Effective Practices and Expectations for Faculty Mentors and Doctoral Advisees

See below for our suggestions for doctoral students and their faculty advisors.

    Choosing an Advisor

    Graduate Student

    Graduate students who begin doctoral study without an identified principal faculty advisor should begin the process of finding an advisor with a critical self-analysis. The goal is to understand what they need to thrive as graduate students. This will help recognize who might best meet those needs as the faculty advisor. Students should ask themselves, and discuss with people who know them well, questions such as:

    • What are their objectives in pursuing a graduate degree?
    • What type of training do they desire?
    • What are their strengths?
    • What areas of knowledge and skills do they need to develop?
    • Are there any aspects of their academic writing skills which they need to improve?
    • What kinds of research or creative projects will engage them?
    • How much independent work versus teamwork do they want if applicable to their particular discipline or program?
    • What is their working style?
    • What type of career do they want to pursue?

    Even for graduate students arriving with an identified principal faculty advisor, it is still beneficial to reflect upon these questions. This may help guide initial conversations with their advisor.

    Ways to identify a faculty advisor vary by discipline:

    Become familiar with the work of faculty to gain a sense of their past and current research interests and methodologies. In the sciences, laboratory rotations are common. In the humanities, graduate students will usually enroll in classes taught by faculty whose work most interests them. In the social sciences, there may be opportunities to serve as research assistants during the academic year or summers to learn more about one’s own interests and those of faculty. It may also be helpful to attend faculty’s public presentations and immerse oneself in departmental academic and social activities to see how faculty interact with students and faculty colleagues. New students should discuss their interests and ask advanced graduate students and DGSs for suggestions about whom they should meet. Ultimately, they should meet with potential faculty advisors.

    Faculty Advisor with Graduate Student

    Both parties should be clear about their expectations concerning the form and function of the relationship, and about what is reasonable to expect and what is not. It is important to pay attention to boundaries, both personal and professional. Both parties must always be respectful. Being honest and open about expectations and ensuring that expectations align are key factors in determining the success of an advising relationship.

    Graduate students should bear in mind that the principal faculty advisor should not be their only advisor during their graduate education. There will be numerous opportunities to build relationships with faculty members who may serve as secondary advisors, dissertation committee members, and/or dissertation readers. The principal faculty advisor can provide additional support by introducing their students to other faculty, students, alumni, staff, and colleagues who may also serve as informal advisors.

    Faculty Mentors
    1. Introduce their advisees into the professional practices of the discipline (i.e., publishing, conference presentations, etc.)
    2. Provide advice and support to students as they begin teaching
    3. Direct students to appropriate research policies and training related to their research (e.g., IRB, responsible conduct of research, human-subject protection, animal care, hazardous materials, etc.)
    4. Provide a safe and secure environment for conducting research
    5. Suggest pertinent bibliographical sources and approaches
    6. Read and return work to advisee promptly (ideally within one month) and with useful comments
    7. Maintain active supervision of student work during leaves or extended absences from campus*
    8. Are editors writ small (grammar, style) and large (structure and success of argument) of student work
    9. Help students to prepare abstracts or papers for conferences and manuscripts for publication
    10. Encourage students to participate in professional conferences 
    11. Advise students on applying for grants to support their research and writing and read drafts of grant proposals
    12. Provide timely and thoughtful letters of recommendation for students
    13. In consultation with the student and the chair, form the faculty committee for the prospectus and dissertation defenses
    14. Meet with advisee to discuss preparing for the academic job market and alternative avenues for PhDs
    15. Provide support to advisees beyond graduation  

    *Note: Faculty who are on sabbatical are expected to continue to supervise the work of their students, but can discharge that responsibility by phone or in writing when it is not possible to meet in person. In particular, faculty on leave remain responsible for providing guidance to their student advisees who are conducting research for or writing doctoral dissertations, master’s essays, or undergraduate senior theses. They should also provide prompt feedback on the drafts of manuscripts for which they are the second readers and should be present for qualifying exams and the defense of dissertations and other capstone projects if it is logistically feasible.

    Doctoral Advisees
    1. Have an agenda and use a calendar to organize their time and effort
    2. Initiate regular meetings with the advisor
    3. Make a work plan and define goals with mentor, while taking coursework and after advancement to candidacy
    4. Submit best, most finished version of chapters or manuscripts possible
    5. Give advisor ample time (ideally one month) to read and comment on a chapter or manuscript
    6. Respond fully to advisor’s comments and critiques, including incorporating agreed-upon changes and revisions into work
    7. Plan for grant writing or job applications by identifying possibilities well in advance of deadlines.
    8. When requesting a letter of recommendation, provide advisor and other faculty with an updated c.v., a copy of the proposal or cover letter, and a memo or outline on state of work in progress; if applicable, also a list of courses taken with the faculty member as well as titles of papers and topics of presentations made in class
    9. Consult advisor on significant professional decisions
    10. Keep advisor informed of professional development after graduation
    Departmental Mentorship

    Responsibilities include:

    • Creating an intellectual community where students, faculty, and staff can thrive in pursuit of academic excellence
    • Creating and maintaining an environment where faculty, students, and staff feel welcomed, supported, included, respected, valued, and safe
    • Introducing new graduate students to the policies, practices, and resources of the department through an orientation or advising session and follow up as needed to ensure students’ understanding
    • Providing students with documentation of departmental policies, degree requirements, and timelines
    • Designating one or more members of the faculty as resources to help graduate students and faculty resolve conflicts: the department chair, the director of graduate studies, or a designated departmental resource person
    • Resolving problems locally and quickly if possible
    • Providing guidance to students and faculty as needed (e.g. faculty advisor leaves Columbia, faculty advisor and student have irreconcilable conflicts, student wishes to change faculty advisor).