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Choosing a Thesis Advisor: A Complete Guide

One of the most important choices that you will make about your dissertation or thesis happens before you write a single word. Choosing a thesis advisor or dissertation advisor (often referred to as a dissertation chair) will have a significant impact on your entire dissertation writing experience, and for many years to come. For many doctoral students, their thesis advisor is their single greatest influence in graduate school. 

Selecting a thesis advisor is a big decision with far-reaching implications. The stakes are very high, and it is imperative to choose your thesis advisor wisely. There are many factors to consider when choosing a thesis advisor, from expertise to personality, and it pays to think carefully and weigh your options before approaching a faculty member to chair your dissertation committee . While there are subtle differences between a dissertation chair and a thesis advisor, we’ll focus on the commonalities in this article.

These are commonly asked questions about selecting a thesis advisor: 

  • What does a thesis advisor do? 
  • How should I choose my thesis advisor?
  • What makes a faculty member a good thesis advisor? 
  • What if it doesn’t work out with my thesis advisor? 

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Thesis Advisor Responsibilities

While writing a dissertation is a largely solitary pursuit, a good thesis advisor will be with you every step of the way. While you are very much in the driver’s seat, it is your thesis advisor’s job to keep you off the guardrails. And deploy the airbag, if necessary. There are a few purposes that your thesis advisor will serve during your time together. 

Guidance . While the dissertation process is new to you, your thesis advisor will know it very well. She will help you navigate the obstacles and pitfalls that have derailed many projects–department politics, university regulations, funding, research opportunities, etc. Your thesis advisor will also serve as a sounding board as you distill the nebulous concept of your research project into a fully-formed idea that you can move forward with. 

Organization . A good thesis advisor will run a tight ship and keep your dissertation project moving like clockwork. As a researcher, it’s very easy to get lost in the minutiae of the literature, and it’s not difficult to find yourself trapped down a rabbit hole of scholarship. Regular milestones set by your thesis advisor are a great way to stay on track and maintain forward momentum. 

Mentorship. While an effective thesis advisor will ensure that you see your project to fruition, a great one will be with you for decades. Though I graduated with my Ph.D. in 2012 and I’m now an associate professor myself, my thesis advisor remains a guiding light in my career. Your thesis advisor can be a cornerstone of your professional network. 

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Choosing a Thesis Advisor

So, how do you select a faculty member to chair your dissertation committee? With extreme care. Once you have set your sights on a dissertation chair or thesis advisor, the next step is the Big Ask. I remember being very nervous to approach the faculty member who became my chair– it seemed like such an imposition, but, as a grad student in her department, I was already on her radar. Keep in mind, your faculty members are expecting to be asked to chair dissertation committees, and they may even be a little flattered that you chose them. 

While chairing and serving on dissertation committees is a requirement for the tenured and senior faculty members in your department, it’s a lot of work. Make no mistake: accepting the role of your dissertation chair makes them nervous, too. As a faculty member, I can say with absolute certainty that a good dissertation chair will be almost as invested in your dissertation as you are. 

What Makes a Strong Thesis Advisor?

There exists a gulf between what many students desire in a dissertation chair or thesis advisor and what they actually need. While there may be a temptation to approach one of your department’s superstar faculty members to chair your committee, this may not serve you in the long term. Faculty members who have made a name for themselves through an abundance of publications, grants, awards, and conference appearances typically have jam-packed schedules, and it may be difficult for them to make you and your dissertation a priority. 

Dissertation Committee Member Mentoring Student

A safer bet that is likely to have a more rewarding outcome is to work with a faculty member who has already shown enthusiasm for your work. Select a thesis advisor who makes time for you, and one who always responds to your emails. This is the person you want in your corner during the sometimes stressful journey of researching and writing a dissertation. Also, it never hurts to spend some time talking to potential dissertation chairs or dissertation advisors. Get all of your questions answered, and then make a decision. 

What If It Doesn’t Work Out?

The possibility that your thesis advisor is a bad fit for your project or is incompatible for some other reason is a worst-case scenario that lurks in the furthest reaches of every graduate student’s mind. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this is not a good situation to be in, and it can derail dissertations. The soundest strategy for dealing with an internecine conflict with your thesis advisor is prevention. 

This is why it is vital to do your homework and put a lot of thought into choosing your thesis advisor. Find someone you are compatible with and make sure you’re on the same page. Check in with them regularly, and keep them updated. Clear communication is a great way to ensure a solid partnership with your dissertation chair. Don’t forget, your dissertation chair should also be making your success a priority. You should be comfortable enough to ask questions and let them know what’s on your mind. 

The good news is that a bad fit isn’t likely to happen. Most grad students have a completely workable relationship with their dissertation chairs, and for many it turns into a long friendship built on mutual respect and admiration. Personally, every time I serve on a doctoral student’s dissertation committee, I feel a tremendous amount of pride and satisfaction when they take their place in the academic world. It’s truly an honor to help them achieve such a major milestone in their academic career, and I’m delighted to be part of it. 

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Courtney Watson, Ph.D.

Courtney Watson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Radford University Carilion, in Roanoke, Virginia. Her areas of expertise include undergraduate and graduate curriculum development for writing courses in the health sciences and American literature with a focus on literary travel, tourism, and heritage economies. Her writing and academic scholarship has been widely published in places that include  Studies in American Culture ,  Dialogue , and  The Virginia Quarterly Review . Her research on the integration of humanities into STEM education will be published by Routledge in an upcoming collection. Dr. Watson has also been nominated by the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Award, and she is a past winner of the National Society of Arts & Letters Regional Short Story Prize, as well as institutional awards for scholarly research and excellence in teaching. Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Watson has served in faculty governance and administration as a frequent committee chair and program chair. As a higher education consultant, she has served as a subject matter expert, an evaluator, and a contributor to white papers exploring program development, enrollment research, and educational mergers and acquisitions.

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Dissertation Advisor 101

How to get the most from the student-supervisor relationship

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | January 2024

Many students feel a little intimidated by the idea of having to work with a research advisor (or supervisor) to complete their dissertation or thesis. Similarly, many students struggle to “connect” with their advisor and feel that the relationship is somewhat strained or awkward. But this doesn’t need to be the case!

In this post, we’ll share five tried and tested tips to help you get the most from this relationship and pave the way for a smoother dissertation writing process.

Overview: Working With Your Advisor

  • Clarify everyone’s roles on day one
  • Establish (and stick to) a regular communication cycle
  • Develop a clear project plan upfront
  • Be proactive in engaging with problems
  • Navigate conflict like a diplomat

1. Clarify roles on day one

Each university will have slightly different expectations, rules and norms in terms of the research advisor’s role. Similarly, each advisor will have their own unique way of doing things. So, it’s always a good idea to begin the engagement process by clearly defining the roles and expectations in your relationship.

