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As a current PhD student in CS -- seconded. I'm fortunate to have a great advisor, and my research career so far has been largely fun and productive as a result. I have also seen equally (or more) talented and hard-working students have worse experiences because of worse advisors. It's just hard to become a good researcher without good mentorship.

As far as practical advice for finding good advisors, track records of previous students can be a helpful first filter once you've made a list of people who wrote papers you like. Probably the most helpful thing is talking to current students at the admitted students day and listening to them. Bad advisors usually have at least one notable case, and there will probably be at least one person who'll take you aside and tell you about it. Listen to them carefully. Even great advisors can have at least one unsuccessful and bitter student through no fault of their own...but they usually don't show up to the admitted student events unless there's a real cause for animus.

recently minted Chemistry PhD here -- Thirded.

Grad school was one of my best decisions. I went to a great school that was what I call the Goldilocks size, big enough to have a great faculty, equipment, and decent funding but small enough so that collaboration was the norm and the crazy horror stories of maniacal hours and/or cutthroat competition were normally self induced. My PI was an incredibly good guy and still a close friend. I met my business partner and co-founder while working with him the lab and we're now building a company that expands on the work we did in grad school.

That being said, I saw plenty of people not having the experience I did. This was almost always because i) they didn't really like research and didn't know it until they were there or ii) they picked a PI (PI = professor/boss) that was a really bad match for their work style and personality. Finding a lab & PI that matches your personal expectations about the PhD I would say is more important than the research focus. Don't choose something you'll hate learning about but ultimately the PhD can be more about learning how to teach yourself than the skills you learn during research.


What would interest me much more is if y'all liked studying or university life before that? Because for me.. I originally started to study CS because I wanted to learn stuff (was already working as a programmer) and hadn't ruled out pursuing a PhD afterwards per se. But the longer I was at university (German Diploma, 13 semesters for me, 9 minimum) the more I couldn't wait to leave - so even the thought of staying there went away quite quickly, although I wasn't "in academia" per se. I'm still not sure if I'm just more on the practical and pragmatic side of problem-solving and less in research.

I didn’t mind being an undergrad. But that was largely because of my friends and being an adult away from home for the first time. My friends and I built robots in our dorm room with our own money because the university didn’t have a program and wasn’t willing to accommodate us in any way. I enjoyed learning in class but it was always so rushed and stressful - you were always working up to an exam, then making it past and preparing for the next one. There was never any time to breathe.

Grad school was far, far better. Completely different league.

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