#5 How to choose your academic adviser

Oh, what a semester! I would like to thank Dr.Lee for making this semester great for us. I also would like to thank you all for sharing your thoughts and concerns on your blog posts and comments. I really enjoyed this class! I hope one day we will see each other in the classrooms. This was my last required class for my P.h.D. and Future Professoriate Certificate.

I was thinking about what else to leave in this blog post. Definitely not COVID-19 updates, and frustration while we are at the end of this semester. I am enjoying my experience with my research lab and my adviser even during this difficult time we are facing. Then, I thought of how difficult it was for me to find my space in this great research group. So I wanted to search what is recommended online to find your academic adviser.

To start with my own experience, I did not have a good experience in that I had to sacrifice some of my academic years and also research. However, it was worth it to end up in my current group. I am leaving my adviser’s TEDx talk to give you an idea of what my group works on and there is more indeed.


My adviser’s name is Dr.Pablo Tarazaga. I call him “my academic healer.” When I met him I was feeling I was stuck under a collapsed building and each of the concrete blocks I was feeling on me was the unfortunate experiences I had had in my previous research group. What was my mistake with this experience? I did self-criticize. I was coming from another country that has a different educational culture. I did not have any experience in graduate school either in my home country or states. When I was applying for graduate programs in different schools, I was so stressed with getting accepted. I was trying to convince the graduate schools with my TOEFL and GRA scores that were meeting the requirements. I did not even think about how I should find my adviser which is the key point of the graduate programs. I admitted that I was TOO RECKLESS.

So now I assume that I am a prospective student and what should I do when I look for graduate programs and prospective adviser.

  • Read the graduate program policy. For Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech is : me.vt.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-2020_MEDept_GraduateProgramsPolicy_Oct2019-.pdf. I was only checking the graduate school websites and the department websites before I applied and I was not really aware of what the policy of the department for the graduate program. I did not know I have a chance to find my adviser after I enroll in the program. I forced myself to find an adviser prior to my first semester started. Lack of information made me stick with one prospective adviser and I thought I can not change my adviser and I have to deal with the issues rather than looking up other options.

I searched for some guidelines for how to choose your academic supervisor on google and there are many articles provided by several universities and professionals. One of the articles I really like to enjoy reading was written by Matthew Killeya on https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19726442-500-the-phd-journey-how-to-choose-a-good-supervisor/

On his article, his key points are as follows a supervisor should

  • shared similar interests
  • challenge you sometimes
  • excite you
  • have personal chemistry with you

He also recommends

  • explore your options
  • be unique
  • give as much as you take


I wish I read at least one article like this before I chose my first adviser. I was like Yaayyyyy! I got accepted. I have this professor who helped me during the acceptance process so I can get along with him no matter what. It did not work that way though. I learned with experiencing how important to have similar interests with your adviser. I was not able to find healthy communication. People are very different from various backgrounds and you need to make sure they are matching with yours.

Explore your options is the key for me that could lead me to success from the beginning. You need to make sure you meet people you will work with. Mostly we spend more time in our working environment and while we work we also socialize with people in our work environment.

Currently, I am in the best group I could be in. I feel lucky and I appreciate every support I receive from my colleagues. When you are in a healthy environment you think healthy and it leads you to success.


Amanda Covey

Finding a great advisor is definitely tricky! For BME Grad Weekend I give our prospective students a sheet of questions to ask their potential advisors when they talk to them. I remind them that they are also interviewing the faculty for a best fit for THEM. It’s like dating someone… you wouldn’t just date any person for 5 years so make sure if you are stuck with them that long you can at least stand them LOL Especially for students who are new to graduate school, I find that the list of questions helps since most do not know that it’s ok to ask your potential advisor what their expectations are for you, how often they give raises, how often you can meet to discuss your progress, work/life balance, mentorship, networking opportunities , etc. I can share it with anyone who’s interested! 😉 One thing I think students should also keep in mind is that faculty advisors are human too and most aren’t taught how to be advisors to be honest, only researchers. Some may have had a really bad advisor themselves so they don’t know what a good advisor is like. Not that this gives them an excuse not to be better. At least being understanding that they are human as well as being upfront of YOUR expectations of them can go a long way to keep you from feeling overwhelmed. I think it’s also really important to pick a supportive committee and/or have a supportive graduate director/coordinator when you are having issues with your advisor, so you have another person you can talk to as well…even if it’s just to vent! I’m glad you are now happy in your new research group! It was great having class with you this year and I hope to see you around campus sometime.


#5-4 Thanks Amanda. It is exactly like dating with someone and you can commit a relationship after the first date also. I was not even aware of my right to change my adviser. My mound was stuck with I have to get along with this man and finish my degree so I had to take all the burden even if they were unnecessary. Yes, advisers are human too but they are expected to work professionally. That is why I think they should be trained while they are in the tenure track. I know it is difficult to keep an eye on their self-improvement but at least they can try some methods on them to learn pedagogy and ethics. It was great to meet you and have you in class. I hope to see you when we are back to campus. I will stop by and say hi!


Thank you for this helpful article. I learn a lot, and yeah, choosing a suitable academic supervisor is difficult. I agree that you have similar interests, challenge you sometimes, and have personal chemistry or build a friendship relationship.
Good luck on your P.h.D

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