Here at Prodigal U, it is the season for recruiting students. In my department, we admit students without an adviser. Students arrive in August, and meet with different professors to choose an adviser (and select appropriate classes for September). This is a relatively common method in my field, although at other universities (like PhD U), students pick advisers after a semester (and TA for support). Some (many?) students arrive already knowing who they want to work with, and some have already arranged it with their future adviser, which is perfectly fine. As a new prof, I ask for meetings with all the students interested in my research area, since I want to see as many people as possible to find good fits for my group. After last year, I have a much better idea of what I am looking for. Last year, I kind of did this a little "seat of the pants", and lucked out. This year, I have been thinking a bit more about recruiting ahead of time. So what am I looking for?
1. Previous research experience. It is really hard to tell if a student who has a high GPA will be good at research. If they already have some experience, I can get a reference from their previous mentor(s). I can also ask them to talk about their research to get more information about how they think about research and science. They also have some experience with the difficulties of research, and have more of an idea about what life in the lab will be like. I need fast starters, since I am just starting out, so this is a big one.
2. Good to great GPA. Grad students need to get a B in their classes to get credit towards a degree here. I want students who know how to study, learn quickly, and are motivated enough to do a good job on something required for their degree (even if they hate classes). I also don't want my students to be so absorbed in passing their classes that they don't get going in the lab. I am totally fine with students who started out poorly, but did well as juniors and seniors. The opposite trend I would find disqualifying.
3. Self-motivation. I am still working out how to select for this. I am a very hands off manager. I don't like to micromanage, and I don't want to have to enforce working hours/face time. I want students who like this kind of workstyle and can work efficiently in it.
4. Works well with others. We do a lot of collaborative work. Students looking for the lone wolf at the bench experience won't get it in my group, and I don't want headaches from territorial drama if I can avoid it. I talk about working with others up front. I also like to ask students about group projects they may have worked on--what they did, what the goal was, if the goal was reached, and where the problems were.
5. Excitement about working on a research project. I don't need my students to be super-peppy or anything, but if they look and sound bored when considering the possibilities in my lab, I will assume they are bored, and my group is not a good fit.
Last year I was lucky, and had 4 people interested in joining my group, of whom I took 2. I have been in "addition by subtraction" situations at work before, so I definitely know I would rather have no one than a poor fit for the group, especially now that the data is flowing nicely. I would like to add 1 or 2 more students this year, and then I will be at the limit of what I can afford without kicking the external support up a notch or 2. Any suggestions for other things to think about when recruiting?