Working with a new professor

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

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Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Feb 09, 2021 12:44 pm

Working with a new professor

Post by argon-ion » Thu Mar 18, 2021 12:03 am

I got into a top 5 graduate school for physics. There are 3 groups I'm strongly considering. One is well established, another has been getting a lot of attention recently, but there's one that really caught me eye. It's a new group: a new professor just out of his postdoc. He did some impressive work in his phd and postdoc and has 3k citations within the last 4 years. His work is incredibly well-aligned with my interests, and it's making it difficult to choose a group to work with.

Here's my question: can some people share what they think about working in a new group? I can think of some pretty sweet advantages, like being the first graduate student of a professor guarantees you will get a lot of mentorship and guidance, and you will develop some strong knowledge by working on a project from scratch. that being said, I worry there are some more unforeseen negatives, perhaps related to funding or publications? so I'd greatly appreciate any input from current students as to what some of the pros and cons of working with a new group are. Thanks!

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Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Working with a new professor

Post by geekusprimus » Thu Mar 18, 2021 12:34 am

I'm just a first-year grad student, so someone with a little more experience might provide a little more insight here, but this has been my experience seeing new professors and working with new professors:
  • There's no group culture yet, so you end up with a say in what that group culture is.
  • The young guys are often full of new and exciting ideas, with lists of projects 20 miles long.
  • Tenure. Because new professors want it, they're going to be among the busiest and most prolific in the department to prove that they deserve it.
  • Older professors are usually better connected. They've got more clout in the community, so you take the risk when you work with a new professor that they might not have much in the way of name recognition or connections when it comes time to apply for postdocs.
  • Tenure. Since new professors don't have it, there's always a chance that they might not be around long enough for you to complete a PhD. Additionally, them being the busiest and most prolific in the department will get passed down to their graduate students. Be prepared to work like a dog for your advisor's sake.
In short, new professors are a gamble. You're banking on them sticking around long enough for you to graduate, and you're banking on them having a big enough name that your degree can get you the job that you want rather than just a job. On the flip side, the new guys are usually the ones with tons of ambition and new ideas, so it can be really exciting to work on stuff that no one else is brave (some might say "stupid") enough to try.

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