In practical terms, we suggest that you initiate a conversation at the very start of the engagement to discuss your goals, their expectations, and how they would like to work with you. Of course, you might not like what you hear in this conversation. However, this sort of candid conversation will help you get on the same page as early as possible and set the stage for a successful partnership.

To help you get started, here are some questions that you might consider asking in your initial conversation:

  • How often would you like to meet and for how long?
  • What should I do to prepare for each meeting?
  • What aspects of my work will you comment on (and what won’t you cover)?
  • Which key decisions should I seek your approval for beforehand?
  • What common mistakes should I try to avoid from the outset?
  • How can I help make this partnership as effective as possible?
  • My academic goals are… Do you have any suggestions at this stage to help me achieve this?

As you can see, these types of questions help you get a clear idea of how you’ll work together and how to get the most from the relatively limited face time you’ll have.

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2. Establish a regular communication cycle

Just like in any relationship, effective communication is crucial to making the student-supervisor relationship work. So, you should aim to establish a regular meeting schedule and stick to it. Don’t cancel or reschedule appointments with your advisor at short notice, or do anything that suggests you don’t value their time. Fragile egos are not uncommon in the academic world, so it’s important to clearly demonstrate that you value and respect your supervisor’s time and effort .

Practically speaking, be sure to prepare for each meeting with a clear agenda , including your progress, challenges, and any questions you have. Be open and honest in your communication, but most importantly, be receptive to your supervisor’s feedback . Ultimately, part of their role is to tell you when you’re missing the mark. So, don’t become upset or defensive when they criticise a specific aspect of your work.

Always remember that your research advisor is criticising your work, not you personally . It’s never easy to take negative feedback, but this is all part of the learning journey that takes place alongside the research journey.

Fragile egos are not uncommon in the academic world, so it’s important to demonstrate that you value and respect your advisor’s time.

3. Have a clear project plan

Few things will impress your supervisor more than a well-articulated, realistic plan of action (aka, a project plan). Investing the time to develop this shows that you take your project (and by extension, the relationship) seriously. It also helps your supervisor understand your intended timeline, which allows the two of you to better align your schedules .

In practical terms, you need to develop a project plan with achievable goals . A detailed Gantt chart can be a great way to do this. Importantly, you’ll need to break down your thesis or dissertation into a collection of practical, manageable steps , and set clear timelines and milestones for each. Once you’ve done that, you should regularly review and adjust this plan with your supervisor to ensure that you remain on track.

Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll stick to your plan 100% of the time (there are always unexpected twists and turns in a research project. However, this plan will lay a foundation for effective collaboration between yourself and your supervisor. An imperfect plan beats no plan at all.

Gantt chart for a dissertation

4. Engage with problems proactively

One surefire way to quickly annoy your advisor is to pester them every time you run into a problem in your dissertation or thesis. Unexpected challenges are par for the course when it comes to research – how you deal with them is what makes the difference.

When you encounter a problem, resist the urge to immediately send a panicked email to your supervisor – no matter how massive the issue may seem (at the time). Instead, take a step back and assess the situation as holistically as possible. Force yourself to sit with the issue for at least a few hours to ensure that you have a clear, accurate assessment of the issue at hand. In most cases, a little time, distance and deep breathing will reveal that the problem is not the existential threat it initially seemed to be.

When contacting your supervisor, you should ideally present both the problem and one or two potential solutions . The latter is the most important part here. In other words, you need to show that you’ve engaged with the issue and applied your mind to finding potential solutions. Granted, your solutions may miss the mark. However, providing some sort of solution beats impulsively throwing the problem at your supervisor and hoping that they’ll save the day.

Simply put, mishaps and mini-crises in your research journey present an opportunity to demonstrate your initiative and problem-solving skills – not a reason to lose your cool and outsource the problem to your supervisor.

5. Navigate conflict like a diplomat 

As with any partnership, there’s always the possibility of some level of disagreement or conflict arising within the student-supervisor relationship. Of course, you can drastically reduce the likelihood of this happening by implementing some of the points we mentioned earlier. Neverthless, if a serious disagreement does arise between you and your supervisor, it’s absolutely essential that you approach it with professionalism and respect . Never let it escalate into a shouting contest.

In practical terms, it’s important to communicate your concerns as they arise (don’t let things simmer for too long). Simultaneously, it’s essential that you remain open to understanding your supervisor’s perspective – don’t become entrenched in your position. After all, you are the less experienced researcher within this duo.

Keep in mind that a lot of context is lost in text-based communication , so it can often be a good idea to schedule a short call to discuss your concerns or points of contention, rather than sending a 3000-word email essay. When going this route, be sure to take the time to prepare a clear, cohesive argument beforehand – don’t just “thought vomit” on your supervisor.

In the event that you do have a significant disagreement with your advisor, remember that the goal is to find a solution that serves your project (not your ego). This often requires compromise and flexibility. A “win at all costs” mindset is definitely not suitable here. Ultimately, you need to solve the problem, while still maintaining the relationship .

If you feel that you have already exhausted all possible avenues and still can’t find an acceptable middle ground, you can of course reach out to your university to ask for their assistance. However, this should be the very last resort . Running to your university every time there’s a small disagreement will not serve you well.

Communicate your concerns as they arise and remain open to understanding your supervisor's perspective. They are the expert, after all.

Recap: Key Takeaways

To sum up, a fruitful student-supervisor relationship hinges on clear role definition , effective and regular communication , strategic planning , proactive engagement , and professional conflict resolution .

Remember, your dissertation supervisor is there to help you, but you still need to put in the work . In many cases, they’ll also be the first marker of your work, so it really pays to put in the effort and build a strong, functional relationship with them.

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Princeton Correspondents on Undergraduate Research

Preparing for your Senior Thesis Before your Senior Year: Tips on Finding a Thesis Adviser

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If you’re caught up on some of my earlier posts , you’ll remember that I’ve been working on my Junior Papers all year, ultimately gearing up towards the independent work that my senior thesis will require. However, as an underclass student, I was definitely unclear about what the senior thesis process would entail. I thought it was something I wouldn’t have to worry about until my last year at Princeton when, in reality, it starts much earlier than that (scary!!).

Every thesis process is different depending on your department, so I can’t speak for all of them. However, in the Woodrow Wilson School, students start preparing for their theses during their junior year (in some majors, it starts even earlier!). For example, at the beginning and end of the fall semester, I attended information sessions that taught me what to expect from senior year and how to prepare for my thesis. The meetings helped me realize that I had to start looking for a thesis adviser. Although some students wait until the end of junior year or the beginning of senior year to choose an adviser, I plan to do research over the summer, and in order to apply for funding, it is helpful to have an adviser in mind early on.

Every student who writes a thesis must choose a thesis adviser. Some seniors I have spoken to have said that it’s helpful to meet with multiple potential advisers before selecting the one you wish to work with. For me, this presents a strange yet exciting power dynamic that I have never encountered before: for the first time, the student has a sense of agency and the ability to make their own decisions about a project from the very beginning.

