Choosing a Research Group

When a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow is deciding whether to join a research group, gathering information about the group and its leaders is valuable in helping that individual arrive at a good decision. Sometimes this information can be acquired from written materials, from conversations with current or previous students or postdoctoral fellows in the group, or by asking the senior researcher directly. This may help to determine whether you are really interested in the research that the group is or will be pursuing. Among the useful questions that could be asked are the following:a

  • Who oversees the work of beginning researchers?

  • Will a research adviser also serve as a mentor? If so, what is that person’s mentoring style?

  • What role does a trainee have in choosing and developing a project?

  • How long do graduate students or postdoctoral fellows typically take to finish their training?

  • What are the sources of funding for a project, and is the funding likely to be disrupted?

  • Do beginning researchers participate in writing journal articles, and how are they recognized as authors?

  • How much competition is there among group members and between the group and other groups?

  • Are there potential dangers from chemical, biological, or radioactive agents? If so, what training is offered in these areas?

  • What are the policies regarding ownership of intellectual property developed by the group?

  • Are graduate students and postdoctoral fellows discouraged from continuing their projects when they leave?

  • Are graduate students and postdoctoral fellows encouraged and funded to attend professional meetings and make presentations?

  • Are there opportunities for other kinds of professional development, such as giving lectures, supervising others, or applying for funds?


aFor additional questions, please see: Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, Phillip A. Griffiths, Chair, Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering, National Academy Press, 1997. 84 pp.

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