Help Yourself, Help a Friend - Advising Relationship

Friend or foe?  If only the advisor/advisee relationship was that simple!

The relationship, like any other important relationship in your life, is nuanced and evolving.  With a little extra time, energy, and committment; however, this relationship can be beneficial to you and your advisor.

Graduate students shared their success strategies: 

Establish Expectations:

  • Establish clear expectations about the types of projects or papers to be completed;
  • create a detailed timetable for deadlines;
  • decide on a form of communication that will work best for both of you (email, texts, phone);
  • arrange for a specific location, physical or digital, for you to hand-in assignments;
  • and discuss back-up plans for emergencies or critical life events in both your and your advisor’s life.

Identify academic and professional goals:

  • Identify and draft, if possible, a document outlining your academic and professional goals.
    • This might need to be an evolving document that you review with your advisor. 
    • This will help your advisor point you toward the best opportunities, conferences, and networking opportunities.

Talk with your advisor about your unique work styles:

  • Professional ethics
  • Out of classroom expectations
  • Late night or early morning hours
  • Ask questions about department policies

Be responsible:

  • Remember, you initiated this professional relationship.  It is incumbent upon you to be proactive and responsible when working with your advisor or committee;
  • attend office hours prepared with notes, questions, or agenda;
  • meet deadlines;
  • be proactive, research additional opportunities for yourself;
  • keep your advisor informed of your progress or difficulties;
  • assert your needs, don’t assume others can read your mind;
  • be honest about your failures, as well as your successes;
  • and remain open and willing to accept feedback and constructive criticism.

Avoid taking it personally:

  • Criticism is a natural and necessary part of the development process; understand that your projects and research are stronger because of it.

Be realistic:

  • Understand that no relationship is perfect.
  • You and your advisor have other obligations and simply have to find ways to make things work.

What if....

The reality is that not all advisees and advisors work in harmony.  Students describe these challenging relationships as “stressful”, “anxiety provoking”, and at times, “fearful,” as they worry about the advisor’s role in negatively shaping their academic future. 

Fortunately, in most cases, you can work with your academic department to identify another advisor.  While this may feel like a big step to make, it’s important to remember two facts:

  • Sometimes, relationships do not succeed; sometimes, two people just don’t “click”
  • This is your education and an opportunity to grow as a professional

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is available to talk with you or your friends when you need to talk more in-depth about your graduate school experience. CAPS also offers year round workshops and support groups for graduate students, many of whom share these very concerns.  

In addition, the Rackham Graduate School has a number of staff and resources to assist you with the advisor/advisee relationship.  The video below is by graduate students for graduates about their experiences and advice for dealing with advisors. 

Below, Rackham's Graduate Students share their advice for settling into graduate school, with a particular focus on the advisor/advisee relationship.