So, what should I have in mind as I meet with potential advisers? How do I even select the potential advisers? I have compiled some advice below that I’ve received from various seniors.

Decide on a thesis topic. It doesn’t have to be a well-thought-out plan; it just needs to exist in some basic form. You shouldn’t select an adviser without a thesis topic! See tip number two to understand why.

Look through the list of faculty members in your department. Each faculty member should have a short description of themselves and their research interests next to their name. Use this description to select a few professors whose interests match up with yours/your thesis topic.

Email the professors. Make sure you have options before you make your final decision. Meet with each professor and explain your thesis topic. Go to the meeting prepared with some notes about your topic to show that you’re serious about it and that you’ve done some preliminary research.

Ask questions about their expectations! Is the professor an active adviser, or are they more hands-off? How often would the professor want to meet with you during your senior year? It is important to understand their expectations so that you aren’t blindsided senior year.

Make sure the professor is aware that you are meeting with other professors. Just as it is important to know the professor’s expectations of you, it is important they know your expectations of them. Transparency is so important during this process. Be clear from the beginning so that the professor knows nothing is set in stone yet.

The senior thesis process can feel far away and daunting, but as a junior, it isn’t as far away as it seems. Keeping these helpful tips in mind will give you a head start and make the process a lot less stressful!

— Andrea Reino, Social Sciences Correspondent

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Choosing a Dissertation Advisor


While some graduate groups may assign an advisor to a student upon admission to the program, in many graduate groups the responsibility for finding a dissertation advisor rests with the student. The choice of a faculty member who will supervise the dissertation work required to fulfill degree requirements is one of the most critical decisions a graduate student will make. A student will spend several years working with the faculty member of choice, and that choice will significantly affect the direction of the student’s career. Choosing a dissertation advisor, therefore, is an extremely important decision for doctoral students, although it is not immutable, as will be discussed later.

A student undertaking dissertation work needs an advisor who will be not only academically competent in a particular area but also willing to act as the student’s advocate when necessary. It is important that the student be able to work and communicate effectively with the advisor and not feel overwhelmed or intimidated in the relationship. Dissertation work can be lonely and isolating, and support from an advisor can be a crucial connection.  Each student requires the guidance of someone who will stimulate thought, who has sufficient interest in the student’s topic to produce new insights jointly, and who will challenge the student to think in a novel manner about the research.

Obtaining Information on Potential Advisors

Advisors generally serve as the dissertation supervisor. Students should be familiar with the University rules about who can supervise dissertation research and serve on a dissertation committee.  Several resources and strategies can help students identify an appropriate faculty advisor, as follows.

The graduate group website or handbook is a valuable source of information on potential advisors. Many graduate groups have developed websites that profile affiliated faculty members, including their areas of research, recent publications, and other academic activities. Literature searches can provide further information on the publications and preferred journals of particular faculty members. The graduate group chair can also provide valuable advice on potential advisors and can help students to become familiar with any specific graduate group policies on supervision.

Students can get to know potential advisors by taking a course, doing a lab rotation, acting as a teaching assistant, and/or attending seminars and other presentations by the faculty member.

Graduate students currently working with the potential advisor are an invaluable source of information. Students who are working or have worked with a particular advisor can be asked about their experience with that advisor and about the advisor’s expectations and working methods. Getting to know these students is also useful because anyone choosing to work with a faculty advisor would likely have close, future interactions with their students. Talking to multiple students is always encouraged given the possibly strong and differing opinions one might hear.

Students should make an appointment to meet potential advisors. Meeting a potential advisor is an essential step in determining whether a faculty member would be a good fit in terms of mentoring and interpersonal style and research interested. The following is a list of issues that might be covered in such a meeting: 

  • How many graduate students do you advise? (Students may not want to pick a faculty member who has too many students already.)
  • Typically, how often do you meet with your students?
  • Typically, how much time do you expect students to take to complete their dissertation?
  • How will we agree upon my research topic?
  • Are there sufficient funds available for the research project?
  • What will be the sources of my stipend/funding? What are ways you can provide assistance for finding additional funding if/when my stipend expires?
  • What level of independence is expected of your graduate students?
  • Is there any specific knowledge I need to have before starting to work with you?
  • Will I have the opportunity to attend conferences? Publish papers? Present work at colloquia? Are there funds available for me to do so?
  • Are you planning a sabbatical leave soon? If so, what arrangements for continued supervision will be made during your absence?
  • What opportunities would I have in this area of research when I graduate?
  • How do you typically assist students on the job market?
  • Will guidelines be drawn up for working together?
  • How will I receive feedback on my progress?

These questions are designed to help the student and the potential advisor determine whether a good match exists. Where appropriate, the student may also want to ask about the order of authorship on publications and intellectual property issues.

For students who are able to pick an advisor, the choice of a dissertation advisor is a decision to be made with a great deal of care and consideration. Discussion of the topics listed above will also give faculty members a sense of what students expect in terms of meetings, feedback, turn-around time on submitted work, etc. Taking time to explore these issues should result in a productive relationship for both student and advisor that culminates in a dissertation of original research, completed within a reasonable period of time.

Changing Advisors

There may be situations in which a student must change advisors. Some situations are beyond the student’s control; for example, when an advisor leaves the University or otherwise becomes unavailable. In other situations, the student may want to choose a different advisor; for example, if the focus of the research project changes to something outside of the current advisor’s expertise, or if work styles do not mesh well.

In these latter situations, students should understand that while there can be risks in changing advisors, it usually can be negotiated in a positive manner. Students deciding to change advisors should be sure to consult the graduate group for any specific policies and procedures that apply and be sure to ascertain if funding may change under a new advisor. Students should always be professional and respectful in interactions with the current advisor and potential new advisor and be certain that the proposed new advisor is willing and able to add them as a new advisee before discussing such a change with the current advisor. Students should focus discussions on interests and goals and not on negative incidents or difficulties. The potential new advisor, as well as leaders or other members of the graduate group, may have advice regarding how to broach this change with the current advisor.

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Advising guide for research students.

Success as a graduate student is a shared responsibility between students and faculty. For research students, the relationship with your research advisor, also known as your special committee chair, is extremely important. 

Your responsibility to identify and choose an advisor is one of the most critical tasks you have early in your graduate school career. It’s an opportunity to meet and get to know faculty in your field, to assess your needs for support and supervision, and to collaboratively define your goals, values, and strategic plan for your academic and professional career.

Graduate School Requirement

At Cornell, the faculty advisor in research degree programs is referred to as the special committee chair.

Doctoral students have a special committee of at least three Cornell faculty, which includes the special committee chair and two minor committee members.

Master’s students have a special committee of at least two Cornell faculty, which includes the special committee chair and one minor member.

