An interesting question that arrived by email involves the issue of being the very first graduate student of someone who has never before advised a student. What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Probably in most cases the adviser has not yet advised a student because he/she is a new professor, but there are other possibilities, such as a research professor who can advise students but who chooses not to until a particularly enticing candidate comes along.
I was my adviser's gazillionth student, so I don't have personal experience with being someone's first advisee.
When I was a new professor, my very first graduate advisee left after a year to follow her husband (a postdoc in another field) when he got a position in a faraway place. This was very bad for me. Students of new advisers may be taking a risk by signing on with someone inexperienced (who may or may not get tenure), but new advisers are also vulnerable to the vagaries of students whose priorities change and whose abilities and motivation may or may not match expectations.
But I digress. Back to the student point of view: there are some general advantage and disadvantages of working with an assistant professor who has never advised students before:
ADVANTAGE: New professors may be very energetic and are likely to be working on new and interesting research in emerging fields. It can be a good career-launching move to work with an early-career professor and be part of their first projects as a professor.
DISADVANTAGE: How do you know which new professors are on track to succeed and get tenure and acquire fame that will rub off on you vs. those professors who will not get tenure and who will therefore not be much help to you when you need letters of reference and a good reputation for being an excellent researcher?
Answers to questions about the advantages/disadvantages of a new adviser also depend a lot on the specific personality and advising style of the adviser in question. For example, consider the following possibilities associated with working with an early-career adviser:
ADVANTAGE: A lot of interaction with someone who is very interested in helping you succeed.
DISADVANTAGE: A lot of interaction with someone who is very interested in having you help them succeed.
Again, how would a student know in advance which situation was more likely?
A potential danger in a lab-based science is working with a new PI who has funding and projects but who is in the process of building a lab using a lot of student labor. Is it an advantage for a student to learn how to build a lab and be part of something innovative or is it a huge time-sink that detracts from their ability to get their own research done?
A possible way to maximize your chances of having at least one nice, sane adviser is to have co-advisers, although being co-advised has its own issues and perils.
I think that unless you have specific reasons based on specific information that leads you to be anxious about the advising skills and motivation of a particular professor, the advantages of working with a new professor outweigh the possible disadvantages. And if you're worried about the they-might-not-get-tenure issue, you could get to know some of the senior faculty as well so that there will be someone around to support your career should your adviser take a hike.
6 months ago