In This Issue:
- Mistake #8: Looking for a Friend When You Need an Expert
- Email of the Month
- Congratulations TA-DA!™ Graduates
Success in graduate school often depends on a successful mentoring relationship between you and your advisor. Because graduate school is based on the apprenticeship model, admittance to a graduate school ideally will mean that there are potential advisors available in the student’s areas of interest. Hopefully you did your homework of trying to match your area of interest with department faculty’s area of expertise before applying to graduate school.
Choosing a good advisor is critical to your success in graduate school. This relationship is one that will extend beyond your graduation. It is important that you choose correctly. While a friend is nice, you need an advisor with influence. Although an assistant professor has just finished graduate school and can relate more closely to your experience, in general, picking an assistant professor is unwise; s/he has very little influence in the department. This is a professional relationship, not a social one.
Many graduate students make the mistake of choosing an advisor or principal investigator solely on the basis of race, gender and/or a comfortable personal and working relationship. While these are certainly key elements in selecting an advisor, there are also many other factors to consider. While it is relatively rare to encounter a truly “bad” mentor, there are a wide variety of mentoring styles and environments; some may suit you better than others. Finding an enthusiastic expert and cheerleader is critical for your success.
Without much knowledge of the selection process your expectations of the role of the advisor might be unrealistic. Don’t expect that the role of the academic advisor to be that of “loco parentis” or “academic parent”. Although it’s natural to sometimes want someone to tell you exactly what to do, your advisor expects you to be a mature person who can direct your own life. For example, what do you think about your own work? How do you feel you can better focus your project?
An advisor truly expects you to carve out your own research and form your own plans regarding how to accomplish your goals. You must be the one to take charge of your own research. To do so, you will need to map out time points and milestones that will keep you focused and on track. Writing a proposal is a good way to pinpoint what you plan to do in your dissertation and research area. Without a proposal, you could be led anywhere! An advisor can sometimes be like a butterfly eagerly jumping about from the discovery of one neat new flower to the next; he wants to explore and pursue every new idea! A thesis proposal (complete with a “Plan B” fallback plan) will not only keep you focused, but also help to reign in your advisor’s enthusiasm for every new idea and possibility.
Remember, you and your advisor should be enthusiastic about your thesis or dissertation topic. When selecting a selecting a topic you have to think of whom on the faculty is an expert on that topic and would be willing to work with you. Prior to your interview for an advisor, consider writing a three-page draft of a proposal to discuss with your potential advisor. Be sure to ask if the faculty member is planning a sabbatical in the next two years.
Selecting the right advisor is critical to your success in graduate school. Your advisor can propel or hinder your academic progress. As a graduate student you have very little power in your academic department. Hence, you need to select an advisor who can be an advocate for you. To be your best advocate, your advisor should have tenure and the respect of his peers. As chair of your committee, peer respect will be invaluable when your advisor has to supervise the other committee members and facilitate your defense hearing. Most important in this relationship, your mentor should be someone that you can respect as well
Finding the optimal graduate training environment for YOU is balanced by your own interests; the interests and style of your mentor; and how you function in a particular mentor’s lab environment.
You can get some feel for the interests and style of a potential mentor by inquiring among other graduate students, particularly current and former students of professors. For young professors just starting out, you may need to check with people they have worked with in the past
Another way to evaluate a potential mentor is by completing a rotation in his or her lab. If your school offers lab rotation, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity. Lab rotation offers the opportunity to familiarize yourself with many advisors’ work styles and personalities, as well as to explore in depth different fields that you might find interesting (e.g., biology vs. molecular biology, computer science vs. information systems).
Email Question of the Month:
I just wanted to thank you for all of your help Dr. Carter. This Friday at 4 PM I am defending my thesis at the International Media Center-back room.
Do you have any advice?
Would you have time to come?
Edward Congratulations on getting your Master’s Thesis done.
Here a my newsletter on preparing for a defense.
I wish you all the best.
TA-DA!™ Graduates —
Congratulations on Your Success
Dr. Carter, ….I wanted to thank you again for all of your help and let you know that I am extremely grateful for all of your efforts. Edward, (Master’s Thesis)
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters’ degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers’ names or e-mail addresses.