Finding a Ph.D. advisor

By Onyekachi Idigo: Picking a school and program is not the only decision you will have to make during your graduate school search process.

Rice University

Searching for a Ph.D. advisor is a crucial step in pursuing your academic dreams after accepting an offer of admission from your desired university. Investing four to six years in a Ph.D. program requires careful consideration and finding the right advisor is essential. 

Here are two methods to help you locate a suitable Ph.D. advisor.

  1. Rotation program: Many departments at Rice offer a rotation program where first-year Ph.D. students select three labs to conduct a 5–8-week research project. This method allows you to interact with lab members and advisors and evaluate if the lab is a good fit for you. Asking yourself questions about mentorship style, research interests, lab culture, work/life balance, and expectations from the lab will help you make an informed decision.
  • What mentorship style works for me?
  • Does the advisor agree/fit with my mentorship style?
  • Do the members of the lab seem super-helpful in case my advisor is not available to help?
  • Is the research interesting to me? Am I interested in the kind of research that goes on in the lab?
  • Do I get to travel to conferences to present my research?
  • How is the work/life balance in the lab?
  • What are the expectations from the lab (advisor to student, student to advisor)?
  • What does the lab culture look like? Can I adapt in that lab?
  • In the case my research doesn’t work after several tries, would the environment still be enabling for me to succeed, or will I end up being frustrated?

This option was super helpful for me as it allowed me to make an independent assessment of laboratories based on what kind of research they do, mentorship style of the advisor and, ultimately, lab culture. It gave me an opportunity to interact firsthand with current students of the lab and the advisor and that helped to narrow down my focus of “if I am a great fit” for the lab. 

  1. Email Prospective Ph.D. Advisor: Certain programs at Rice provide an opportunity for prospective students to contact faculty members before enrolling. It is helpful to ask current students in the lab and the advisor questions about their mentorship style, research interests, lab culture, and request to attend a lab meeting to get a feel of the environment.

Regardless of the approach, finding the right Ph.D. advisor requires asking the right questions to make a sound decision. Good luck on this life-changing decision, and congratulations on your admission to Rice University!