For both doctoral and master’s degree students, the special committee chair must be a graduate faculty member in the student’s own field.

Definition of an Advisor

Advising  and  mentoring  are often used interchangeably, but understanding the distinctions is important as you choose an advisor.

Advisor Responsibilities

  • Guides you in meeting the requirements and expectations for your degree
  • Required coursework
  • Exams required by the graduate field or the Graduate School
  • Research proposal/prospectus
  • Research project
  • Thesis or dissertation
  • Writes informed letters of recommendation for your job applications
  • May be a valued colleague or collaborator after you graduate

Mentor Responsibilities

  • Provides support and guidance that extends beyond scope of advising
  • Demystifies the structure, culture, and unstated expectations of graduate education
  • Expands your professional network by introducing you to others
  • Provides nominations for awards or other recognitions
  • Brings job opportunities to your attention and writes letters of recommendation as you apply for jobs
  • Advocates for you within the graduate program and discipline
  • May serve as a role model and source of inspiration
  • May become a colleague and peer in your discipline and may continue serving a mentoring role

Finding an Advisor

When do i select my first advisor.

At Cornell, the process for obtaining your first advisor varies by field.

Your faculty advisor may be assigned prior to your arrival or you may begin your program with a faculty member you met during the application process.

In some graduate fields, the faculty director of graduate studies (DGS) advises all incoming students. This provides you with time to get to know faculty in your field. By the end of the first semester or year (varying by field), it’s expected that you will have identified your own, long-term advisor. 

In fields where students apply to study with a specific faculty member (rather than do rotations and choose a lab or research group and advisor), you will have chosen an advisor prior to arriving on campus.

You can begin initial conversations about expectations and the advising relationship with your new advisor prior to the start of your program via email.

Start your graduate study and research with clear expectations and thoughtful communication about your plans for an effective advising relationship and success in graduate school.

How do I find an advisor? 

Meet and get to know faculty in your courses and in graduate field seminars and other events.

Talk to advanced students about their experiences and perceptions of the faculty in your programs and ask questions about possible advisors:

  • How would you describe their approach to advising?
  • What can you tell me about their work style?
  • What can you tell me about their research interests?
  • How good are their communication skills?
  • How clear are their expectations for their graduate students?
  • Do they use timeliness in reviewing their students’ writing and their approach to giving feedback?
  • How available are they to meet with their graduate students?

After you have gathered information, make an appointment to meet with a potential advisor.

Possible Questions

  • Is there a typical timeline you encourage your students to follow in completing their degree programs?
  • How often do you meet with your students at different stages of their graduate program? (For example, during coursework, research, and writing stages)
  • What are your expectations for students to make conference presentations and submit publications?
  • What are your authorship policies? (This is especially relevant in fields where there is collaborative research and publishing involving the student and advisor or a group of students, postdocs, and faculty.)
  • How soon should I identify my research project?
  • How do you describe the degree of guidance and supervision you provide with regards to your students becoming more independent in their research and scholarship?
  • If you are joining a lab or research group: What are the sources of funding for this research? Are there any new or pending research grants?
  • How many of your students seek, and secure, external funding? What are your expectations for students to apply for external fellowships?
  • Do you have a statement of advising you can share that lists our respective responsibilities and clarifies mutual expectations?
  • What’s your advice on how students can manage what they find to be the biggest challenges in their graduate program?

Add other questions to your list based on your own needs and specifics of your program, such as questions about specialized equipment, lab safety, travel to field sites, support and accommodations for special health needs, communication during a faculty member’s sabbatical, funding in fields where there are fewer fellowships and research grants, etc.

Getting Other Mentoring Needs Met

How do i find other mentor(s) .

You may find one faculty member who can serve as both advisor and mentor, but that’s not always the case.

Consider identifying and cultivating additional mentors if that is the case. 

Suggestions on where to look for a mentor:

  • The minor members of your special committee
  • A faculty member who is not on your committee, and perhaps not even in your graduate field
  • Peers and postdoctoral fellows who have knowledge and experience in pertinent issues

No one mentor can meet all your needs.

Good mentors have many protégés and many other demands on their time, such as teaching, research, and university or professional service. They also may not have all the expertise you need, for example, if you decide to search for jobs in multiple employment sectors.

Develop a broad network of mentors whose expertise varies and who provide different functions based on your changing needs as you progress from new student to independent scholar and researcher.

NCFDD offers a webinar, “ Cultivating Your Network of Mentors, Sponsors, and Collaborators “, which students can view after activating a free NCFDD membership through Cornell.

Maximizing the Advising Relationship

A successful relationship with your advisor depends on several different factors and varies with needs and working styles of the individuals. Some of these factors are under your control. But some are not. 

Suggestions for Building a Successful Advising Relationship

  • Identify what you need from an advisor.
  • Communicate clearly and frequently with your advisor to convey your questions, expectations, goals, challenges, and degree progress. Follow up verbal communication and meetings with an email detailing your understanding of what you both agreed to and next steps.
  • Update your written academic plan each semester or whenever major changes or adjustments are needed.
  • Consider including your plans to write competitive fellowship applications and co-authored grant proposals.
  • Consider including  plans for professional development  that support your skill-building objectives and career goals.
  • Recognize that you and your advisor have distinct perspectives, backgrounds, and interests. Share yours. Listen to your advisor’s. There is mutual benefit to sharing and learning from this diversity.
  • Work with your advisor to define a regular meeting schedule. Prepare and send written materials in advance of each meeting. These could include: your questions, academic and research plan and timeline, and drafts of current writing projects, such as fellowship applications, manuscripts, or thesis/dissertation chapters.
  • Be prepared to negotiate, show flexibility, and compromise, as is important for any successful relationship.
  • Be as candid as you are comfortable with about your challenges and concerns. Seek guidance about campus and other resources that can help you manage and address any obstacles.
  • Reach out to others for advice. Anticipate challenges and obstacles in your graduate degree program and their impact on the advising relationship.

Be proactive in finding resources and gathering information that can help you and your advisor arrive at solutions to any problems and optimize your time together.

Making Use of Meetings

First meetings.

Your first meeting sets the tone for a productive, satisfying, and enduring relationship with your advisor. Your first meeting is an opportunity to discuss expectations and to review a working draft of your academic plan.

Questions to ask about expectations

  • What do your most successful students do to complete their degree on time?
  • How often do you want us to meet?
  • May I send you questions via email, or do you prefer I just come to your office?
  • Would you like weekly (biweekly? monthly?) updates on my research progress?
  • Do you prefer reviewing the complete draft of a manuscript or may I send you sections for feedback?
  • After each meeting, I’ll make a list of what we each agreed to do before our next meeting, to help me keep moving forward with my research. Would you like a copy of that list, too, via email?

