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Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
Argh! I've written two brilliantly insightful replies to this, and both have gotten lost in the ether (one to a power surge, and the other just mysteriously disappeared from the input box). I'll try again tomorrow...
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by vorthys) | Reply
So sorry to hear that. I usually copy my replies in case things like that happen...
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
On a young, inexpeienced advisor vs an old, busy advisor... How much time your advisor has for you is going to depend much more on their own personal style than these factors, so the best way to get an idea about this is to talk to the current grad students of a potential advisor. This isn't always possible to do when you're deciding where to apply, but it is usually possible once you've been accepted, when you're deciding which of the several places you've been accepted (thinking positively!) to go to.

Of course this isn't possible if the potential advisor is a newbie that doesn't have any students yet. Also, keep in mind that a good advisor will tailor their interactions according to the needs of a particular student. One student might need more hand-holding and another might need more independence. So don't necessarily expect your interactions to be exactly the same as those described by the current grad students. (In fact, it may be a better sign if you get differing reports from different grad students than if every grad student reports exactly the same thing.)
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
On topics vs advisors... There are two different kinds of "topics". One is a general research area (eg, algorithms). The other is your specific thesis topic. You don't want an advisor outside of your research area because one of the benefits you want to get out of your advisor is networking with their friends and colleagues in the field.

As for your thesis topic, you probably won't know that at the time that you are picking your advisor. Remember that you are likely to be funded through your advisor, which, in practical terms, means that you are likely to be constrained to do your research in something at least vaguely related to your advisor's. Sometimes advisors will basically carve up their research project into thesis-sized chunks and hand those out to their grad students. Other times, you'll have more flexibility to design your own thesis within the context of your advisor's projects. Only rarely will you have the freedom to choose a topic that is significantly outside your advisor's expertise.

One last thing about choosing a thesis topic, assuming you aren't just handed one by your advisor. Expect this to be long, frustrating process, much more frustrating than actually working on your dissertation. Expect to find yourself doubting whether you can finish your PhD, or even want to. These are perfectly normal reactions. As one famous professor says, this is the time that makes even the best students look bad.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
For what its worth, I would recommend not trying to get a PhD from this new "CMU". Academically, there are two things that make one school better than another for grad school: (a) top notch researchers you can work with, and (b) top notch students you can talk with. A new university, regardless of its name, will not offer either of the above.

PS: If you have no idea what you want to study, you probably want a nice big department that is good in lots of areas. If you have some idea, that can help suggest a school. For example, Princeton is easily one of the top 5 schools in CS theory but not in other areas.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
Many professors have one or more "research groups" around a particular topic. Very frequently Ph.D. candidates will work for such a research group doing odds and ends to both familiarize themselves with the area and find a specific opportunity they wish to explore in depth as a thesis topic. These research groups typically have websites linked to the professor's university page. Spend some time looking at those.

There are a number of ways a thesis can happen. Sometimes a student will publish---as part of a research group---a number of good conference and/or journal papers. When this happens, often that work evolves (sometimes very directly and sometimes less directly) into a thesis; occasionally people will graduate very quickly with this approach. Sometimes a student will discover a related research group that they can move to. And sometimes, a Ph.D. student does most of his research all alone.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dgarthur) | Reply
Are there any "nice big departments" that you can personally recommend?
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by vorthys) | Reply
If my supervisor is a "newbie", ie he has never had students, would you consider him as being a risky option?

On the other hand, if I am his first student then he will probably do his very best to make me happy. If he stuffs up with his first student then he is unlikely to get another chance, ie any further students.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by radeye) | Reply
Thank you radeye for your input.

I like the idea of a research group. So if you supervisor is not available then there are other people you can ask, which is great.

Wow I didnt realize that papers can evolve into a PhD thesis! I always thought that its the other way round.

How far into my PhD am I supposed to choose/finalize my research topic?

Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
These questions are aimed at current and past PhD students.

What is/was your area of PhD research? Would you recommend this area? What sort of research are you doing these days?

For undergraduate students: What area of research are you planning to have for your PhD?

Admins: Perhaps this should be a survey question...
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
Yes, there's some risk. I wouldn't recommend that you deliberately seek out a newbie, but if somebody seems to be a good fit, I wouldn't avoid them just because they are a newbie.
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