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Maintaining a Productive Relationship with your Advisor and Committee

Once you have selected an advisor and assembled your committee, it is important that you maintain productive working relationships. The quality of these relationships affects the student’s successful progress toward completing the thesis or dissertation.

A few key tips for enhancing the quality of the advisor-advisee relationship are:

Be professional – Show respect for their time by…

  • Arriving on time to meetings and appointments (communicate ahead of time to reschedule or cancel if you cannot make it).
  • Coming prepared with an agenda, questions, a hard copy of the chapter to be discussed, etc.
  • Taking notes at all meetings and sending a follow-up email confirming items and resolutions discussed.
  • Responding promptly to your advisor’s and committee members’ communications, including providing them with information, drafts, etc. whenever requested.
  • Preparing a cover sheet when you submit your work that outlines the document and indicates the type of feedback you are requesting at that time.
  • Extending patience when your advisor or a committee member is late and/or needs to reschedule meetings, requests drafts frequently, or delays feedback

Communicate – Take responsibility and initiative

  • Ask your advisor about their expectations of you and your work – do not assume.
  • Share what you would like from your advisor and adjust your expectations according to their availability and willingness regarding amount and quality of direction and feedback, personal interaction and psychological support, etc.
  • Recognize that graduate study requires a large degree of independence and self-motivation and can be personally challenging (e.g. loneliness is a common experience). Your advisor’s main commitment is to supervise your research project and has many demands on their time. Reach out to your peers, SSHA Graduate Coordinator, other and/or other support staff when you need information or help.
  • Work closely with your committee chair to plan annual meetings, submit annual evaluations, review feedback and necessary changes, schedule your dissertation defense, etc.
  • Clarify with your committee chair what their preferred method of soliciting feedback from committee members is: the chair may request that committee members send reviewed work to them, and then they will provide the student feedback for corrections and changes.

Handle conflict constructively

  • Prioritize understanding the faculty member’s position or decision and their underlying rationale and concerns.
  • Consider addressing your rationale and concerns by writing a persuasive argument for their review.
  • When you and your advisor disagree, work toward a resolution that maintains respect and integrity – remember that your advisor will be writing recommendations for you well after you have left the university.
  • Your advisor is also your advocate: when committee members have a conflict or you receive conflicting advice, your advisor is responsible for communicating an agreed-upon resolution to the committee or support you in handing the issue.
  • Seek the counsel of those outside the situation who can offer productive problem-solving ideas.

Students are required to meet with their committee annually to assess their progress. Expectations and practices may vary by graduate group and/or faculty advisor. After each meeting, the committee chair will provide the student a written summary of instructions and feedback.

First Annual Meeting
Before the Fall semester of the second year, hold the first committee meeting with your faculty advisor and at least one other committee member. It is recommended to schedule this meeting by May of the first year. The first meeting can be informal, but should at least cover:

  • Coursework selection.
  • Recommended academic and professional skills development.
  • Student’s self-assessment of progress and performance to-date.