question of the week (take 1)

Here is our very first question of the week. If you have a question you’d like me to post, email me (see the side-bar with my name – this will be a weekly feature on Wednesdays). I will not reveal who asks these questions. From a grad student:

Is it a bad idea to have an untenured (assistant) professor as your advisor? I have heard it is; that you should go with someone established and if possible, famous. What’s the conventional wisdom here?

I’d like to piggy-back on this one (Shamus here). I have gotten conflicting advice from senior colleagues. Some tell me, “Never work with grad students. It’s a time suck. Get your own work done. There’s plenty of time to do that later.” Others have said, “You should start working with grad students as soon as possible. It’s good training. It pushes you to work and keep on top of things. And it helps build your reputation (as they get jobs).” So any advice on the flip-side as well?

58 thoughts on “question of the week (take 1)”

  1. Good question! On the first, my two advisors (one at the MS level and one at the PhD level at two different institutions) were both assistants when I started working with them — and most of us would recognize their names today and put them in the top tier of the discipline. Everyone else that I worked with as a grad student was a full professor.

    I think of it as a high-risk, high-reward decision. Yes, you might pick an assistant who blows it, is denied tenure, and gives you bad advice because of their inexperience. On the other hand, I have found that, even though they shouldn’t, assistants tend to spend more time with you, teaching you all sorts of things. Both of my advisors sat with me late into the night, going over stata code, writing papers, talking about theory, etc, etc. A more senior person may not have done this, for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here. They also tended more to the emotional/professionalization side of things — they introduced me at conferences, talked to me a lot more about the hidden side of things, supported work/family balance, and so on. I think assistants are worth the risk. My experience, of course, amounts to an n of 1, but it was really positive.

    On the other side, Shamus, I don’t know. I’m leaning towards the working with them but I’m a person who needs external deadlines (see my blog and my obsessive tracking of the number of words I write per day) — grad students give me this. I’m struggling though. As soon as you figure it out, please let me know!

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  2. For students, a really important criterion is intellectual fit. Probably the ideal situation is to work with a mix of younger and older faculty, forming serious mentoring relations with both. Remember, you need at least three and preferably five people who know you well enough to write you good letters when you are exiting with a PhD. If the young person is the best intellectual fit, I’d also try to connect with an older person too. We encourage “collective advising” in my department. I know some others have more of a model that you are “owned” by one advisor, which would make it harder.

    Re the faculty question: Long ago when I was a young assistant prof, I was not working in an area popular with students, and few wanted to work with me anyway. So I did not have that problem. Some of my young colleagues did have too many students and, as I’ve indicated before, had some problem with people wanting a lot of advice and taking a lot of time, but having other more high-prestige faculty as their official advisors, which was a difficult and annoying situation for the assistant prof. Advising grads is both positive and negative. Good grad students are an upper: they excite and energize you and help create intellectual community. Weak grad students can be a major time sink with few rewards, but they still deserve advising. And there are the people who are good students with a good research agenda, but there is no one who is really a good intellectual fit with them; it is harder and less fun to advise in an area that you are not really interested in (although we obviously all vary in what things interest us besides our own research). For an assistant professor, I think the ideal is to be working with a few students with whom you share intellectual interests, but not too many, and I’d urge those students to also form relations with the tenured faculty, as above. I think the senior faculty should be taking the lead with advising students whose interests don’t really fit any faculty well, and should also carry the major burden with the weak students who need a lot of extra help.

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  3. What a great feature. I think this is one of the great values of the internet and blogging – sharing knowledge and experience. Thanks Scatterers. Hey, as long as you’re reviving old ideas, are we going to get t-shirts?!

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  4. Kristina b: While I will wait until later to offer my opinion on the question at hand, I want to point out that those who blog on Scatterplot are not “Scatterers,” but instead, after much deliberation and a series of votes, we have decided we want to be called “Scatterplums.”

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  5. I’d like to recommend not piggy-backing on a grad student question as a faculty member especially when it requires a completely different approach to the question.

    I agree with newsocprof and olderwoman. In many (not all!) cases, a student is likely to get much more individualized attention from a junior faculty member. The junior faculty member may also have much more relevant professionalization tips in some realms (like negotiations) since he or she will have had relevant experience more recently. That said, there is something to be said for experiences learned from more senior profs thus the recommendation to work with both.

    Also, note that with a famous person, you’ll likely be competing with many more advisees than with the junior faculty member, which has its own tradeoffs.