Draft Academic Plan

Prepare and bring a draft plan that outlines your “big picture” plans for your coursework, research, and writing, as well as an anticipated graduation date. (Or, email in advance with a message, such as, “I’m looking forward to meeting with you on [date] at [time], [location]. In advance, I’m sending a copy of my academic plan and proposed schedule for our discussion.”)

Contents of the plan

  • Include the requirements and deadlines of your degree program. (This is information you should be able to find online or in your program’s graduate student handbook.)
  • Include a general timeline indicating when you plan to meet requirements for courses or seminars, any required papers (such as a second-year paper), exams required by the graduate field (such as the Q exam) or by the Graduate School (the A exam and the B exam for research degree students).
  • If your graduate field has a specific set of required courses, indicate the semester you may complete each of them, and be open to suggestions from your advisor.
  • If your field does not have required courses, have some idea about the courses you are interested in taking and solicit input and suggestions from your faculty advisor.

Subsequent Meetings

Use each subsequent meeting as an opportunity to update your written academic plan and stay on track to complete your required papers and exams, your research proposal or prospectus, and the chapters or articles that comprise your thesis or dissertation.

In later meetings, you can elaborate on your general initial plan:

  • Adding specific coursework or seminars
  • Add professional development opportunities that interest you (workshops, dissertation writing boot camp, Summer Success Symposium, Colman Leadership Program, etc.)
  • Include intentions to participate in external conferences and travel to research sites
  • Identify a semester or summer when you would like to complete an internship.

Your written plan is also important to document what your advisor has agreed to, especially when the deadline to submit a manuscript or your thesis is looming and you are awaiting feedback or approval from your advisor. Use a combination of oral and written communications to stay in touch with your advisor, establish common expectations, and mark your progress toward degree completion.

Meeting Frequency

The frequency of meetings between advisors and advisees varies by field and individual. Assess your own needs and understand your advisor’s expectations for frequency of communication (in person and via email).

  • Does your advisor like to provide guidance each step of the way so that he or she is aware of the details of everything you are doing?
  • Does your advisor want you to launch your work more independently and report back at pre-determined or regular intervals?
  • What do you need to be productive? Are you ready to work more independently?

Be proactive in seeking information. Explicitly ask how often your advisor usually meets with new students and how the advisor prefers to be updated on your progress in between meetings. Ask your peers how frequently they meet with their advisor and whether this has changed over time.

There will be disciplinary differences in meeting frequency.

  • In humanities and in some social sciences, where library, archive, and field research take students away from campus, maintaining regular communication is essential, including through scheduled meetings, whether in-person or virtual.
  • In life sciences and physical sciences and engineering, students often see their advisors daily in the lab or meet as a research group about externally funded projects; these regular check-ins and conversations may replace formal meetings. Make sure that you are also scheduling one-on-one times to talk about your broader goals and academic and career planning progress, however.

Some of your decisions about meeting frequency will be informed by talking to others, but much of it you learn through experience working together with your advisor. Even this will  change over time  as you become a more independent researcher and scholar. Communicate with your advisor regularly about your changing needs and expectations at each stage of your graduate career.

Resolving Conflict

In any relationship, there can be conflict. And, in the advisor-advisee relationship, the power dynamic created by the supervision, evaluation and, in some cases, funding role of your advisor can make conflicts with your advisor seem especially high.

You have options, however, including:

  • Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty
  • Campus Code of Conduct
  • Policy on Academic Misconduct
  • Research Misconduct
  • Graduate School Grievance Policy
  • Intellectual Property policies
  • Graduate Student Assistantships (Policy 1.3)
  • Talking with your advisor to clarify any miscommunication. Cornell University’s Office of the Ombudsman , one of the offices on campus that offers confidentiality, can also assist you by talking through the issue and helping you gather information you need before you speak directly with your advisor.
  • Speaking with someone in the Graduate School, either the Associate Dean for Academics ( [email protected] ) for academic issues, or the Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life ( [email protected] ) for other issues. These deans will listen, offer advice and support, and coach you through any conversation you might want to have with your advisor. Together, you can brainstorm possible solutions and evaluate alternative plans for resolution.
  • Touching base with your director of graduate studies (DGS) – if this person is not also your advisor – to talk to about policies and possible solutions to the conflict.
  • Soliciting peer advice. Discuss strategies for managing and resolving conflict with your advisor. “Do you have any suggestions for me?” “Have you ever had an issue like this…?” can be effective questions.
  • Identifying a new advisor if the conflict can not be resolved. Your DGS can help with this, and the Graduate School (as above) can help as well.

The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity offers a webinar, “ How to Engage in Healthy Conflict “, which students can view after activating a free NCFDD membership through Cornell.

Changing Advisors

On occasion, students find that they need or want to change their advisor. An advisor can resign as the student’s special committee chair/faculty advisor. The  Code  of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty describes the rights and responsibilities of students and faculty in each of these situations.

Typical reasons to seek a new advisor include:

  • Research interests that veer from the faculty’s expertise or ability to fund a certain project
  • Your advisor retires or resigns from the university or takes an extended leave of absence for personal or professional reasons
  • Differences in goals, values, or an approach to work or communication style that can’t be resolved
  • Serious issues, involving suspected inappropriate behavior, questionable research conduct, or alleged bias, discrimination, or harassment

If you are considering changing advisors:

  • Talk to a member of your committee, your director of graduate studies (DGS), or someone in the Graduate School about the proposed change. Some issues, such as funding, require timely attention.
  • Identify other faculty members who could serve as your advisor, then meet with one or more of them. The goal is to decide together if you are a good fit with their program. Tips: Discuss or rehearse this conversation with a trusted person, especially if there were issues with your last advisor. Be transparent about these issues and address them going forward with a new advisor. Often prospective advisors are more willing to take on a new graduate student who conveys genuine enthusiasm for their area of study rather than a student who seems to be looking for a way out of a current advising relationship that has gone sour.
  • Consider how and when to inform your advisor if you plan to change advisors. Be professional and respectful. Thank your advisor for past support and guidance. Don’t damage, or further damage, the relationship.
  • Your DGS, if appropriate
  • Office of the University Ombudsman
  • Graduate School’s Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life ( [email protected] )
  • Graduate School’s Associate Dean for Academics ( [email protected] )


  • Use Student Center if you are changing your advisor before your A exam (for Ph.D. students).
  • Use the Post A Committee Change Petition form for changes after the A exam. More information is available on the Graduate School’s Policy pages .

Challenges and Potential Solutions

All good relationships take work. To navigate an advising relationship successfully over time, you should familiarize yourself with some common challenges and possible actions to take.

Challenge: Mismatch in communication needs or style

One example of a communication challenge in an advising relationship is when you want input along the way during a writing project, but you have an advisor who prefers to wait to comment on a complete written draft.

