Project with first time PhD supervisor

posted
09-May-17, 15:02
by emeroz
Avatar for emeroz
posted about 2 weeks ago
A project I am considering is being offered by someone who is a new academic and is just setting up his research group at the moment. Does anyone have any thoughts on how having a first time PhD supervisor would affect a PhD? And how much I should take this into consideration when deciding?
(Interested in both pros and cons)
posted
10-May-17, 01:13
edited about 28 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hi, emeroz,

I will share some of my own personal experience and the experiences of a couple of friends. All of us embarked on a PhD with a first time PhD supervisor who is starting up his/her new lab.

We all had rather unsatisafactory supervision. Instruments were inadequate, and there was very limited technical support wihin the group. Postdocs, if present, were also newly hired, and so were trying to find their way around and may not understand your project. The new supervisor does not know the PhD processes, and so it is entirely up to you to find out what, where and when to do at various stages of your PhD. Your supervsior may also be very stressed out with the logistics of setting up a new lab and be crazily writing grants to sustain his/her own career that you may not have the supervision you would need. One of my friend was tasked to help set up the lab aka help in identifying the instruments to be purchased, and another had to work on the supervisor's own side project to "finish a paper to apply grants with".
posted
10-May-17, 01:13
edited about 19 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 weeks ago
Generally, the supervisor will not put the best idea forward for a PhD project until the second or third student comes along, since he/she knows that that his familiarity with the academic system and more grant funding will ensure a higher rate of success for the pet project. You also do not have any other student in your group to discuss your work with. There is also very limited prelimiary data for the project you do, if there is any at all.

Since you do not have a solid group yet, your chances of having more publications through collaborations with other group members are very low. Most successful academics I know come from big established groups with big name profs and lots of resources and papers to kick start their career. A PhD student is supposed to be independent and not rely on others, some may argue, but when you are competing against other PhD grads who had lots of help and papers, you know how low your chances of success is when it comes to future fellowship, jobs and grants.

These are our experiences. It may not be how your experience will turn out. Yours may very well be excellent. Good luck.
posted
10-May-17, 09:03
edited about 24 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hi Emeroz

Could you have a secondary supervisor with a lot more experience? This could work really nicely as you would get the experience trickling down from them (which your main supervisor would benefit from too no doubt), plus you would get the first time care from your main supervisor - who would be potentially be willing to invest a lot in you and try to do everything according to the rule book to ensure the success of their first student...

My main supervisor isn't very experienced whereas the second one has heaps of experience. It works quite well. I wouldn't like it if I didn't have the second supervisor as well though.
posted
10-May-17, 17:26
edited about 20 seconds later
by Eng28
Avatar for Eng28
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hi emeroz,

I was my supervisor's first PhD student, and I can tell you that he is terrible. I'm not sure if it's because I'm his first student or because of his personality, but I didn't trust his knowledge and his way of supervision. I had a second supervisor, a senior professor, who is very smart although still a bad supervisor, but at least he really knew his stuff. I would always meet them separately, and in all occasions I would be told something different so I would always trust the professor. I would suggest you get a second, much more experienced supervisor who's had a history of supervising PhD students previously with success.
posted
10-May-17, 18:48
Avatar for Hanginthere
posted about 2 weeks ago
Quote From tru:
Generally, the supervisor will not put the best idea forward for a PhD project until the second or third student comes along, since he/she knows that that his familiarity with the academic system and more grant funding will ensure a higher rate of success for the pet project. You also do not have any other student in your group to discuss your work with. There is also very limited prelimiary data for the project you do, if there is any at all.

Since you do not have a solid group yet, your chances of having more publications through collaborations with other group members are very low. Most successful academics I know come from big established groups with big name profs and lots of resources and papers to kick start their career. A PhD student is supposed to be independent and not rely on others, some may argue, but when you are competing against other PhD grads who had lots of help and papers, you know how low your chances of success is when it comes to future fellowship, jobs and grants.

These are our experiences. It may not be how your experience will turn out. Yours may very well be excellent. Good luck.


I agree with tru, my main supervisor is a first-time supervisor and his input has not been useful in helping the substance of my work. I rely on him for critiquing of the quality of my work, while depending on my second to give me ideas when I am stock/short of ideas on how to progress. The worst part of being in this situation for me is that feedback takes forever which is very depressing.

My advice for you will be to make sure you have a second supervisor who is more experienced for backup.
posted
16-May-17, 20:12
edited about 15 seconds later
Avatar for cloudofash
posted about 1 week ago
So at the moment I am the only one who has a different experience:) My supervisor is a first time supervisor but I joined the lab when he had it running for a year together with very able technician.
He knows his stuff, has great ideas and is really invested in my progress.
I think this really depends on a person and their abilities. My supervisor is on a prestigious fellowship only a few get so I reckon that could be something that can offer reassurance (not that those not on a great fellowship are not good, just need to look at other stuff as well).
posted
16-May-17, 22:33
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 week ago
Quote From cloudofash:
So at the moment I am the only one who has a different experience:) My supervisor is a first time supervisor but I joined the lab when he had it running for a year together with very able technician.
He knows his stuff, has great ideas and is really invested in my progress.
I think this really depends on a person and their abilities. My supervisor is on a prestigious fellowship only a few get so I reckon that could be something that can offer reassurance (not that those not on a great fellowship are not good, just need to look at other stuff as well).


This can happen, definitely! But I think it may be worth having a back up (i.e., a more experienced supervisor to hand) just in case the main one isn't all that. I guess no one knows whether they will be good or not until they supervise their first student.
posted
16-May-17, 22:42
edited about 10 seconds later
by Pjlu 4 star member
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 1 week ago
I have had similar experiences to CloudoFash (minus the lab experience). My supervisor was a first time supervisor-I will be her first PhD student to graduate, although given that I have taken 5+ years (part time student), she has had a Masters student or two finish in the time we have worked together.

Positives:

She remembers the journey and stages very clearly and can empathise well with the highs and lows
Acted as coach in the first two to three years-clarifying, encouraging and helping to set targets
Great reader in the last year during write up and finalising-very thorough, meticulous and timely
Good sounding board
'Gone in to bat' for me once or twice when administrative issues were annoying
Get on really well with her and this has been a huge positive

Cons:

Not much specific expertise in my area
Hasn't provided much guidance in the way of theory-theoretical or method

I also have a second supervisor-who is far more experienced, is senior and head of the school/faculty, incredibly busy but can provide that dash of concentrated expertise that causes me to rethink, redraft, restructure.

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