    Perhaps the main take-away is that there are numerous factors to consider and whether the faculty member is untenured or not should be just one of the factors taken into account.

    Scatterers, that may just stick even if it’s not the officially authorized/endorsed name.

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  6. @1: you might pick an assistant who blows it, is denied tenure, and gives you bad advice because of their inexperience

    Interesting comment, though as a point of courtesy and recognition of the structural qualities of the world, could we not talk about people denied tenure as having ‘blown it’, please?

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  7. Olderwoman wrote: “For students, a really important criterion is intellectual fit. Probably the ideal situation is to work with a mix of younger and older faculty, forming serious mentoring relations with both.”

    This was my situation as a student. I was fortunate to have a great relationship with my main advisor (who an assistant when I began working with her, but got tenure along the way) and a full professor. They complemented each other well, and filled different roles on my committee (they were co-chairs) and in my mentoring. The former was great for more day-to-day issues, while the latter was great for the “big picture” questions.

    I’m already advising students in my first year on the job. And while I’ve been warned about them being a potential time sink, I’m still interested in working with them. I’m not willing to be a robot until I’m tenured, and as an older new ass’t prof (I’m 41), I’m in a better position to advise students than many first-year profs.

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  8. My experience was atypical, but for what it’s worth . . . .

    As a grad student, I missed out on the mentoring thing. My advisor gave me no advice. It wasn’t his fault – my research was not in his bailiwick. So he was somewhat supportive but not helpful. As I was writing my dissertation, when I finished a chapter, I’d drop off a copy at his office and make an appointment to come back and talk about it. These talks were of little help – I couldn’t even be sure that he’d actually read the chapter. He’d just say that what I’d written was O.K. or even good.

    It was a bit frustrating. But he was a full professor, and the other two readers were non-tenured assistant professors. So I knew that his “OK’s” meant that when the finished dissertation went to the committee, there would be no problem with approval. The comfort this knowledge gave me made up for the lack of guidance, which I sought and found elsewhere.

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  9. Peter & jay141 – I read that differently. Since he started with the idea that someone would blow it, it then followed that the person may well be denied tenure. That doesn’t then imply that someone who gets denied tenure did so, because they blew it.

    Going with a prof just because he/she is famous seems silly. That doesn’t mean one should not work with a famous prof, but there should be other reasons for it.

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  10. My first year on the job, I was surprised and frustrated to discover that I was well prepared for all aspects of my job with the sole exception of graduate advising. (For a variety of reasons, some particular, some generalizable, I was immediately placed on graduate committees. Within two years, I agreed to chair two.) I have found the learning curve is very steep because my pedagogy boiled down to imitating my advisors to some degree and having no idea what to do about the rest. In particular, I found that the students I supervised have different goals and need different skills–to some degree–than my peers or me.

    My university has now implemented a set of brown bag talks where seasoned graduate advisors give us their tricks of the trade. Without years of experience, and such advice from mentors, I think working with juniors is difficult for both parties.

    (NB I may come back and change my mind about this last statement in a bit. I’m not 100% confident this is how I feel, but I’m rushing out the door.)

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  11. Going with a prof just because he/she is famous seems silly.

    I have to disagree with this. The advantages on the job market to having been mentored by a famous person seem clear to me. Impressive on the CV, access to the best networks in one’s field, mentoring by someone who has the big ideas or has made an impression in some way. Academics is mostly an apprenticeship system, and having a famous mentor is beneficial in ways that might differ from having an excellent mentor, but are beneficial nonetheless.

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  12. I have to agree with tina here. One of the curious things I’ve found about sociologists is that often they act as if they’re not ruled by the same processes they study. So they’re surprised when they find inequality in their own ranks, or what appears to be “silly” distinctions that mean little but still somehow end up mattering. (I am NOT attributing this to you CD, it is more of a general observation).

    Anyway, the job market can be read a status game. Departments compete with one another for candidates and for placing their own students. Part of this status game is getting students of famous people. Part of the fame of famous people is placing students. And I would guess that most of you reading this would value a letter from Jeremy Freese more than you would Shamus Khan, even if the candidate worked in my area and not his. Famous people also are seen as having more time constraints, and for a grad student to convince them to take out time symbolically means something.

    When candidates come in to give talks, we often play a genealogical game: who is she a student of. I often tell people that as an undergraduate I worked for three years with a student of Parsons. As if that means something. Yet oddly, it does. There is a symbolic consecration of status. And some of us have status to confer, and others, well, we don’t.