Some possible steps to address this might be to talk to peers about they have handled this in their relationship with their advisor or to explain to your advisor how his or her input at this earlier stage will help speed you along toward having a complete draft for review. It’s important in communicating with your advisor to show that you understand what alternative they are proposing and why (e.g., “I understand that …”).

Challenge: Advisor unavailable or away

Your advisor might be away from campus for a semester or more to conduct research or take a sabbatical leave. Or when a grant proposal deadline or report is looming, your advisor might be less available. Maybe you’ve emailed your advisor several times with no response.

Planning and stating in advance what you need, such as feedback on a manuscript draft or signatures on a fellowship application, can help your advisor anticipate when you will have time-sensitive requests. Making plans in advance to communicate by email or video conference when either of you will be away from campus for a longer period of time is another useful strategy. Your director of graduate studies (DGS) and other faculty who serve as special committee members can also provide advice when your advisor is unavailable.

Challenge: Misaligned expectations

You are ready to submit a manuscript for publication. Your advisor says it needs much more work. Or you begin your job search, applying to liberal arts colleges with very high reputations, or schools in your preferred geographic location, but your advisor insists that you should apply for positions at top research universities.

Discussing your needs and expectations early, and often, in the advising relationship is essential. Get comfortable, and skilled, advocating for yourself with your advisor. Use the annual  Student Progress Review  as an opportunity to communicate your professional interests and goals with your advisor. Use multiple mentors beyond your advisor to get advice and expertise on topics where you need a different perspective or support.

Sometimes challenges can become opportunities for you to develop and refine new skills in communication, negotiation, self-advocacy, and management of conflict, time, and resources. For example, although you might feel abandoned if your advisor is unavailable for a time, even this potentially negative experience could become an opportunity to learn how to advocate for yourself and communicate about your needs and perceived difficulties in the relationship.

Advising Resources

Graduate School deans and directors  are available to answer academic and non-academic questions and provide referrals to useful resources.

Counseling and Psychological Services  (CAPS) staff offer confidential, professional support for students seeking help with stress, anxiety, depression, grief, adjustment challenges, relationship difficulties, questions about identity, and managing existing mental health conditions.

Let’s Talk Drop-in Consultations  are informal, confidential walk-in consultations at various locations around campus.

External Resources

University of Michigan Rackham, How to Get the Mentoring You Want  

Laura Gail Lunsford & Vicki L. Baker, 2016, Great Mentoring in Graduate School: A Quick Start Guide for Protégés

Michigan State University, Guidelines for Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Relationships  

Michigan State University, Graduate Student Career and Professional Development  

Template for Meeting Notes

Adapted and expanded from Maria Gardiner, Flinders University © Flinders University 2007; used with permission and published in  The Productive Graduate Student Writer  (Allen, 2019). Used here with permission of the author and publisher.  

Use this template for making notes to help you plan for a productive meeting with your advisor, keep track of plans made, and clearly identify next steps that you’ll need to take to follow up on what you discussed.

Mentoring Resources

Graduate school programs focused on mentoring, building mentoring skills for an academic career.

Develop and enhance effective communication and mentorship skills that are broadly transferrable to all careers. Offered by Future Faculty and Academic Careers.

Graduate and Professional Students International (GPSI) Peer Mentoring Program

Share lessons learned as a new international student at Cornell as a peer mentor with new international student peer mentees. Offered by the GPSI in collaboration with the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement.

Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduates (GSMU)

Share knowledge with and provide support to undergraduate students interested in pursuing further education. Offered in collaboration with the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI).

Multicultural Academic Council (MAC) Peer Mentoring Program

Develop strategies to excel academically and personally at Cornell and beyond as a peer mentee or share strategies as a peer mentor. Offered by MAC in collaboration with the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement.

NextGen Professors Program

Learn from faculty in Power Mentoring Sessions and prepare for careers across institutional types. Offered by the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement and Future Faculty and Academic Careers.

Graduate School Programs with a Mentoring Component

Graduate school primer: navigating academia workshop series.

Program for new students on navigating graduate school with sessions on mentoring.

Perspectives: The Complete Graduate Student

Program for continuing students on common issues with some sessions on mentoring.

GPWomeN-PCCW Speaker Series

Series for all students featuring talks by Cornell alumnae with an occasional mentoring focus.

Future Professors Institute

One-day event featuring workshops and guest speakers with occasional mentoring focus.

Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP)

Peer-led courses blending theory and experiential learning to facilitate meaningful communication with occasional mentoring focus.

Building Allyship Series

Series for the campus community featuring panels designed for productive dialogue with occasional mentoring focus.

Institutional Memberships

Center for the integration of research, teaching, and learning (cirtl) network.

Access to resources on teaching and research mentoring.

Access to career development and mentoring resources.

New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS)

Access to resources, including webinars and articles on mentoring.

Mentoring Programs Across Campus

Give and receive advice as part of a peer mentoring program for all College of Engineering students. Offered by Diversity Programs in Engineering.

Mi Comunidad/My Community

Peer mentoring program run by graduate and professional students affiliated with the Latin@ Graduate Student Coalition (LGSC) and supported by the Latina/o Studies Program (LSP) and Latina/o/x Student Success Office (LSSO) at Cornell University.

Additional Resources:

  • Mentoring and Leadership Tips from Graduate School Programs
  • Cornell University Office of Faculty Development and Diversity – Resources for Mentors and Mentees
  • Careers Beyond Academia LibGuide
  • National Research Mentoring Network

Graduate School Articles on Mentoring:

  • Alumna Addresses Importance of Mentoring
  • Becoming Better Mentors Through Workshop Series
  • August Offers Mentoring Advice
  • ‘A Better Chance of Providing Access’: Future Professors Institute Fosters Inclusivity

Virtual Training and External Resources

  • How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students – University of Michigan, Rackham Graduate School
  • The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine
  • Mentor Training: Online Learning Modules – University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute
  • Mentor Curricula and Training: Entering Mentoring – Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research

For other resources, view the Advising Guide for Research Students.

If there is anything not included on this list that we should consider, please send the information and a link to [email protected] .

