Graduate School

Choosing a Thesis Lab ② | 3 min read

Summary
• You should search for the track record of your prospective lab; Alumni, publications, and etc.
• Alumni information tells a lot about the lab, for example, how long does it take to earn your PhD?
• For track records, you should check if they publish in the journals every year and what journals they publish in.


In the previous article, I’ve talked about what you should consider when choosing a thesis lab: Restricting your research field, your prospective mentor’s management style, lab size, and doing the research internship. Let’s discuss the track record of the labs that you should consider.

1. Alumni

(1) What degrees and how long does it take to earn them?

Each program has different averages but in general, at least 6 years are required to earn your Ph.D. That being said, you should find out average years to complete degrees of those affiliated with your prospective labs. Because to earn your degree, it is expected to take the same amount of time or even longer than average. That’s why you should look up to it. They normally indicate the year of obtaining degrees at the Alumni menu on the lab website. In case it isn’t indicated, you could do the maths by referring to the graduate thesis publication year at the university library.

(2) How many students/postdocs have the lab had?

The lab members are rotating because of the graduation, and incoming students. A lab with a system normally has enough people to help each other out and to work with. It enables you to have more liability to process the research without a one-to-one lesson from mentors. Suppose the lab welcomes at least one incoming student - If your thesis advisor has about 15 years of experience, his lab should have at least 10 alumni with Ph.D. If he doesn’t have, think about other labs which focus on the topic related to your research interests.

(3) Alumni, what are they doing now?

The next you should grasp is the recent Alumni status of the lab within 3 to 5 years. What they are doing now indicates that this lab focuses on the trending research topics/area. That’s why you should consider when they don’t have alumni status on the lab website since it shows their research excellence. It is possible that they’re not updated quickly but don’t have the alumni information, just think about it why they don’t have it.

You should emphasize alumni status if you consider working in the industry since where they work would not be way different from where you’ll work, and you can get advice and tips via alumni network. If alumni stay in a great relationship with the lab, they could be great mentors with positive influences. In case your prospective lab doesn’t open alumni status but you want to join in, you should then apply for the research internship. Participating in research projects might give you opportunities to work with potential lab members as well as to grasp the alumni status.

2. Publications

As an undergraduate, it is not easy to have discerning eyes for research trends. How do you tell which journal is well-respected? It is organic that you don’t know much about it - then, how do you find the lab’s track record? You’re still able to focus on the history of the lab publication. What you should search for are as follows:

a) How many papers with first-authorship and/or co-authorship are published before the lab members leave the lab?
b) What journal do they publish in?

The simplest way to figure out which tier journals are at is to see whether they are SCI/SCIE. You can check the journal is indexed in SCI/SCIE here.

The next you should do is to check the Impact Factor (IF) of the journals. IF is a measure of the frequency of the citation of the average article in a journal. Journals around IF 30 are considered in the top tier; Nature, Cell, Science, etc. It is available to check the rank of each research field at Journal Citation Reports (JCR). But you could refer to this website by searching the journal name to get the IF.

In the case of Computer Science, they put more importance on the Conference than Journals. Due to the field discipline, they prefer a fast, resilient way to embrace the novelty on time.

To be continued...


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