    I’m not saying that these are enormous effects and that in every instance students should work with a famous person first. And I’m also not arguing that this is a particularly good system. But it strikes me that it is the case. And students should consider it when picking a team to work with. Which brings me to my final point: pick a team, not a person. Don’t put all your faith in one person. Pick a group of people who each have strengths and weaknesses that balance each other out. And talk to other grad students to figure out what these are.

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  13. @5 good point. However, I think grad students will do better if they remember the point Shamus makes @13, it is a two-sided game. Grad students ought to want to know how to be the kind of advisee that faculty want to advise. I don’t know whether to try to launch that here, or make it another thread next week.

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  14. Oh, and one final point about picking a team. This is in particular for undergrads who might be reading or people who are considering graduate programs: keep this in mind when selecting a program. You might ask yourself what kinds of teams are possible, both in terms of the constitution of the faculty and the relationships among them. Some departments are very good at tag team advising (both on an official and unofficial basis). In my view (and experience) this is as important as – if not more important than – finding a person to work with.

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  15. The economically correct formulation of Tina’s point is that having a famous advisor is good for one’s career *other things equal.* But the value of the networking advantages is largely contingent on completing, so basic intellectual and personal compatibility are IMHO more important.

    (I write this having spent a couple years trying unsuccessfully to talk one of my former classmates into dumping his Moderately Famous Advisor who just happened to [a] not give a crap about my classmate’s project, and [b] be something of an asshole besides. My classmate failed upwards in the sense that he makes quite a bit more than typical full professor of economics money working for a big consulting firm, but he could have ditched his grad student income a couple years earlier at least in retrospect. And I do gather that econ offers much better employment options for ABDs than the rest of the social sciences.)

    Otherwise, I agree with the basic points, and would add that plenty of relatively elite professorial jobs are held by well-connected pluggers.

    P.S., I like Scatterbrains too.

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  16. You misunderstood what I meant. Or you didn’t take it in context, which is fair since I didn’t give my comment much context.

    What I meant to say was that just because a person is famous doesn’t mean that they will be a good advisor to you. There needs to be some chemistry. The advisor needs to care. Being famous doesn’t mean that s/he will care. That was my point.

    For the record, I had a famous advisor and he was and remains to this day an awesome mentor. (I also could’ve had other famous advisors, I was in the fortunate position of having more than one very famous person available and willing to work with me.) But I certainly wasn’t interested in working with my advisor_just because_ he was famous. He was interested in my work, gave great feedback and taught me more than I could have hoped for. But I don’t believe that’s a guarantee just because someone is famous.

    Olderwoman, it would be great to see a separate thread on “how to be the kind of advisee that faculty want to advise”, I would have much to contribute to that discussion.

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  17. I’ll make my point differently, to ensure it is clear to those who (might) care:

    “Famous mentor” is largely irrelevant to a great majority of Soc Ph.D. students who do not have a “famous” person in their department (or otherwise available to them) and furthermore are not seeking to obtain one of the 15 odd jobs available in the top R1 departments in any given year.

    In other words, the preoccupation with “famousness” or the recognition of the departmental vacancy chains that get top jobs for certain students of certain advisors is an insufficiently partial approach to the question, “should I have a junior chair.”

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  18. Somewhat related to Jay @8, having a junior advisor who is chair of your MA or PhD committees can be a disaster if there are also seniors involved who have been relatively out of the loop until important dates and choose said important dates to express displeasure with your project or performance. It’s nice to have someone in your court during those pivotal moments who is less likely to feel pressured by the seniors.

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  19. I second the request for advice on how to be a good advisee. I’m a first year, starting to think about the whole advising thing, but I’m not quite sure how the advisor/advisee relationship really works.

    Re: famous mentor – we have a couple in my department, but it seems that they are accounted for because a lot of people came here specifically because those people were here. I did the same, but then my “famous” person left for another university. Should that be a consideration – given that they are famous, they may leave for another position elsewhere? I know some grad students have “followed” – is that common?

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  20. @22: When I was working as an international student advisor, this was a problem that popped up a couple of times. A student, otherwise working diligently in consultation with more junior faculty, would be surprised late in the day by comments and criticisms from suddenly-attentive senior faculty. This didn’t happen everyday, of course, but when it did it sometimes carried considerable (sometimes traumatic) implications for time-to-completion, visa situations, etc.

