Selecting a Thesis Lab Advisor

Points to consider for choosing a thesis lab.

1. Do the research topics in the prospective laboratory excite me? Remember, you will be working on a similar research topic almost every day for the next 5 years.

2. Have I identified a research question of appropriate content? If you are seeking opportunities to study large mammals, it is unlikely that you will find an intellectual home in a microbiology laboratory.

3. Will I be well trained after completing my studies? Remember, an important aspect of graduate education is education. Too often graduate school is viewed as getting the answer to a particular biological question. In the course of solving a biological problem, will your prospective dissertation advisor provide you with opportunities to become proficient in the practice of science - the ability to problem solve, engage in critical thinking, receive broad technical training, engage in scientific communication, and practice professional interactions and ethics?

4. Where will my research take place? This is a very important question if your research may take you into the field or another institution. Also, is the research environment in a prospective laboratory conducive to collegial interaction and creativity?

5. How will I support myself? This website describes mechanisms of graduate student support. Discuss with your prospective advisor what type of financial support you can expect and for how long. Will you be teaching to support yourself or will you have a research assistantship or some combination thereof?

6. Can I communicate with my prospective dissertation advisor? This is a question of both personality and proximity.

7. Who is my prospective research advisor? Is this individual respected by the scientific community for the quality of their contributions to science? Will this person serve as an effective mentor beyond my graduate studies? Is this person a member of the Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and able to accept Ph.D. dissertation students?

8. Who is in the "intellectual neighborhood" of your prospective dissertation advisor? Faculty members at UVA or elsewhere that share an intellectual interest with your prospective advisor will comprise your intellectual support group, serving as advisors to your dissertation as well. This of course does not preclude you from bringing new people into the "neighborhood."

9. What defines a complete dissertation? Discuss with any prospective dissertation advisor what their expectations are for a dissertation. A certain number of first author papers? The solving of a particular problem? Your dissertation committee will have input into this decision, but your dissertation advisor's opinion is weighted heavily.