Choosing Your Research Group

For detailed information about the matching process, check out the updated Graduate Handbook of Academic Policies and Procedures provided at the CBE Department website. Details of the matching process may vary by year, and updated information will always be provided during the orientation process when students initially arrive in Madison.


New Student Orientation begins: Late August
New graduate students are provided with a list of members of each research group, current projects, and groups that have openings for new students.

Faculty Research Introductions: Late August – Early September
New graduate students are required to attend all scheduled faculty research talks. Immediately following the research talks, students should arrange initial interviews with at least five faculty members. These interviews benefit students by enabling them to learn about diverse research opportunities. At the same time, the interviews enable faculty to assess student interest in their research area or in specific projects.

Submit Initial Interview form: Late September
Each new graduate student must submit an Initial Interview form indicating at least five professors with whom they have met. New students are expected to take the initiative to learn more about potential research opportunities. For example, after initial interviews new students may arrange to meet with additional professors, contact members of research groups, attend group meetings, read relevant literature, or convey their interests in research areas or projects to different professors.

Submit Major Professor Preference form: Early October
Students must list their top choices of advisors in order of preference. In situations where a student wishes to select co-advisors, the name of one advisor should be indicated and the student should clearly communicate their interest in the co-advised project to the advisor. The Graduate Associate Chair, meeting with the professors involved, will recommend assignments of students to advisors. Every effort will be made to reconcile the mutual wishes and best interests of students and professors.


What to look for in a research group:

Two of the primary questions you should ask yourself when choosing a research group are: (1) Am I passionate about this research topic? and (2) Will I be happy with this advisor and the members in this group? Balancing these two ideas is crucial for both your success as a graduate student and your experience throughout your Ph.D. Addressing the first question – research passion – it is important to attend group meetings, read previous group publications, and ask questions to potential advisors about current projects and the directions that they are headed. As for the second question – research group happiness – it is very useful to ask questions to both your potential advisor as well as current group members. Below are a list of questions that may be useful.

Questions for potential advisors:

  • What is your advising style?
  • How to you balance personal and professional interactions with students?
  • How hands-on or hands-off are you?
  • How often do you meet with your students? What do these meetings look like?
  • What are your expectations of your students?
  • Do you tend to push students toward academic or industry positions?

Questions for group members (students):

  • How hands-on or hands-off is your advisor?
  • How easy is it to talk to your advisor? About research questions? About personal problems?
  • What is the personal/professional relationship you have with your advisor?
  • How does your advisor handle stress and expectations?
  • How supportive are the students in this group? What is the group culture like?
  • Is this group collaborative?
  • What is the best quality of your advisor? What is the worst?