Qualities for a good Ph.D. supervisor

Offline someone commented that more than half of the Ph.D. students are foreigners and that the Ph.D. is serving as a funding source. True. But that’s somewhat of a cynical view if you ask me.

In any case, you are a young student, and despite reading my blog, you still want to do a Ph.D. Maybe because you come from a Third World country and getting some cash to study is a compelling idea on its own. But whatever your reasons, here’s what you should be looking for, I humbly suggest…

  • Look at the past projects and students. Did all the students this prof. supervised ended up on welfare? Or can you google them as Harvard professors now? Can you find traces of the past projects this prof. was involved with or did they all fail? Look beyong the fanfare: look for evidence the prof. can’t control easily. Google past students.
  • Is the prof. aware of what the world is like, right now? Does he know the employment rate and career possibilities for young Ph.D.s or does he just pretend he knows? Where does he gets his facts from if he has any?
  • Does he give you the full story, with the pros and cons of doing a Ph.D. with him? Pros and cons of the research life?
  • Does he need to consume graduate students to get his research going or is the training of students only tangential to his research? In other words, can the guy still do research without students or are students cheap labour?

Daniel Lemire, "Qualities for a good Ph.D. supervisor," in Daniel Lemire's blog, May 24, 2004.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Qualities for a good Ph.D. supervisor”

  1. That is the ideal situation. How many professors in the world who have a student
    being professor at Harvard? How many students have the chance to get the professors
    they want? Who can control their fate?

  2. At least in North America, students get to choose their supervisors. Good students, at least.

    Second of all, one prof. cares about his students and tries to help them, they will, statistically, do better than the students from the prof. who couldn’t care less. You can measure such things by looking at where are the students of your prospective supervisor.

    This is like choosing a job. The first thing you should do when choosing a job is to look at how well the employees are doing where you want to work. Same applies when choosing a supervisor.

    This only one element on my list, of course.

    I’m just telling students: spend an extra day or so choosing your supervisor and it be worth years of your life later.

  3. Just found this entry in my referral logs, and boy, do I ever wish someone had told me this when I was starting my degree. Would have saved me over two years with an advisor who …well, who fails on all counts above.

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