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How to Pick a Graduate Advisor as Told by Ben Barres

Graduate school has been on my mind lately. Between studying for the GRE to picking graduate programs to looking into labs I may be interested in joining, the process which will ultimately determine where I will spend more than five years of my young adult life seems daunting. I am looking for advice from people who have been through it, from what I can read online, and from my general experience in two different labs.

My undergraduate research advisor at NC State (shout-out to Dr. Troy Ghashghaei) sent me this article in an e-mail when it came out last fall. I read through it and thought it was brilliant. I recently took another look in the context of graduate school applications and I think this article is a great read for any student interested in graduate school.

Ben Barres, a professor of Neurobiology and Developmental Biology at Standford University, published an article in Neuron entitled “How to pick a Graduate Advisor.” (Barres, 2013) In this article, Barres talks about finding both a good scientific advisor and a good mentor – a task which he thinks can be challenging for a new grad student. Finding the right mix is a key ingredient for becoming a successful scientist. Ben shares his experiences and insights on how to pick a graduate advisor based on mentoring ability and scientific ability. Scientific ability can be measured using the H-index (a measurement based on number of publications and the number of times each has been cited in the literature). Mentorship ability can be measured with a proposed M-index which averages the H-indices of his/her former students. While the process is not perfect, this article is definitely worth a thorough look. I know I will be taking the ideas to heart when I pick my graduate mentor.

For further reading see: Barres, B.A. (2013). Neuron 80, 275–279.

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