Your dissertation advisor plays a very important role in the later part of your graduate program. Your advisor will determine the form and content of your Specialty Exam, will direct the work of your dissertation, and (along with your dissertation committee), will determine the amount of work required for your dissertation. It is therefore important to find an advisor with whom you can work productively over a long time—this is the most important relationship in your professional life!
You should start identifying a general area you’d like to work in, probably by the end of your second year. As you look for a dissertation advisor, we recommend that you think about the questions on the list below. For many of these questions, there is neither a “right” nor a “wrong” approach. Rather, there are some characteristics of an advisor that will work better for some students than others, depending on the students’ work style, interests, and needs. To explore these things, you might speak with faculty and with other graduate students. Look up the advisor’s work in the library. Talk with him/her in detail. Ask around a lot—the more you learn, the more likely you are to find an advisor who you can enjoy working with. Some things to think about:
i. What is the advisor’s work style? For example, some advisors provide a lot of structure for their students, or are very involved in their student’s work, while others offer you independence and have a hands-off approach.
ii. How many students does the advisor have? What other commitments does she or he have? How much time does he or she have available to spend with students?
iii. How long has it taken the advisor’s former students to finish?
iv. How active is the advisor’s research program? How does his/her interests match with your own? If the problem you start working on doesn’t go as planned, will the advisor be able to help you re-direct your work, or to find alternatives?
v. What type of Specialty Exam does the advisor require? The exam is typically oral, although the specific format is up to your advisor. Check with your advisor well in advance, so you’ll know what will be expected of you.
vi. Attend lots of classes/ seminars with professor of interest, see if you like them.
vii. Keep in mind that your advisor has a big influence on your experience in grad school and afterward.
viii. Students can approach a potential advisor and ask to do a reading course with them to see how both (professor and student) interact.
Once you have chosen an advisor or if you EVER change advisors, inform the Graduate Coordinator.
Return to Handbook index