Social Sciences

This initial phase obviously revealed a stronger emphasis on familiarity among faculty. To further clarify this point, the faculty chosen were those that taught mainly the research methods courses during the first year. Relationships developed among the faculty as did preferences toward methodological choices for the dissertation. The area from these cohorts was the research background and publications of the faculty. Since this Instructional Management/Leadership Ph.D. program serves educators, administrators, health professionals, military, corporate trainers, etc., an administrator would select a faculty member with an administrative background, or a health professional would select a faculty member with a background in the health profession. The last category was a candidate talking to other prior cohort members relative to selecting an adviser. This represented a lesser number, but was also different from the other two categories since it relied primarily on the perception of other people in the selection process. There were a limited number of students in each cohort who chose their adviser after interacting at the evening buffet dinner with doctoral teaching faculty and students, as depicted in the category of Other . Mainly, the discussion at the dinner with doctoral faculty focused on the dissertation process and the work with the adviser. This individual meeting provided an opportunity for each cohort member to express his/her progress in the program. It was stated by the director of the program that in his experience, coursework is seldom the problem of students having trouble in the program. It is usually an issue with the capstone project, the dissertation, or the dissertation process. It is worth noting the connection the connection here to a finding by Knox, Burkard, Janecek, Pruitt, Fuller, and Hill (2011):

We cannot assert causality in either direction (effect of relationship on dissertation; effect of dissertation on relationship) but also cannot ignore the pattern: positive dissertation experiences were characterized by good relationships between adviser and student; problematic dissertations were often characterized by poor relationships. (p. 65)

By the conclusion of the second year of formal study, cohort members had two full semesters to work with their dissertation adviser. Hence, the researchers looked at the follow-up with these same cohorts but conducted, as previously noted, individual meetings with cohort members. The objective was to ascertain if the students were making progress in the dissertation process with their advisers. In this IML Ph.D. program, during the Fall of the 2 nd year, each semester correlates with the chapters of the dissertation which serves as a timeline. For instance, the Fall semester would correlate with Chapter 1 (Introduction) of the dissertation. Chapter 2 (Literature Review) would correlate with Spring, 2 nd year, then Summer of the 3 rd year would correlate with Chapter 3 (Methodology). Chapter 4 (Results) would be in the Fall of the 3 rd year while Chapter 5 (Findings and Conclusions) would be in the Spring of the 3 rd year in the program. It should be noted that this represents a completion schedule that is not representative of all candidates in the program.

In the discussions with Cohort 8A/8B, the group who graduated in May of 2015, there was a common thread among the group. Even though over 40% had earlier comments in year two and year three about their work and relationships with their advisers, any concerns or issues were resolved when these students completed the dissertation enabling them to graduate. Almost 100% of the students recognized their adviser in the Acknowledgement page of the dissertation. So, any ill will or criticism that may have existed earlier in the relationship, dissipated when the students graduated. All the graduates felt that this was a learning experience and that they understood more about themselves and the process in general from this experience. In short, the importance of completion and subsequent graduation would overshadow any negative feelings between the student and adviser. This is shown in Table 2 below:

Table 2: Cohort 8A/8B

In Cohort 9, the group had completed their second year with one year into the dissertation process. Students in this cohort were at various stages of their dissertation. Using the same meeting procedures as with Cohorts 8A and 8B, a researcher met with members of Cohort 9. The responses from this cohort were as follows in Table 3:

Table 3: Cohort 9

Once again, students voiced similar comments on the role of their advisers. Although less negative comments were made by this cohort, the nature of these comments would indicate much different sentiments from the beginning of year 2 until the end of the same year, at least by 30% of the cohort. As noted earlier, issues such as meeting time, expected quick responses on submitted papers, and perceived relationship problems between adviser and candidate were not considered by students in cohorts 8A/8B and cohort 9.

Finally, Cohort 10 selected advisers during the summer of 2015 for the IML Ph.D. program. As noted there are a total of 18 students in this cohort. The same process of providing biographical information on faculty followed by a meet and greet buffet dinner was standard introductory procedure. Given the time frame of less than two months, these students responded in a typical manner by choosing faculty they were familiar with from their coursework or faculty who most impressed them at the dinner buffet. After meeting with each candidate to give faculty adviser/committee assignments, this group, as others, was pleased to hear that they were able to secure the adviser of choice. They, like others, were delighted to begin the process of starting the dissertation.

Discussion, Findings, and Conclusions

From a review of the three cohorts, it was clear that all three groups similar to earlier cohorts in this program, based their choice of adviser primarily on familiarity and first meeting impressions from the buffet dinner event. Familiarity could be explained in terms of selecting a faculty member based on past coursework with that faculty member. In many cases, it was first year doctoral faculty or, in some cases, doctoral faculty who had previously had a student in an undergraduate or graduate course. In should be noted that a percentage of our students pursue the doctoral degree after completing the Instructional Management/Leadership master’s degree at our university. A few students based decisions on the background of the faculty member and that person’s research area while some talked with previous cohort members. Despite preliminary discussions with the cohort in term of the process and shared past commentary from other students in the program, these students were still not focused on what might be considered the most important attributes and qualities of an adviser in the dissertation relationship. In traditional programs, students many times have the opportunity to work more closely with faculty or, at least, have the opportunity to have completed coursework with the majority of doctoral faculty who would serve as advisers.

While the doctoral faculty have a wide range of backgrounds in leadership including military, government, education, and health care, there are limitations on the director that relate directly to the faculty contract. By our contract, each faculty member should be assigned at least one doctoral student and subsequently, would serve on two committees. There is flexibility relative to faculty having more than one student. In the past the mix of students noted earlier in the description of makeup and background of the program participants provided a level of variety for student choice. To illustrate, a public school principal would probably lean toward working with a faculty member who was a former superintendent of schools. We have others who been a part of the corporate, military, higher education, or health professions. However, in some cases, if there was imbalance or over representation in one area (professional background), this might also hamper the ability of students to choose an adviser in their specific field.

The major finding of this brief study was that there was a disconnect between the entry selection criteria, which was somewhat superficial, and the reality of what many of the students really needed in an adviser. Although personal characteristics may be initially important, the complexity of the dissertation adviser role cannot be minimized. During the writing of the dissertation, some students may need more prodding than others. Some may need more encouragement. This relationship should be shaped into a mentoring role as in cognitive apprenticeship where learning occurs through guided experience. Since all faculty advisers completed a dissertation, this can be both a discovery process and a teaching process as in the Actor-Network theory which adviser and advisee are networked to the degree that both adviser and advisee learn from one another. Advisers not only learn new material but also gain new ideas and insights into their own future research agenda. Other criteria described in the literature such as common research interests, time factors, dissertation experience, etc. all have relevance that certainly go beyond familiarity, preliminary first time meetings, and the experience of others. This study’s researchers suggest that the title of adviser-mentor be applied to faculty supporting the work of doctoral students in the program, so as to emphasize the role of faculty in the success of doctoral students.

Also, based on the responses from candidates and the related research, this study’s researchers propose the following specific recommendations as a way of addressing the adviser selection process. These recommendations are aligned with Ghefali’s (2003) expansion of Collins, Holum, and Brown’s (1991) Methods section of the cognitive apprenticeship model:

These recommendations are ways of defining a more substantive and research-supported approach of selecting an adviser. The alignment of this study’s recommendations to Ghefali’s (2003) expanded Methods section of the cognitive apprenticeship model provides adviser-mentors with a rationale for implementing those recommendations and perhaps a framework that can be generalized to similar programs.

