Monday, October 25, 2010

Graduate School Advice: Picking a professor? Know thyself first!

On a recent jaunt down memory lane, I reflected on how I selected my graduate program. Sure, factors like cost of living, proximity to loved ones, and of course, department reputation are very important and played a role in my decision making, but the most important factor was a potential professor's management style.

Management style? Really?
Yes, really. I had spent a few years between undergrad and grad school working in an infectious diseases/vaccine design lab where I learned a thing or two about the "real world." The most important lesson was that I hate being micro-managed or motivated by fear.

I spent 10% of my time working for a micro-manager supervisor. He treated everyone as if they were idiots, unless you had a PhD or MD. I did not like being told what to do, especially when I knew things were wrong. I rebelled and landed in hot water on several occasions.

Fortunately, I spent 90% of my time working with another supervisor who respected my intelligence. He would set goals and leave the problem solving (the fun part) to me, and always made himself available to discuss strategy. I flourished and was able to solve some of the toughest challenges in the lab.

What's the take-home message? Know yourself. Do you like to have the freedom to create and learn? Do you prefer to be told what to do? Figure it out now and find a professor who fits the bill.

Visiting Grad Programs
When interviewing with potential professors and their graduate students, I inquired about management styles. After visiting a few grad programs, I found a lab that did the kind of research I was interested in and where the students were truly managers of their own projects and destiny.

All in all, it was a great choice. I was truly free to take my project in any direction I wanted. I made mistakes and discoveries, and learned a lot about chemistry along the way. Imagine that!

Dr. Dave.

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

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