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  21. OK–stupid question: How do you know if someone is famous? It’s not like most “famous” people in academia are actually known to very many people outside their academic area. So, if you are new to the whole thing, how are you really supposed to really have a good sense of the hierarchy here?

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  22. NSP back to clarify…

    @6. I should have said “or” rather than “and.” I mentioned being denied tenure as having an influence on a grad student solely because it means your advisor will be leaving your department, leaving you to find a new advisor.

    That said, there is some relationship to being denied tenure and publication record. The advantage of a more senior advisor is that they have more experience publishing (or teaching or whatever). On the other hand, they may be less likely to co-author and, if they do, you as the grad student may not be viewed as having been an equal contributor (even if you’re the first author). Again, it’s a tradeoff.

    I second olderwoman (and illuded to this when I described my own mentors) — if you pick an assistant as an advisor because of substantial intellectual fit, you ought to balance your other relationships with moe senior people. You also ought not think about an advisor as your sole mentor and develop relationships broadly — you might, for example, change your interests while in grad school.

    Jay’s point @8 is really important. Famous doesn’t much matter if there is little intellectual fit. My first advisor was great, but he didn’t study what I did so he was limited in his contributions.

    I’ve said way too much, but can next week’s discussion be about how to be a good mentor?

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  23. I think next week will be on how to be a “good” or desirable advisee. See olderwoman’s post (15). But I am no tyrant. I am subject to lobbying. Bribes are a legitimate form of lobbying.

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  24. Since the weekly forum is supposed to be grad student questions, Let’s keep the topic on how to be a good advisee for next week, and let’s keep the current thread focused on how to pick a good advisor. There was the initial question about tenured vs untenured that has already been somewhat broadened and could continue to raise other issues students should consider when choosing an advisor.

    If we want to have a separate forum for questions for/by young faculty, we could do that.

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  25. I think that would be helpful — I’m trying to do this on my own blog a bit but you Scatterplum/ers/whatever get much more traffic and i really appreciate reading the comments here on these kinds of questions.

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  26. How about doing the young faculty one on Saturdays? So it’s a Wednesday/Saturday thing?

    I think an ad hoc scheduling committee should be formed, reporting to the faculty, I mean scatterbrains, at large. They could write a short report. (I should say that, due to other commitments, unfortunately I am unavailable to serve on this committee.)

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  27. Scatterbrains! I like it. Except for how it hits a little too close to home. Regardless, I’m surprised our ad hoc committee for self-nomenclature did not even think of it.

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  28. Scatterbrains is awesome. Both because I so often feel scatterbrained, and because it will surely irk our secret-blogging detractors, who will likely take it as evidence that we are arrogantly anointing ourselves the Brains of All Sociology Blogs (BOASB).

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  29. Indeed. Academia is home to that distinctive sort of fame that requires you to have someone tell you a person is famous.

    Corollary to this is that uncomfortable conversation that begins, “do you know X?” and it is totally unclear how stupid you will look if you say no.

    Back to the grad student concern: surely, this is a service that Scatterplot is capable of providing, if not on-blog. (How much of a bummer would it be to find out that you’re not as famous as you think?)

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  30. I want to piggy back on the “high risk/high reward” point about working with a junior adviser. Sometimes they aren’t mutually exclusive. If the person “hits” their goals, depending on their satisfaction with the locale of their first job, that also could lead to them leaving. Just keep in mind that it’s not just having them not make tenure that could leave you looking for someone new. If you get the timing right, you may be able to avoid this potential problem, but I have seen others who weren’t so lucky on this bit alone. They had great mentor/mentee relationship, but just didn’t finish in time (both for tenure denials, and for up-and-comers getting recruited to go elsewhere). They then had to go adviser shopping at a relatively late stage of their project. Not fun.

    Though, I also would chime in as having had a largely beneficial outcome from having worked with a junior chair. Most of the time when I’m asked this question though I respond with something along the lines of “It worked for me, but I wouldn’t recommend it for most.” The pitfalls that can come with it are scary. Particularly in one of those departments where advisees are pegged to one person. The bottom line is you want to do what you can to be sure that any potential shuffles (whether for “positive” or “negative” reasons) won’t kill your opportunities to get done. And some of the same tactics you can take to “cya” on that will coincide with some of the other suggestions above about working with a junior person in general (e.g., OW’s point of multiple letter writers, other’s mentions of tapping a few individuals, etc.).

