanted to only talk about their research and sell you on it. It is not appropriate to ask them about their managerial style. For this reason, I highly recommend talking to the students first. They will tell you what it is like day-to-day. They can tell you all about where grads go, how close-knit the group is, and all sorts of other critical things.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when picking a professor is what you want to do afterwards. It is critical that you decide if you want to go for a faculty position as early as possible. This decision will shape everything you do in order to prepare you for the fierce competition. If a professor tells you that this is not important to decide right away, this should raise a red flag.
So with all this in mind, I picked a professor who I feel will be a really great boss. He’s easy to work with, is established, and has interesting research. Apparently, profs like him are an anomaly. I’ve been reading The Chronicle of Higher Education, which has had some articles on profs not wanting to acknowledge the reality that is the current job market. This article talks about how someone is selling her career advising services. She is doing very well. (If you want more, she digs into the criticisms of her article on her blog.) For a different point of view, this article by a fifth-year grad. student talks about how we should not be as concerned with our career prospects. Personally, I always think it comes down to balance. You need to keep an eye on your future, but you need to live in the present.
Lastly, I found this article on why graduate degrees are being dragged out to up to a dozen years to be very informative. Take it with a grain of salt though.