Is my potential supervisor any good?


Hi all
Am in talks with someone from my undergrad (am MSc-ing it at the mo) about her supervising my PhD. Trouble is, there are pros and cons.

- The department itself is in an ex-poly which for that subject came halfway down the RAE league table. But it came higher than other ex-polys and moved several places up the charts (sounds like Top of the Pops) from the previous RAE. My subject is actually a burgeoning sub-area of the main subject, if that makes sense.
- My potential supervisor's list of publications is not that impressive - she gets about 2-3 per year, but only a fraction in high-impact journals. However, she is also a research associate at one of the top 3 UK universities, and a very esteemed professor at another of the top 3 UK universities recommended my potential supervisor to another PhD-er I know
- My potential supervisor is passionate about our sub-field, knows loads of people within it, founded a major annual European conference, and is a journal editor. She runs a weekly research seminar group for our sub-field. She is very encouraging of students. She is also currently collaborating with better-known academics than her(!)
- My potential supervisor has singlehandedly set up a lab at her institution as well as annual field trips, and is gathering a team of students and colleagues around her who are of a similar school of thought. I know some of these people and I get on with them and feel very comfy with them.
- My potential supervisor has a canny eye for how our sub-field can contribute to policy, something that I think is increasingly important but quite rare among academics I know, and is starting to apply for relevant grants.
- I get on really well with my potential supervisor and we see eye-to-eye about the various emphases of my topic idea. The plan is to apply for funding together.

So there you have it. Lots of pros, but the cons are that this person doesn't have a great publication record and the institution/department itself doesn't impress outsiders. Am I just wanting to be with this supervisor out of loyalty/sentimentality? Why doesn't she move on and work somewhere a bit classier? :p Should I go and chat to others in my sub-field who might want my topic to have a different emphasis, but be at better-respected institutions?

Your thoughts please... (mince)


FRom my limited experience, in a PhD the most important is to get along well with your sup. You are going to work with your sup for at least 3 years, so you sould have a good reletionship with her.
When I was applying, I was accepted by the best university in my field and by a well known professor. I was ready to accept but then accidentaly I received an email (it wasn't sent to me on purpose) in which she was saying "what are we going to do with that problem?" meaning what were they going to do with me!!!! I thought that being considered a problem before even started......not a good thing!!!So, instead I accepted a place at a not so "good" university, but I have two fantastic supervisors who really care about my subject, who care about me and, most importantly, so not see me a problem!!!!
At the end of the day, it is your reserach that matters and your publications, not your sup's....

Avatar for sneaks

ooh I'm intrigued Emmaki - how did you know you were 'the problem'?

I would agree though, getting on with your sup is more important. No supervisor support is RUBBISH and will mean a delay in your PhD. SO its better to get a good quality PhD from an ok university in 3-4 years than an average PhD from a great uni in 7-8 years!


I agree with Sneaks and Emmaki..

I think you're being over critical of your potential sup. She sounds fine to me, and clearly has an interest in your subject area which is the most important thing. how much your sup publishes has no impact on your PhD, and all that matters is that you get along and that she provides the support you need to complete your PhD.


Thanks guys

I've never actually allowed prestige of institutions to sway my judgement - I've just chosen what I consider exciting courses all the way through. But then some might say that this is precisely why I've never gone to a prestige institution! I haven't gone to average universities because I don't think I'm capable of getting into 'better' ones, I've just never really thought about it. Naive, perhaps...

Am well aware that a fair number of posters on here wouldn't touch an ex-poly with a bargepole! Lots of people I've met are very pleased that they can proffer the name of Professor Classy on their CV. And good for them!

So anyway, I suspect I will go ahead with applying for funding with the academic I described to you, because actually I'd really like to work with her and she's a great evangelist for our field. And as you can see from the description, she really does have a lot going for her in some ways. But in case our funding bid doesn't work, perhaps I'll punt around and see if there's anyone else out there with similar ideas/obsessions...


