Friday, October 11, 2013

What does my supervisor expect of me?

Different Ph.D and postdoctoral advisors/supervisors/mentors can have very different expectations of students/postdocs who work for/with them. Furthermore, these expectations can be significantly different from what students/postdocs expect. I have written before that it is important at the beginning [or better still, before] starting to work together that these expectations are clarified and discussed. At one Australian university it is part of the formal Ph.D induction process. Unfortunately, this is often not done.

Vitaly Podzorov is a physics faculty member at Rutgers University. On his website, he has a very clear and detailed description of what he expects from group members. It is worth reading carefully. Some of it is specific to his field, experimental organic electronics. Some of it may appear a little harsh. I don't necessarily agree with some of it [e.g. TeX is outdated software!]. I worry that the tone may lead students being scared to make mistakes, to take risks and fail. But, it clearly shows things from his perspective. Potential and new group members are not left guessing. Doing good science is hard and competitive.

Are there other examples where faculty web pages spell out expectations?
I welcome comments.


  1. Not just the tone, but the content. What a narrow perspective. There are many ways to run a research group, and many ways to be a scientist. At times during my 20+ year, I have been unexcited by my research, less than diligent, occasionally sloppy, and often uncomfortable, frustrated, and/or terrified. By Podzorov's count I should have left science scores of times. I imagine that is so for most of us.

    Here are my rules:

    1. Take care of yourself really well so that you preserve the part that is curious and excited about science. You will likely feel burned out occasionally, so learn physical and mental self-care skills & techniques that work for yourself.

    2. Strive for diligence and neatness.

    3. Err on the side of overcommunication rather than undercommunication.

    4. You will occasionally suffer. You will feel, at times, terrified, uncomfortable, frustrated. We all do. Welcome to the club!

    5. If in the end, the sum of excitement, fun, pleasure in the work exceeds the sum of discomfort, frustration, and tears---then by all means stay a scientist! If not, you may also stay a scientist.

    1. Abby,
      Thanks for the comment. I like your "rules".
      I think 3. is particularly important.
      Your "rules" are very much written from the point of view of the best interests of the student. Unfortunately, Podzorov's appear to be mostly in terms of what is in his best interests.

  2. I think that Cava's list strikes a nice balance between being fun and tough:

    1. Dan, thanks for posting that.
      It is great to have some insight into the workings of a great scientist such as Cava. The points are interesting and fun. But, I feel they need more detail. Different people could interpret some in quite different ways.

    2. Dan you beat me to that! Cava's page is my personal favourite one. It inspired me to start writing tutorials and guides, when I was doing through my first postdocing.

      Unfortunately I did my PhD in the lab where there was no organizational efforts whatsoever and our boss boss was a brightest example of sloppiness and negligence. I'm really sorry to admit that now.

      On the other hand Vitaly Podzorov seems to be way to narrow in his approach imho, but that is his lab, who am I to judge... Although I must admit the points like "no obsolete software in our lab", running antivirus software regularly and DVD backups pretty much summed it up for me.

  3. It is interesting (for lack of more judgemental wording...) to note that the author of the link you posted (with content described in your post as "a bit harsh") does not impose the same quality requirements on himself that he quite explicitly imposes on his subordinates.
    He apparently refuses to use a spell checker himself - viz. "repetedly".

  4. Also interesting that he seems not to have any students at the moment. Coincidence?

    1. I know, right! Either the bar is too high, or that page hasn't been updated for a while...