For PhD students, it is extremely helpful and recommended that you begin your first semester having already picked a research advisor or that you secure one within the first month of classes. Below are some tips for finding an advisor.
Note: MS Thesis applicants may also find these tips useful, but an MS Thesis student typically won't choose an advisor until after they have begun their studies at CU Boulder. An MS Thesis student must secure a thesis advisor within their first semester.
Where to Learn More About Our Faculty
Visit our faculty profiles and our research overview slides to read more about individual faculty members with various research interests and to visit their lab websites.
Another excellent opportunity for applicants to meet with potential advisors in-person is during the department’s annual Graduate Engineering Annual Research and Recruitment Symposium for PhD students and MS Visit Day for master's students interest in the MS Thesis program. If invited to attend, you will receive the opportunity to meet with faculty whose research interests you. This year, professors recorded virtual fall 2020 GEARRS research presentations that you don't want to miss.
We highly recommend identifying one to three advisors that you would enjoy working with and that are engaged in research that aligns with your interests. When you have identified advisors that you would like to work with, keep the conversations going even after your visit. Professors are happy to talk to prospective students on the phone, on Skype or by email.
Tips for Finding a Research Group and Advisor
- Investigate many different advisors, but keep in mind that some lab websites are not up to date with the most current research, so make sure to email and ask professors about their current work.
- Ask for contact information of lab group members and get their input on the strengths and weaknesses of their lab.
- Ask about what your role as a lab member may look like.
- Share your long-term goal for your PhD, even if you haven’t yet figured out how to accomplish that goal. Professors love to hear what you are passionate about.
- Ask questions! Remember it is just as important to find a lab culture that is a good fit for you as it is to find a research topic that is interesting. We recommend asking questions like the following to both faculty and current graduate students.
Questions to Ask a Potential Advisor
- Are you taking new students?
- What would my role as a lab member look like?
- How many graduate students and postdocs are currently in the lab?
- How would you describe the lab culture?
- What makes someone a good fit for this group?
- How would you describe your advising style?
- How would you describe graduate school in general?
- Do you collaborate with other research groups on- or off-campus?
- Is there funding for the project that I am interested in?
- Do you expect your students to apply for external funding?
- How many years do graduate students in your lab typically TA?
- How often do you meet with your students?
- How often do your students attend conferences?
- What professional development opportunities are there in the lab?
- How do you feel about students taking a summer to do an internship?
Questions to Ask Other Graduate Students in the Lab
- Is the PI accessible?
- Would you characterize the PI’s advising style as hands-on or hands-off?
- Does the lab group do any activities together throughout the year?
- What are other student’s technical backgrounds?
- What makes someone a good fit for this lab?
- How did you decide to join this lab?
- What do you like most about working in this lab group?
- Are there aspects of this group culture that you wish you could change?