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  31. Re fame: Supposing instead of “famous,” you substituted “publishes a lot in ASR or AJS or has a lot of citations in Web of Knowlege.” Anyway, look at their cv. That gets you closer. Networked is actually the more important criterion for job placement, which is not so observable, but it is correlated with publication visibility.

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  32. A good local fame indicator is whether the person in question’s middle name seems to be “f*ck* ng,” as in “Dude, you realize that was Jeremy F*ck*ng Freese you just spilled your coffee on?” or “I can’t believe you said that to Talcott F*ck*ng Parsons.”

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  33. Maybe this has been mentioned, but I think a more important issue than tenured vs. untenured is whether the prof plans on sticking around for the next 3-8 years. I’ve been dealt the blow of advisors moving up and/or away multiple times, and I’m unfortunately not the only one. Maybe you could figure that this happens more with junior faculty, but I think it’s a good thing to ask any prof.

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  34. My advice would be to have a senior department member as your chair, who has a (positive) reputation, who is not known to give recommendations like ‘s/he’s a decent job candidate’, who will train you well or at least can tell and tell you when you are doing good or bad work, who actually reads your work from time to time, and who you get along with reasonably well.

    The other members should be distinct enough to give you inflected voices for your project, but not so distinct that they will never collectively come to consensus with your chair. And someone who will not be too cowed by your chair, yet respectful enough to defer if or when necessary. It doesn’t matter whether these people are junior or senior.

    And a pony!

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  35. more important issue [..] is whether the prof plans on sticking around for the next 3-8 years. [..] Maybe you could figure that this happens more with junior faculty, but I think it’s a good thing to ask any prof.

    Good luck getting a prof to tell you that! In most cases they wouldn’t know the answer to this. On the rare occasion when they might, I just can’t see them telling a student.

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  36. This is a fascinating topic, which conflates the question: who is going to give me good advice and work with me on my project and who is going to help me go ahead once I hit the job market. I think that the junior/senior distinction in “big” departments is not such an important one, since by the time said student is graduating that junior faculty is being promoted to Associate with tenure and puts at his disposal a network of acquaintances in his same structural position -which usually means are eager and hungry to “work” the phones and are usually counted on to participate on search committees and the likes. Sometimes “big” names don’t have the same traction in the market, as their structural equivalents in other deparments are probably not that closely involved in the search process within their own depts. or just don’t have the time to follow closely your future (or are too removed from the every day trenches as to do anything other than writing a great rec letter.

    As of the balance of the committee, it really depends on your intellectual fit, but I feel there has to be some balance between the disciplinarian and “caregiver” role within your committee. If you have too many people busting your case, it becomes really uncomfortable, if you have too many caregivers, there is a chance you don’t get to finish your stuff on time -though you might achieve great self-confidence!- I found that junior faculty tend to push you more to fulfill your timelines, but maybe some other people had different experiences.
    This is my first post ever on a blog. Sorry if it’s too long.

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  37. Wow, am I ever *late* to this party. I tend to concur with Peter @45, with the addition that you want to work with someone who is has some real excitement about your topic, being your mentor, etc. I recognize that this seems a case of stating the obvious, but I’ve seen people make contra-obvious choices (think “He’s Just Not That Into You,” albeit in a wholly different context).

    Also, at the risk of being all California-touchy-feely – I think it’s important to pay attention to how your interactions with a given faculty member make you feel. This requires some self knowledge, or at least a basic awareness of what sorts of mentoring are most helpful and motivating to you. This might change at different stages of your career; the mentoring that I got as a post-doc – which was incredibly inspiring and helpful – would have intimidated me entirely when I first started graduate school.

    Finally, I strongly endorse the idea of the post & discussion suggested by OW@15. I’ll look forward to that blog-fest sometime soon…

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  38. The piggyback is appropriate. There is no answer to the student side without reference to the junior professor. If a junior is smoking along and is looking well-primed for tenure (and doesn’t have a lover 2000 miles away or something), then you’ll probably be ok. And, the professor is also just doing her job. If you’ve made your minimum research requirement (the book is in press, seven articles are in print or forthcoming, and several more under review…), junior faculty are expected to suck it up and start taking on PhD students. But, before that, it’s not a good idea for anyone involved. Students risk losing a their advisor before completion, and junior faculty chance putting too much effort into teaching and failing to complete research requirements for tenure.

