Advisor Selection: Advice for Ph.D. Graduate Students

Advisor Selection: Advice for Ph.D. Graduate Students

 An advisor selection is a critical step for every graduate student. The reasons are self- evident years into the graduate student's research. Prospective student should conduct interviews/meetings with potential advisors and current students. This provides a nice overview of things to come in the next 4-5 years, and allows new graduate students to narrow their focus to a research topic of interest. All programs and areas of concentration do not have the option of more than one advisor to choose from. However, if there are multiple advisors to choose from, the below process will help you maximize success when choosing an advisor. 

Get to Know Yourself

To successfully complete your thesis or dissertation, you need an advisor who complements your working style. Before you start to select an advisor, you need to first conduct a self-assessment of your working style. Below are example questions to ask yourself:

  • What type of working environment maximizes your true potential?
  • Do you need someone to micro-manage every aspect of your thesis or dissertation project?
  •  Do you flourish when you are given a task and allowed to work at your own pace?
  •  Do you excel when you are allowed to figure things out by yourself? 

Interview Potential Advisors

Selecting the right advisor is critical to your success in graduate school. Your advisor has an impact on your academic progress. As a graduate student you have limited power in your academic department. Hence, you need to select an advisor who can be an advocate for you. To get a better understanding about your potential advisor, consider meetings and interviewing several professors. This way you will get to find your best match. If possible, this should be done before applying for graduate school. 

The Area of Research and projects

  • One of the primary concerns to take note when selecting an advisor is to select someone whose research interests are similar to yours.  Make sure the advisors research area is of interest to you. The important thing here is to find someone who has interests that are similar to yours – but they don’t have to match exactly.  In fact, they should not match exactly.
  • Look for an advisor with a great reputation for scholarly work, research productivity, professional development, and more. To evaluate this, look up faculty member’s web page, resume, and any other sources available. You want your advisor to be active in their discipline.
  • Another potentially important issue is funding. In many programs, the advisor is primarily responsible for your stipend and tuition coverage, so you’d need to find an advisor who has an active grant with a line item for a Research Assistant or other suitable position. 

Interview Fellow Students/Advisees 

Although some professors might be respected in their discipline, be aware that some may be very difficult to work with. Ask the current students or advisees about their opinions of your potential advisor. 

Your peers are your greatest resource and most advanced graduate students may be willing to share information about their advisors and other faculty members.

As a possible advisee, you need inside information on 

  • Availability and accessibility of the advisor.
  • Is the faculty member in a position to share his/her time and advice?
  • Timeliness and quality of the feedback.
  • How is the advisor management style, micro or macro?
  • His/her expectations. Are they realistic?
  • Does the working atmosphere in the lab fit your style?
  • How frequent are meetings, infrequent contact, group meetings, etc.
  • Are you expected to be in the office at certain times?
  • How does your advisor handle vacation?
  • How often will you meet with your advisor or group to discuss the current work?

If all of these questions and others like them are answered satisfactorily, then look at the current group members and potential new members.

  • Can you work with these people for the next few years?
  • Does the advisor just profess what should be done next, or is it a two-way conversation?
  • How often do the students meet with their advisor and what is the nature of their conversations?
  • How are facilitation skills during oral or thesis defense hearings