Shortly after the meeting, I had lunch with SW who came to Hong Kong for a job interview. Having spent three years in the PhD program, he would like to pursue his career as a clinician-scientist.
“Actually,” he remarked, “I seldom see my supervisor. He is so busy that I may meet him only once every several months. I learned most of my laboratory techniques and bioinformatics from a new postdoctoral fellow.”
After talking to quite a number of postgraduate students around the world, I am afraid this is a common phenomenon. In some countries, big professors may have one to two dozens of postgraduate students at any time. There are occasions in which a supervisor does not know the existence of a student, not to mention what he/she is working on.
It is understandable that students only want to follow big names though they are most unlikely to be available to provide supervision. Choosing among less famous supervisors can be even riskier. As such, how can the students survive?
My usual advice is not to depend too much on the supervisor. Find a big center and try the best to learn from people around you. After all, postgraduate study is about self-learning and problem solving.