    Intellectual concerns complicate the equation, but usually it means that junior faculty in isolated substantive areas are screwed. If you’re junior and the only criminologist at Research U, you’re going to wind up directing PHD research (even if you aren’t formally the chair of the committee), and the students don’t have much choice but to seek you out. Worse yet, at the top level, collaborative research with graduate students doesn’t necessarily help you! All that time and effort to help Student R may wind up in a second-authored publication which your senior colleagues view as a publication by Student R (we’ve had her in class, she’s smart, what have you done?). I’ve seen that, more than once, and once with a co-author, friend, junior faculty advisor.

    But,if you are at a graduate program known for the research of certain persons, and those persons are not on your committee or chairing your dissertation, it will raise issues at top universities. Why isn’t there are rec from X? Why is he studying blah, but not studying with Blau? Below the high end research level, it may not matter much.

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  39. Another way to find out if someone is famous: if they are the “X” Professor of

    There are named professorships at schools we’ve never heard of (yes, I speak for you as well:) so I don’t think that’s a good criterion. That’s not to say that there aren’t famous people at less famous schools, but if a person is sufficiently famous then the school would become known as well thanks to the famous person’s presence there. Point being: no, named professorship doesn’t guarantee much on that front. Kieran’s onto something though.:) However, a note on this example:

    “Dude, you realize that was Jeremy F*ck*ng Freese you just spilled your coffee on?”

    If the person was really famous then wouldn’t the one spilling the coffee have already fainted in embarrassment?:-)

    On the “touch-feely” point, I’m with you Sara. I think it is important to have a good rapport with one’s advisor. Of course, that will mean different things to different people. But I’d say if you are constantly frustrated/intimidated/annoyed/stressed out by your advisor, s/he may not be the best pick.

    OW, I’m curious to hear what other faculty have to say about “the kind of advisee that faculty want to advise” so I look forward to that post and discussion!

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  40. Eszter: The relationship between named professorship and fame I think is there, but the other way: having a named professorship doesn’t mean somebody is academic-famous, but anybody who has been academic-famous for any duration seems to have one.

    Professors certainly oriented to named professorships as an important status thing; I wonder if there are any studies of what the distribution of income tradeoffs professors would be willing to make for a named professorship.

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  41. Rather than make “the kind of advisee that faculty want to advise” a feature of our Wednesday series, “ask a scatterbrain” I have suggested to olderwoman that she simply construct a post on it that others can comment on. She’s busy. But I suspect it will arrive within the week. My view on this is that comments that organically emerge from these things can and should be posts of their own, if folks want. And I’m reserving the series for questions that get emailed to me (or suggested by grad students in comments). The point that we should make this solely a grad student series makes sense to me, and I will follow it (no more piggy-backing).

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  42. Jeremy, I disagree, I can think of people who do not have named professorships, but whom many would consider famous.

    Named professorships, at least in part, reflect the willingness to be on the market and the ability to negotiate things. If a person is really famous, but for whatever reason (e.g., family) won’t move and won’t agree to being considered by other places for a job then there is much less of a chance that s/he will get a named professorship compared to a situation wherein s/he was receiving various outside offers.

    Shakha, I didn’t think OW’s post would be part of this series, I just figured it was a topic she might explore one of these days.

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  43. No one has yet mentioned Val Burris’ research on PhD networks, but it seems relevant, though perhaps not detailed enough to fully address the question at hand. In any case, as OW says @41, being “networked” may be more important than “fame” (whatever the f*ck the latter might mean in this context—a question that was much clearer when Lingua Franca was still around, btw). Being well networked may be correlated with publication visibility, but there’s a somewhat more direct way to assess this as well (although collecting the data might be a bit more laborious): job placement track record. This could arguably be one reason for selecting a senior faculty member as a dissertation chair. He or she has a history of doing such advising (and subsequent placement) and this can be evaluated. Plenty of “famous” people—on whom one certainly wouldn’t want to spill one’s coffee—don’t put all that much effort into either mentoring or placement, or for various other reasons don’t do all that well in producing and placing successful students.

    All of this is much less important, for my money, than the criterion OW introduced @2: intellectual fit. And this isn’t just a matter of having an advisor who might share your theoretical or methodological predilections—it’s a matter of finding an advisor who will help you locate and refine the intellectual project you want to take on, and then provide the support and advice, encouragement and criticism, freedom and discipline, necessary for you to do it well.

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