Finding your advisor at Rice
Rice ECE and CS admit Ph.D. students with a fellowship support for the first year. While certain faculty member may have championed your case for admission, you are admitted into the departmental Ph.D. program, not a specific research group. So take advantage of this freedom, meet with all faculty members that you may be interested in working with, and make an informed decision. Below are a few tips.
Meet with the professors. When the professor agreed to your meeting request, ask them if there are anything you should read before the meeting. Whatever their response is, make sure to read a few recent publications from their group before the meeting.
Meet with their graduate students. They will give you a very different perspective about working in their group. Make sure to meet not only the senior students but junior ones. Think about why :-)
Join their group meetings. There you can observe yourself how group members interact with each other.
Check out their track record. For professors who have been in the job for some years, you can check out their history of advising and scholarly work. What research did their students do for Ph.D.? Where did their students go after Ph.D.? Read their recent papers. Do you enjoy them? You can often find out answers from their website.
Should I meet with other faculty members even if I am pretty sure whom I will work with?
- Yes. And here are the reasons. First, you want more professors to know you and you want to know more professors. To finish your Ph.D., you need more than one professor's help such as serving on your committees, giving technical feedbacks, perhaps even collaborating. You will also need reference letters when you look for a job. While you have a number of years to cultivate a working relationship with the faculty, you should start now. Second, you need a backup plan when things do not work out with your first advisor, for whatever reason. I have got email from Rice students, post qualification (599) or post master thesis, asking for opportunties, and I do not even recognize their names: why didn't you meet with me in your first semester? That surely does not help their case. Finally, you want to know what you miss when you sign up a particular group. The knowledge will help you navigate your own group, perhaps even make it better by borrowing ideas from other groups. For example, the most effective way to convince your advisor to do something for you is to politely remind them that other professors are doing so for their students.
Factors to consider
Fundamentally it is about what you want from the doctoral study and which professor can best supply it.
Scholarly interest: Are you passionate about the type of research in the group? You are giving up more than half a million dollars and the best years in your life to pursue a degree. Make sure you are so passionate about the work that you can justify the personal sacrifice.
Ambition: Does the professor's ambition in their students match your own? On the one hand, would you get the necessary training for what you want to do immediately after Ph.D.? On the other hand, would the professor's ambition be noninteresting to you? For example, I always tell incoming students if they just want a Ph.D., they should not work with me since my ambition is to produce top researchers.
Personality: Would you enjoy the day-to-day interaction with the professor? Would you feel comfortable with the atmosphere/culture of the group? This is a factor many new students ignore but can be important. Think about it: these are the colleagues you will closely work with for five or more years! Make sure you can stomach each other's propensities.
Risk: What is the funding situation? When things don't work out, how does a student exit the group? These questions are particularly important for international students and you should not be afraid of asking the professor these questions.
Process to join ECL
- Meet with me (and other faculty memers with related interests)
- Meet with my students
- Join a few of my group meetings
- Take some reading assignments from me and discuss these papers with me over several weeks
- In some rare cases, it may make sense to try a few small things from our ongoing projects.
I usually do not commit myself to a student unless they have met all faculty members who have related research interests. Often during the first meeting, I will point out to the student whom they have to meet.