included as an appendix to this paper. A book that was suggested to me is
[ 21], but I haven’t actually seen it so I can’t recommend it personally.
Interacting With Students
Especially for a new advisor, setting the right tone for student interactions
is a difficult task. Different students respond best to different approaches,
and, of course, different advisors have different personal styles. Some of
the tradeoffs that have to be made in each advisor-student relationship are:
• Amount of direction: self-directed/hands-off versus “spoon-feeding”
topics and research projects.
• Personal interactions and psychological support: do they want advice on
career, family, and the like? Are you willing and able to give it or to find
someone else to advise them?
• Amount and type of criticism: general directions versus specific suggestions for improvement.
• Frequency of interaction: daily versus once a semester.
It helps to establish regular meeting times and to discuss expectations
(both yours and your students’) about what can and should be accomplished during these meetings. Encourage them to develop relationships
with other faculty members, students, and colleagues, to get a different
perspective and to get feedback you may not be able to give.
To improve the atmosphere of your interactions:
• Meet over lunch or coffee to make interactions more relaxed and less
• Strive to maintain an open, honest relationship. Respect your students
• Tell them if you think they’re asking for too much or too little time or
Advisors should be aware of both long-term and short-term needs. What
should the student’s goals over the next few years be? Help your student
identify ways that the two of you, as a team, can meet these goals. Advise
the student on the criteria for a successful qualifying exam, thesis proposal,
and dissertation. Help prepare the student for a future research career.
In the short term, a good advisor will work with students to set priorities and to find a balance between doing research, reading, writing, satisfying TA and RA duties, publishing, and course work. Although advisors
may not be able to give advice on all administrative aspects of graduate
school, they should at least know the appropriate people to refer students
to for assistance with degree requirements, funding, and so on.
When you meet with your students, pay attention to them. Try to help
them to identify their interests, concerns, and goals, not just how they can
meet what you see as good interests, concerns, and goals. Know what
they’re working on, and what you discussed last time. Take notes during
meetings and review them if necessary.
Give them productive feedback, not just a noncommittal “OK, sure” or
a destructive “Why on earth do you want to do that?”. Remember that your
students are still learning. If you tell them that a problem in which they’re
interested has already been explored by Professor X, make sure you follow
up with a reference to which they have access. At the next meeting, discuss whether the problem remains a worthwhile area to explore and
whether there are new open issues raised by Professor X’s work.
When reviewing a student’s paper or proposal, write comments on the
paper itself: verbal comments aren’t as useful. Give the feedback promptly,
otherwise it won’t be much help. See the section on feedback for suggestions about giving useful comments. Don’t just wait until they hand you
something to read: insist on written drafts of proposals, papers, etc. Help
them develop their rough ideas into publishable papers. Give them specific, concrete suggestions for what to do next, especially if they seem to be
floundering or making little progress.
Advisor-student relationships can break down if the advisor is setting
goals that are too high or too low, or if the advisor is exploiting the student to
meet the advisor’s needs (getting a promotion, increasing the advisor’s publication record, doing the advisor’s research), and not the student’s. Fortunately,
the student’s and advisor’s needs in most of these cases are not conflicting.
Encourage your students to choose a topic that you’re both interested in and
knowledgeable about (or very interested in learning more about). Make sure
that they have the appropriate background to understand the problem, and that
the methodology and solution they identify are appropriate and realistic. Give
them pointers to useful references and help them find them (this can be a mysterious, difficult process for graduate students). Make sure they’re aware of
other researchers and labs who are doing similar work, and if possible, arrange
for them to visit these labs or meet the researchers at seminars or conferences.
Women faculty often feel obligated to mentor every woman student in
the department, attend every committee meeting, and get involved in every
debate, whether they want to or not. While you can’t solve all of the problems in the world, you can at least make a difference by giving other
women (and men, for that matter) the sense that you do care, and that you
think women’s issues are important, even if you don’t have time (or the
inclination) to get involved with every problem.
Social Aspects of Advising
The relationships you develop with your students will vary. With some, the
relationship will be purely professional; with others, you may become closer
friends. As an advisor, it is your responsibility to ensure that your position
of authority over the student is never abused. As mentioned previously,
graduate students should not be used as a means to a promotion or a better publication record. These will be side effects of good work in conjunction with your students, but should not be the goal of your relationship.
Because you are in a position of authority over your students, you must
make sure that you both know where the boundaries are. For example, getting a student to help you move some furniture is usually quite easy if you’re
doing a good job as an advisor, since they feel indebted to you for your
advice and support. This isn’t a problem in and of itself. However, using
explicit or implicit threats to force the student to help you out is a severe
violation of professional ethics. Your students are also your colleagues, and
should be treated as such. A good question to ask yourself before asking a
student for a favor is whether you would feel comfortable asking the head
of your department for the same favor. If the answer to this question is “no,”
then you may be exploiting your position and abusing your relationship, and
you should seriously reconsider your motivations and behavior.
In my opinion, it is never appropriate to develop an intimate relationship with one of your own students. If this should happen, you should not
continue to advise them (whether the relationship continues or not). Not
only would this be a clear case of sexual harassment, but your judgment
about the student’s professional life cannot be objectively separated from
personal feelings in a close relationship.
Dating students (or even asking them out where the implication of a
romantic relationship may exist) is a bad idea, even if the student is not
one of your advisees. They are bound to feel intimidated and uncomfortable, and at many universities this violates the sexual harassment policy.
Read your university’s policy on harassment, and err on the side of conservatism when in doubt, for your sake and the student’s.
All Work and No Play...
Finding a balance between work, play, and other activities isn’t easy.
Different people will give you very different advice. Some people say you
should be spending eighty or ninety percent of your waking hours working
on your thesis. Others (myself included) think that this is unrealistic and
unhealthy, and that it’s important for your mental and physical health to
have other active interests.
If you have a family, you will have to balance your priorities even more
carefully. Graduate school isn’t worth risking your personal relationships
over. Be sure that you save time and energy to focus on the people who
matter to you.
One of the keys to balancing your life is to develop a schedule that’s
more or less consistent. You may decide that you will only work during the
days, and that evenings are for your hobbies. Or you might decide that