My six criteria for supervising a PhD student

Pierre Dragicevic


To start with, you would do a PhD thesis in computer science, and so you need a Masters' degree in computer science or a related discipline. Your thesis will need to have a computer science component but it can be small (you can get an idea by looking at my past research projects).

Apart from that, there are six general criteria I consider important for a PhD student to meet reasonably well, if they are to work under my supervision. The list is somewhat ordered from the most to the least important, but points 1–6 are definitely all important to me. These criteria reflect my personal preferences, but I think all of them are relevant to consider for anyone who wishes to work in the academia.

  1. Intellectual honesty. Do you care more about finding out the truth than convincing others or being right? Are you comfortable with being proven wrong and changing your mind? Are you open to the possibility that you are completely wrong about issues you care deeply about? Do you value research transparency and the sharing of research material for helping other researchers find possible mistakes in your work? Do you like being ahead of others in terms of methodological rigor?
  2. Intellectual curiosity. Do you spend time reading content (books or web articles) or listening to podcasts, especially outside of the mainstream media? Can you get excited about a topic, and remain excited for a while? Are you interested in multiple unrelated topics? Do you feel especially attracted to topics few people know about? Do you get easily absorbed trying to find answers to questions on the Internet?
  3. Conscientiousness. Do you like a job well done? Are you generally meticulous and do you pay attention to detail? Do you check your work more than once to make sure there is no error?
  4. Comfort with written communication. Do you like to read? Do you like to write, at least some of the time? Can you write short essays that are coherent and easy to understand? Would you be able to read and summarize a dozen of web articles on a specific topic? Do you value clear and accessible writing? Are you comfortable with reading and writing in English?
  5. Interest in science and rationality. Do at least some of your readings have to do with science? Do you think it is important to try to be rational and methodical if we want to achieve major goals, like helping people? Do you value the production and dissemination of knowledge? Do you think we should put politics and ideologies aside when searching for answers to important questions? Are you considering staying in academia after your PhD thesis?
  6. Interest in the PhD topic. Are you excited about the PhD topic you are considering? Do you have a prior exposure to (or clear interest in) the disciplines and areas it relates to? Have you seriously considered whether the city, working environment, and advisors suit you? Did you inquire about what a PhD thesis entails, how hard it is, and how serious a commitment it is?
Other: here are other things in no particular order that are definitely helpful but not absolutely necessary – I'm far from ticking all those boxes myself:

Again, there's no way anyone ticks all those boxes so don't worry if you don't. But the more "yes" answers the better. If you're writing a letter of motivation for me, make sure you mention the criteria you think you meet, and why. I know it's a lot of work, but it's worth it because it will put you ahead of the many other applicants who didn't bother reading this page. Also mention criteria you don't meet so well, especially among the points 1–6 which I consider important. It's possible that you don't perfectly fulfill all of them as I stated them, but that you think you would still make a good PhD student. For example, maybe you feel you can improve quickly on some of the points, or maybe some of them aren't completely clear to you now, or maybe you have compelling arguments against some of them. It's fine but please let me know explicitly. Some advisors evaluate their applicants on point 4 (writing skills), and I'm considering doing that.

Of course you should also make sure I fit your own criteria. I wrote a guide for finding a PhD position that addresses this and other issues.