Managing Your Dissertation Advisor

Michael C. Thomas, Ph.D*

1. Don't imagine you can change your advisor. Instead, play to her strengths and seek to counter-balance her weakness. One way to do this is to continue a line of research begun by your advisor.

2. Ask what you can do to make your advisor's job (your dissertation advisor) easier. Ask what you do now that makes her job difficult.

3. Don't assume that you already know the answers to the previous questions --- unless you have already asked these questions and received her answers. Listen with a 'beginner's mind'.

4. Be aware that your advisor may expect you to act in compliance with her answers to your questions.

5. Discover how your advisor likes to be given information --- informal briefings, e-mail messages, memos, detailed meetings, broad overviews, etc.

6. Encourage your advisor to feel part of a two-person project team in which you highly value her input --- although you have expertise that exceeds hers.

7. Protect your advisor from embarrassing surprises in front of others. Keep her briefed on significant developments.

8. Seek agreement with your advisor about where your efforts will be focused --- and where they will not. Create shared realistic expectations about what will be achieved.

9. Have realistic estimations and expectations of your advisor, however frustrated you may be by her performance. Some graduate students I know have read parts of their dissertation in prestigious journals over the name of their advisor with no mention of the student.

10. Remember that your advisor has others to answer to. Anything you can do to help her be successful will enhance your image and reflect well on your career prospects.

*Michael C. Thomas, Ph.D., Consultant/Coach 2820 Wayland Drive; Raleigh, NC 27608 (919) 781-4343 fax (919) 782-5104