U-M Counseling and Psychological Services

Imagine graduate school as a marathon networking event.  

  • How would you prepare?  
  • Who would you want to meet?  
  • What expectations would you have before, during and after the event?

Graduate school is certainly a critical time for academic work. It’s also when career and life-changing relationships are forged with peers, faculty, academic colleagues, and family/support systems.  The most important academic relationship you develop; however, is with your advisor.

With your advisor’s leadership and campus connections, you may gain access to unique campus resources, faculty, learning opportunities, and professional experiences.  

A healthy advisor/advisee relationship may also create a lasting mentor/mentee relationship that transcends the graduate school years.  

A supportive mentor is helpful throughout graduate school, during the job search and when you need a supportive ear as you embark on your career.

It’s natural to feel your advisor is “all-knowing” when you first meet. A healthy amount of respect is appropriate with your advisor.  Just remember, they are people, too.  

You bring many talents to this relationship, including: experience and education, a fresh perspective, enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn.  Many advisors say they work with advisees for these very reasons.

To keep your end of this relationship in good standing, other graduate students suggest:

  1. Establish clear expectations
  2. Define clear roles and job duties
  3. Explore communication styles
  4. Set deadlines for projects

Sometimes, no matter how hard you work to maintain a healthy advising relationship, you and your advisor cannot find middle ground.  The working relationship is hindering your academic work, not supporting your growth.  

This dynamic often causes students stress and/or anxiety, which is natural— an important relationship in your life is changing.  When this happens, explore the possibility of identifying another advisor with your department's assistance.

Many graduate students have worked with more than one advisor, especially if the advisor was pre-assigned before you arrived on campus.  Ultimately, it’s your education- make the most of it!  

For ways to help yourself or a friend successfully navigate the advisor/advisee relationship, head to our article:Help Yourself, Help a Friend: Advisor Relationships.