The most important choice of your PhD – Choosing your PI and group.
How to choose your supervisor? This is really something is whish someone would have told me before starting this PhD. My PhD is quite different from any other programme most people are enrolled. I was hired by the University, but I didn’t have a supervisor. The first semester was a master in green chemistry and we were given time to choose a subject to work on and a supervisor. I was young and inexperienced with no clue how to make a good choice. As much as I was enthusiastic about the project, I made the wrong choice. To cut a long story short, my PhD was in catalysis and I started working in a biology building with a professor who had expertise in chemical biology.
I basically wasted the first year of my PhD doing random things and didn’t learn anything. At the start of my second year, I moved lab and started back again with my confidence and self-esteem down to zero.
Gradschool is a tough experience on its own, any additional struggle is undesirable.
So learning from my experience and what I hear from other students, I would advice
1. Choose a professor with a range of expertise that actually fits your project.
2. Talk to fellow students, what do they say about the professor/work ethic/publication style/working outside normal hours etc? People like to gossip a lot but most of the rumours are actually true.
3. Is the department where you work equipped with the machines you need to do research?
4. Most importantly, what’s the work ethic with respect wellbeing? Is your future PI understanding and supportive or just doesn’t care?
5. What about extracurricular activities? Is your PI happy for you to do extra-curricular activities, professional training or science communication?
6. What about money for conferences, summer schools or visiting periods abroad?
The point on mental health, in my opinion, is the most important. Mental illness is a real problem in gradschool and many students drop out because of this. I am lucky enough to have a supportive supervisor who understands the time off I need to take to go to the doctor, to take care for myself and that I am not 100% productive most of the time because my mind is elsewhere.
If you already doing a PhD, try to create an open relationship with you PI, based on trust and honesty. It is a professional relationship for sure but grad school in an emotional storm so feel free to talk about this with them.
Do you have any other advice? Feel free to make a comment below an I will add on the article.