This post is written by GradHacker writers and is part of our crossover week, check out Hack Library School’s advice about advisor/advisee relations on their blog here: GradHacker.
In graduate school, creating the perfect advisor/advisee relationship can be a daunting if not impossible task. Trent, Cory and Katy give their advice on navigating this relationship: find someone who you can work with, be proactive, and be explicit about what you want out of grad school.
Trent: The most important advice I could ever give anyone about advisors regards compatibility: If your relationship with your advisor is rocky, or you don’t feel you’re compatible, then you need to change advisors. You shouldn’t worry about ramifications if you change. If they are professional, then they’ll understand and encourage you to do so. A good advisor will have something academically in common with you, urge you to seek out classes you’re interested in, that pertain to you thesis or dissertation, and that will get you closer to graduating.
Cory: The advisor/advisee relationship can stressful, nurturing, or non-existent. I think it is easy as grad students to forget that our own attitudes can often shape this relationship. For example, when I started my Master’s program, my advisor was a Shakespearean scholar (I was researching post-colonialism!) who retired halfway through my program and who I met with only once. My bad attitude about the seemingly poor match up really meant that I lost out on a year of advising with someone who could’ve pointed me in the right direction, helped me find resources, or just be a mentor (albeit with different research interests).
The relationship with your advisor is definitely a two-way street, and while we are incredibly busy, we need to keep in mind that our professors are as well. Now, I try to be more proactive about talking with my advisor. For me, it was also important to build a friendly rapport on a personal level–I need to know that my advisor is human. This help me foster understanding so that when I’m stressed out about something in my personal life, I can also cut them slack when they’re behind on something because of a stressor in their personal life.
Again, it is important to gauge what kind of advisor you have while figuring out how you work best. Sometimes you really don’t have a choice about your advisor if your field of specialization dictates whom you work with–make sure you find an outlet for a professor who you do connect with on various levels. There are plenty of people in your department who will be able to mentor you unofficially if that personality type is what you need to keep on track.
Katy: Having a good relationship with your advisor is key to success not only in your department, but also in your future. As Cory noted, this is a two way street. Your advisor is there to guide you through the process of getting your graduate degree, so you need to be proactive in using them as a resource. However, they are not the sole source of knowledge and advice on pursuing your degree. You need to be clear with your advisor about what you want to study and the type of career you want in the end. To get the advice that will be most helpful you need to be explicit about your goals so that your advisor can help you out.
It’s also important to realize that your advisor may not have all the answers. It is beneficial in some cases to have a number of different mentors in addition to your advisor. Not all professors have the same knowledge about what the job market is like today, or how research is proceeding in certain areas. By expanding beyond the advice of a single advisor you are able to make more informed decisions. Advisors are not infallible, so it’s better to get advice from a diversity of sources. In the end it is your decision to make whether it pleases your advisor or not. You need to be explicit about what you want, strategic in choosing which advice to take and follow the path that is going to fit with your ambitions.