Working Well With Your Dissertation Advisor


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The relationship you have with your dissertation advisor is important, both in terms of your professional development, and in terms of how easy (or difficult) the dissertation process is for you.

A good advisor will support you to grow as a scholar, while helping you navigate the dissertation process so you can complete easily. This doesn’t mean a good advisor accepts low quality work or bypasses the process. Instead, a good advisor helps you find solutions to your problems, while keeping in mind that the whole point of the process is to help you get your degree.

While there may be not truly “bad” advisors (though I’m sure some of you would disagree), poor advisory relationships are created when there is a difference in level of emotional match between advisor and advisee. In my experience, lack of emotional match is the biggest reason dissertation advisory relationships fail.

Lack of emotional match shows up when you need reassurance from your advisor, and s/he doesn’t return your phone calls. Lack of emotional match shows up when your advisor expects to meet with you, and you cancel at the last minute. Lack of emotional match shows up when you feel stressed and worried about what your advisor thinks of you, and this fear and tension impacts your capacity to actually get your work done.

Unfortunately, lack of emotional match happens quite often in advisory relationships. This may occur for several reasons. The first most common reason is that the graduate student selects the advisor due to the advisor’s status, rather than his or her capacity to effectively advise. The second most common reason is that the graduate student does not take ownership or direction of the dissertation process, and loses a lot of time trying to gauge what would please the advisor rather than focusing on getting through the dissertation process quickly.

If you are in the process of selecting your dissertation advisor, be sure to ask yourself questions like, “Do I like this person?” “Do I respect him or her?” “Would I want to be like him or her as a person?” Be sure to avoid focusing solely on your advisor’s accomplishments or achievements, because remember: those achievements belong to your advisor. None of that glory will reflect onto you if you can’t complete your dissertation and get your Ph. D.

If you already have an advisor, take care to treat this relationship respectfully, and to be clear about your requests and questions. Most advisors will try to meet your advisory needs, if they just know what they are.

Working well with your dissertation advisor is an important aspect of a successful dissertation process. The more you and your advisor respect each other and work well together, the better and easier your dissertation process will be.

Dr. Jain has written two books about the dissertation process and has helped more than 200 graduate students become Ph. D. ’s. She knows what works. Learn all the secrets at her new dissertation coaching site


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