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Four Considerations on Picking the Right Advisor for Your Dissertation
- November 2, 2015
- Posted by: Mike Rucker
- Category: Research
Choosing an advisor for your dissertation is a big decision; maybe as big as deciding on your topic. Your advisor will be your Sherpa, a person who will operate as your mentor and supervisor. Much of the success of your dissertation depends on the relationship you built with him or her. If you choose wisely your doctoral pursuit is likely to be more academically and professionally fruitful — not to mention personally stimulating and pleasant. In contrast, a less optimal choice can result in years of frustration and conflicts and potentially make your academic endeavors less successful.
Advice: Take time to make your decision, and consider both the professor’s and your own personality traits and working styles. Engage in productive discussions with other graduate students and faculty members and collect their experiences, as well as collecting feedback about different potential advisors. Also, make sure to meet various professors and talk to them about your proposal and how it coincides with their research work/interests.
Picking the right advisor is almost like a little research project of its own. Hopefully, your findings will help you set on a good path to completing your PhD.
Here are some points to consider when you are making your decision:
Professional and personal compatibility of you and your advisor can be crucial to the whole process. How the two of you communicate is important, and you shouldn’t undervalue the significance of feeling comfortable in your advisor’s presence.
Do you prefer somebody who is strict, or do you prefer a more easy-going approach to research? There is always a balance, and any extreme might be counterproductive. Keep in mind that ideally you need to work with somebody who will motivate you and guide you in a way that will produce your best work. There is probably no point in having an overly-demanding advisor that might crush your spirits every time you go to see him or her.
A good way to get to know a professor is by attending their lectures (if you are not already familiar with them) or possibly doing a mini-project with them prior to asking them to officially supervise you. This will help you assess their style of working, their attitudes and professional preferences, as well as their openness to discussion and collaboration.
Supervisor’s general availability is a very important, but often overlooked, point to consider. Will this person have enough time for you and your research? Will they give you timely feedback? Many graduate students can end up feeling alone and abandoned when working with a very busy supervisor. Make sure the professor will stay with the university for the duration of your studies. Are they taking a sabbatical soon? Will they be available over the summer? These are important questions to ask. Sought out professors with a lot of prestige often have limited bandwidth for pursuits that are not self-serving. Make sure you are fully aware of what you are getting.
- Research and Publication Record
Alluded to earlier, it is important to consider the advisor’s area of expertise and how it connects with your topic. This is not to suggest there needs to be a complete overlap, but some compatibility and a mutual research interest are highly advisable. This will ensure you can get more meaningful feedback and possibly get affiliated with a research group that can provide additional support. Usually, your university’s website contains biographies of professors with their research and academic interests. Do your research.
Furthermore, it can be beneficial to have a supervisor who is already well-published and recognized in his or her field of practice. Not only does that imply better affiliations and networking possibilities, but it also suggests they are well-versed in presenting their findings and could pass their experiences onto you. However, some younger members of the department, with fewer publications under their belt, can make up for it with genuine enthusiasm and fresh energy.
- Reputation as an Advisor
Lastly, it’s worth checking the advisor’s reputation. How long do their students on average take before they defend their work academically? Does the advisor credit his or her students for collaboration? Are they generally recognized as desirable advisors?
Do not underestimate the importance of choosing the right advisor. Reflecting carefully on this topic and spending the time to make an informed decision can improve your chances of building a productive, long-term academic and personal collaboration and is significant step in completing the dissertation journey successfully.