Degree In Sight

A good relationship with your adviser can help launch your career. But do you know how to make the most of it? As an undergraduate, your interactions with faculty may have been primarily limited to the classroom. With an adviser, you're stepping outside the lecture hall to develop a professional and possibly mentoring relationship. This shift requires a different skill set. Here are a few tips for making the most out of your advising experience.

  • Take the initiative. Don't wait for your adviser to suggest meetings--set them up yourself, says Sarah Knox, PhD, an associate professor and director of training for the counseling psychology program at Marquette University in Milwaukee. "Students need to be appropriately assertive about what they need or want," Knox notes. At this point in your career, it's time to take the lead--you are ultimately responsible for making sure your research and other work gets done, she adds. You can set the tone by coming to meetings prepared with goals and research ideas to review with your adviser or by proposing a dissertation schedule, say experts.

  • Understand the purpose of the relationship. Some adviser-advisee relationships may be closer than others, but remember that this is ultimately a professional relationship, says Charles Gelso, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland who has been advising students for more than 30 years. An adviser is your introduction to the profession, someone who will help you define your research topics and provide guidance as you negotiate the demands of a graduate program. He or she is not your therapist and doesn't want to spend extensive time discussing personal concerns, adds Lewis Schlosser, PhD, an assistant psychology professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, who studies adviser-advisee relationships. But if something is posing a major barrier to your work, you should let your adviser know, says Gelso.

  • Give back. Advisers appreciate students who bring new perspectives, says Gelso. "Realize that it's a two-way street," he adds, and try to adjust to your adviser's work habits. For instance, if an adviser is scattered, you may have to remind him or her of where you are in your project, explains Gelso. "Talk freely about academic areas-even the advising relationship," says Schlosser. Use your psychological--and personal--skills to establish a good relationship, adds Knox.

  • Be professional. "Don't be late for meetings or miss them," says Gelso. Take deadlines seriously and turn in papers you're proud of, he adds. "Some students expect too much of the work to be done by the adviser," Gelso explains. "I tell students that I don't want to see a rough draft--polish it and then bring it to me." Students can also learn the standards of professional behavior by taking note of their adviser's approach.

  • Know your options. If you follow these tips and your advising needs still aren't being met, first try talking about it with your adviser, says Schlosser. See if together you can resolve any personal or professional issues, he adds. If that doesn't work, consider making a switch. Alternately, you can seek professional guidance from other faculty or even fellow students, says Schlosser. Any faculty member who shares your research interests can serve as valuable contacts or mentors, even if you have a great relationship with your adviser, he adds.

"Students need to be appropriately assertive about what they need or want."

Sarah Knox
Marquette University