How closely should your research be to your adviser's?

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How closely should your research be to your adviser's?

Post by djh101 » Sat Apr 11, 2015 2:47 am

In experimental research requiring certain equipment, I can see the necessity in choosing a school with a research group doing something closely related to what it is you want to do. Equipment aside, though, how closely, in general, should the research area that you want to work in be to a potential adviser's? I ask because, though I'm not completely sure what specific topic I would like to pursue in grad school, the best fitting research seems to be at the school located where I would least like to live. Am I focusing too much on professors' research interests relative to other factors (stipend and stipend conditions, location, etc.) or is it really as important as I've been perceiving it to be?

Professor X studies quantum error correction. At which point on the following list would I be too far out to consider him a potential adviser?
1. Quantum Error Correction
2. Quantum Algorithms
3. Decoherence Theory
4. Social Network Theory
5. Condensed Matter Theory
6. Anthropology

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Re: How closely should your research be to your adviser's?

Post by Catria » Wed Apr 15, 2015 11:35 am

I would personally say that it is somewhere between 3 and 4...

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Re: How closely should your research be to your adviser's?

Post by TakeruK » Wed Apr 15, 2015 12:36 pm

I think there are a lot of factors that go into picking the best school/advisor for you and I actually think exact research fit is not as important as some other factors. To be clear, you definitely need fit in the same subfield, but you should not look for exact fit down to the exact project of your choice! I don't know quantum things so I can't tell the difference between options 1-3 on your list. However, for an example from my field, I wanted to go to grad school to work on astronomical observational work with exoplanets. To me, it didn't matter if the research project was going to be observing the atmospheres of exoplanets, or searching for exoplanets or characterizing the stars that host exoplanets. The only thing that mattered was 1) learning certain skills and 2) studying exoplanets in some way.

I would say exact project/research fit is less important than the following academic/career related factors:
1. How well you get along with the advisor
2. Resources available to you at these schools (ranking/reputation is usually correlated with this)
3. How well your advisor will be able to "fight" for you after you graduate
4. How will the skills you learn from working at this lab/group help you get a job later (reputation is correlated with this)
5. How well you feel you fit in with the culture/goals/environment of the department

I say all of these are more important than your choice of research project because you can't change any of the above 5 things. But you can definitely change your research interests!

I would also consider personal factors too but whether or not you put them above or below "research fit" is a personal choice. For me, I would put the following above research fit:
1. Stipend (but only to the extent that I can live comfortably, beyond that is not meaningful)
2. Culture of the location I'm in (I need to live in an urban setting, in a big multicultural city...found out that I cannot be happy in small homogeneous towns)

And the following personal factors I might be willing to compromise for better research fit:
1. Weather/Climate at the location
2. Proximity to my extended family in Canada

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