10 Mistakes Graduate Students Should Avoid: Mistake 4:
I am finally back from my vacation in Phoenix, AZ. Wow, I forgot how hot the desert could get this time of year. I hope you have been able to take a break because soon we will be gearing up for our Summer Break Challenge July 8-Aug 18, 2007. Mark your calendar and come join us!
Mistake #4: Being Unprofessional or Disrespectful to Advisors/Committee Members
Selecting the right advisor is critical to your success in graduate school. We at TADA take that selection seriously. The TADA-CD provides a considerable amount of information on how to “choose and effectively work with your advisor.” To keep your expectations about the role of an advisor/committee members in check, the TADA-CD compares the “basic” advisor to the “ideal” advisor. Nonetheless, whether you are able to select an advisor or one is assigned, you must remain professional at all times.
Your advisor can either 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/her peers. As the chair of your committee, peer respect will be invaluable when your advisor has to supervise the other committee members and facilitate your defense hearing.
Just because an advisor or faculty member is well respected doesn’t mean that working with him or her will be a breeze. Advisor relationships can be complex and not always successful; some mentors can be reluctant and unhelpful in helping students achieve their full potential, and/or may not offer opportunities such as co-authoring with their graduate students. Some may not be very adept at communicating what they really want from students. Others may prefer to work with only same-sex students. While most mentoring relationships are extremely positive, other students are less fortunate when it comes to finding quality mentor relationships.
Whatever your situation, it is important to remain completely professional during all interactions with advisors and faculty. Don’t make the mistake that some students do, and lose your cool. Keep in mind that every single interaction and communication leaves an impression, and that the quality of the relationship you will enjoy with your advisor is largely based on your own level of maturity and commitment.
Both you and your advisor have responsibility for making this relationship work successfully. Following are some steps that can help you maintain a professional front:
• Let your advisor/committee member know that you value his or her time, and be sure that your actions reflect that sentiment. Arrive on time to all scheduled meetings; if you are unable to make a scheduled meeting, be sure to call and cancel with as much lead time as possible. Don’t sweat it if your advisor/committee member is late; keep in mind the many responsibilities his or her position holds.
• Be prepared for all meetings. Bring an agenda with you to be sure you cover all points, and prepare a list of questions ahead of time. Also, prepare a coversheet with an outline of your document indicating the type of feedback you are seeking. Always bring a hard copy of the chapter that you will be discussing, and be prepared with another copy of the latest full draft of your document, even if you haven’t made any changes since your last meeting.
• Despite what your advisor may say, never provide a first draft of your work. An advisor rarely wants to see an actual first draft, even if that was the “assignment” given to you. Always proof and polish your work as much as possible before turning it over to your advisor. That way, he or she can focus on your concepts, clarity and idea sequencing, rather than typos and other distracting elements.
• Follow up and follow through. Take thorough notes at all meetings; you won’t remember everything once you leave the office. Send an email after each meeting confirming any items, resolutions and action items that were discussed, and make certain that any commitments you made have been completed before meeting again.
• Always express your thanks after an advisor or a committee member has taken the time to meet with you. Send a thank you note or an email stating what you gained from the interaction and how you will to move ahead in your plans.
It’s important to note that part of maintaining your professionalism is standing up for yourself when appropriate. Ask for (i.e., demand politely) what you need. The advisor/advisee relationship is a two-way street that provides value to both individuals. You are not just a “student”; you are also providing valuable data for your advisor. Don’t allow yourself to be abused and worked into the ground if you feel you’re not getting any benefit out of the work, as well. Remember you are an adult; if you’re not willing to stand up for yourself, it’s a good bet that nobody else will!
If being proactive and professional does not build a positive working relationship with your advisor; you may want to seriously consider changing your thesis/dissertation advisor. You must assess the risk first before making such a drastic move especially if your funding is tied to that person. It’s time for a change if your advisor is consistently inaccessible or disinterested, gives you only negative feedback, lacks the technical expertise/background to advise you on your thesis/dissertation, or harasses you.