Avatar for sneaks

Glad to hear it! I would say that it really depends on the subject too. I know that in my specialist subject, my uni far outranks oxford/cambridge and all those types. I can't remember what kind of uni it is, a glass wall one or something, I definitely wouldn't have gone there for undergrad, but for my area, its one of the best.


Hi there

yes, go with the prof you want to work with. In my case, I happened to end up with a famous prof who is a great sup, in a great dept in a classy uni


with all support from all, am disastrously poor. So that was the price I paid to get great prof+great rapport+classy dept+classy uni.. :-( but anyway!


Hi there! I'm with the others sounds like a good bet to me! You have to be with someone who will be a good supervisor- of course it is good if they are at the top of their field with two zillion publications etc, but that's only good if they still have time to supervise you well and you get on with them. I am lucky because despite everything she does (a hell of a lot!), my primary sup is still great, has a lot of time for us mere PhD students, and returns work within a few days of us giving it to her. Without exception. However, although he's a great guy and we get on well, my second supervisor just doesn't have the time to commit properly to PhD students, and I know that I would be struggling for support if he was my primary supervisor. And don't worry too much about the uni...I moved from a top uni in the UK with a not-wonderful-department in psychology, to a middle-of-the-range sort of uni with an outstanding department and with supervisors who are world leaders in their field. Anyone who knows their stuff will know if you are in a good department for your subject and with a good supervisor. A few of my pals raised their eyebrows when I changed to a less prestigious university, but it was the best move I ever made! Best of luck with the applications etc! KB


Quote From sneaks:

ooh I'm intrigued Emmaki - how did you know you were 'the problem'?

I would agree though, getting on with your sup is more important. No supervisor support is RUBBISH and will mean a delay in your PhD. SO its better to get a good quality PhD from an ok university in 3-4 years than an average PhD from a great uni in 7-8 years!

I knew it, because later on, when she went on explaining the "problem", my name was mentioned!!!
It was something like "Emmaki seems crap and her research is not interesting and can't have a good result".
I don't know if I am crap or not (I want to believe that I am not) but my research is working fine and so far I have some very interesting results....
I didn't reply to that email, because I thought that the world of academia is quite small and sometime in the future I may need that particular professor.....
I also don't have any regrets for my choice. It may be a new university, but my supervisors are wonderful. They are very supportive, they care about my research, they read my work and give useful comments, they urge me (I don't know if it is the correct word ) :p to participate in conferences and to give seminars... They make it an enjoying experience


Crikey, Emmaki, I'm glad you saw the fateful e-mail. Sounds like many of you made 'less prestigious' choices that you're happy with.

Think it's better to be genuinely motivated by stuff inside you, like excitement for project, liking for department, etc. than by outward stuff like what other people will think as they gaze upon you.



Ah! My eyes! My eyes! Too many pictures and colours!!


But I was inspired by your gorgeous design from the other day, Cobweb. I think it was you...

I was thinking with these smileys we have all the components of a rich, colourful tapestry covering, let's say, half a page....

Would the mods kill us?


Hi. Please excuse me as I'm not a native English speaker. I would like to know what a 'poly' is. In your original post you mention 'ex-polys'. What is that? Thank you!


A 'poly', (correct me if I'm wrong, everyone), is an abbreviation for 'polytechnic'. These were institutions which granted more vocational degrees and were generally thought of as academically inferior to more established universities (which themselves are very varied in quality). In 1992 the then government decided to put polys on an equal footing with other universities so all their names were changed e.g. the Poly of Central London became Westminster University, etc. Arguably this has only been a cosmetic change and standards still differ wildly. I said 'arguably'. :p


My potential supervisor's list of publications is not that impressive - she gets about 2-3 per year, but only a fraction in high-impact journals.

i just want to point out that actually 2-3 publications a year is pretty good if she does the research herself. somebody with 10+ publications a year either recycles the same crap 9 times or has lots and lots of students to do the work for him.

anyway, go with the good supervision, when at conferences you will make a lot of contacts which counts a lot more than having your phd from a supposedly better university.