Friday, July 19, 2013

PhD Applicant Beware

Randall Stephens

The July 11-17 issue of Times Higher Education includes a must-read article for the grad school bound.  In "10 truths a PhD supervisor will never tell you" (11 July 2013) Tara
Brabazon writes: "As a prospective PhD student, you are precious. Institutions want you – they gain funding, credibility and profile through your presence. Do not let them treat you like an inconvenient, incompetent fool. Do your research. Ask questions." Some of her ten tips apply more to the UK setting, but most are right on target for students in the US as well.

Prospective PhD students in history should think long and hard about who they want to work with. Ask around.  Get to know something about the scholar you'd like to be your mentor.  Has this individual shepherded other PhDs?  Do his/her students land good jobs? What is your prospective mentor's publishing record like?  Is he/she a good fit for your project? What will it be like to work with him/her?  Will he/she lend a hand or remain aloof and passive reclusive? 

Brabazon offers some dos and don't and, most of all, warns, "don't let the supervisors grind you down."  Here's one of her particularly helpful pieces of advice:

The key predictor of a supervisor’s ability to guide a postgraduate to completion is a good record of having done so. Ensure that at least one member of your supervisory team is a very experienced supervisor. Anyone can be appointed to supervise. Very few have the ability, persistence, vision, respect and doggedness to move a diversity of students through the examination process. Ensure that the department and university you are considering assign supervisors on the basis of intellectual ability rather than available workload. Supervising students to completion is incredibly difficult.   

Read more here.


polisciprof said...

The article states the obvious, but grad students tend to be kind of obtuse.

What the author implies, but does not state, is that fledgling students should study the careers of those a few years ahead of them. ASK THEM QUESTIONS. Sure, everybody's situation is unique but it doesn't take long to find patterns in opinions: who takes months to return work, who privileges some students over others, who steals work, who won't work other faculty, etc.

A few questions of the grizzled dissertation warriors saves a lot of pain.

Randall said...

I think the question though is: How easy is it for potential PhD students to access this kind of information? Maybe with a campus visit and some emails to current PhD students.

Anonymous said...

There are still many unknowns, even if you meet with a potential advisor before entering a doctoral program. I met with someone I hoped to work with before entering doctoral work, and she ended up being a nightmare. Fortunately, I was able to replace her, but not without some hardships. If you can find out what kind of history they champion, then that will tell you a lot as well. If they only direct students with cultural or social projects, then you may not want to take your intellectual project to them. Ideology is still alive and confrontational in many schools. Beware.