The goal is to develop a strong, nurturing relationship between the adviser-mentor and the student. It goes beyond the simple - pick who you know or pick who impresses you approach that is too often chosen by students. It enables doctoral students to engage more frequently and in a more professional, academic relationship with a possible adviser-mentor. Better informing students early on in the process is obviously a preferred first step. These doctoral students will be able to make more informed decisions relative to choice. Faculty, on the other hand, will also have a better opportunity to connect with these doctoral students, especially those faculty who traditional taught courses in the second and third years of the program.

As Joyce (2016) creatively suggests to those wrestling with the improvement of doctoral programs and dissertation advising, “create a space where both parties can exist together as actors who jointly create knowledge for their profession” (p. 412). If we can follow that simple suggestion, along with the recommendations of this brief study, then the choice of door number one, two, or three may be much easier with greater residual benefit, especially for doctoral students participating in today’s fast-track doctoral programs.

Adams, Howard G. and Ram, Ashwin (1992). How to choose an adviser . April, 13, 2015. Retrieved online at

Barnes, B. & Austin, A. (2009). The role of doctoral advisers: A look at advising from the adviser’s perspective. Innovative Higher Education, 33 , 297-315.

Bieber, J.P. and Worley, L.K. (2006, 2010). Conceptualizing the academic life: Graduate students’ perspectives . The Journal of Higher Education , 77 (6) 1009-1035.

Brabazon, T. (2016). Winter is coming: Doctoral supervision in the neoliberal university. International Journal of Social Sciences and Educational Studies, 3 (1).

Callon, M. (1982) Action Network Theory . binaries/5222_Ritzer__Entries_beginning_with_A__[1].pdf

Collins, A., Holum, A., and Brown, J.S. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible . May 15, 2015. Article retrieved online.

Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. (Eds.) (2013). The landscape of qualitative research . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publishing.

Gardner, S. (2013). The challenges of first-generation doctoral students. New Directions for Higher Education , 162 , 43-54.  

Gearity, B. & Mertz, N. (2012). From “bitch” to “mentor”: A doctoral student’s story of self-change and mentoring. The Qualitative Report , 17 , 1-27.

Ghefaili, A. (2003). Cognitive apprenticeship, technology, and the contextualization of learning environments. Journal of Educational Computing, Design & Online Learning , 4 .

Halse, C. & Malfroy, J. (2010). Retheorizing doctoral supervision. Studies in Higher Education, 35 (1), 79-92.

Herzig, A. H.(2002). Where have all the students gone? Participation of doctoral students in authentic activity as a necessary condition for persistence toward the Ph.D. Educational Studies in Mathematics , 50: 177-212.

Hineman, J. and Semich, G. (2013). Cognitive apprenticeship and the support of students in non-traiditional cohort-based doctoral education programs. Proceedings for the Society for Information Technology in Education Conference , March 25-29, 2013, New Orleans, LA.

Holley, K. & Caldwell, M. (2012). The challenges of designing and implementing a doctoral student mentoring program. Innovative Higher Education, 37 , 243-253.

Holman, Zachary C. (2002). Selecting the right Ph.D. adviser: A guide . Article retrieved online August 5, 2015.

Jaeger, A., Sandman, L. & Kim, J. (2011). Advising graduate students doing community-engaged dissertation research: The adviser-advisee relationship. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 15 (4), 5-25.

Joyce, P. (2016). “The thing itself”: Using literary criticism techniques in teaching qualitative research through dissertation advising. Qualitative Social Work, 15 (3), 407-413.

Killeya, Mathew (2008). The Ph.D. journey: How to choose a good supervisor. New Scientist . Issue 2644, February 2008.

Kim, Y. (2007). Difficulties in quality doctoral academic advising. Journal of Research in International Education, 6 (2), 171-193.

Knox, S., Burkard, A., Janecek, J., Pruitt, N., Fuller, S. & Hill, C. (2011). Positive and problematic dissertation experiences: The faculty perspective. Counseling in Psychology Quarterly, 24 (1), 55-69.

Knox, S., Sokol, J., Schlosser, L., Inman, A., Nilsson, J. & Wang, Y. (2013). International advisees’ perspectives in the advising relationship in counseling psychology doctoral programs. International Perspectives in Psychology; Research, Practice, Consultation, 2 (1), 45-61

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Schlosser, L. & Kahn, J. (2007). Dyadic perspectives on adviser-advisee relationships in counseling psychology doctoral programs. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54(2), 211-217.

Stark, Miriam (2013). Choosing a dissertation or thesis/adviser mentor . Article retrieved online August 3, 2015.

Titus, S. & Ballou, J. (2011). Faculty members’ perceptions of advising versus mentoring: Does the name matter? Science and Engineering Ethics, 19, 1267-1281.

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Zhao, C., Golde, C., & McKormick, A. (2007) More than a signature How adviser choice and adviser behavior affect doctoral student satisfaction . Journal of Further and Higher Education , 31 (3), 263-281.

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Hineman, J. M., & Semich, G. (2017). "Choosing a Dissertation Adviser: Challenges and Strategies for Doctoral Students." Inquiries Journal , 9 (03). Retrieved from

Hineman, John M., and George Semich. "Choosing a Dissertation Adviser: Challenges and Strategies for Doctoral Students." Inquiries Journal 9.03 (2017). < >

Hineman, John M., and George Semich. 2017. Choosing a Dissertation Adviser: Challenges and Strategies for Doctoral Students. Inquiries Journal 9 (03),

HINEMAN, J. M., & SEMICH, G. 2017. Choosing a Dissertation Adviser: Challenges and Strategies for Doctoral Students. Inquiries Journal [Online], 9. Available:

John M. Hineman graduated in 2011 with a PhD in Education from Robert Morris University .

George Semich , Ed.D., is the Director of the IML PhD Program at Robert Morris University .

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Student and Advisor Responsibilities


adviser for thesis

A thesis is required for all programs leading to a Plan A master’s degree, and a dissertation is required for the doctor of philosophy degree. This manual was written by the Graduate School to help you and your committee members to prepare theses and dissertations. Its purpose is to define uniform format standards. The word “thesis” refers to both the thesis and the dissertation unless otherwise noted.

Advisor’s Responsibility

Your advisor serves as a mentor both while you are doing the thesis work and while the results of that work are prepared for the thesis. Although you have primary responsibility for the content, quality, and format of the thesis, the advisor and the Graduate Advisory Committee must be consulted frequently. They approve the final document before it is submitted to the Graduate School. Advisors are particularly asked to insure that the abstract summarizes clearly and concisely the major points of the thesis.

Student’s Responsibility

Your are responsible for making all arrangements for the preparation and submission of the thesis as well as any additional copies required by the department. you should also consider the following:

1. Consult a style manual approved by your department for correct format for quotations, footnotes, and bibliographical items. 2. Refer to the Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Formatting Guide for guidelines regarding correct format for thesis presentation (including illustrative materials). 3. Edit draft for correct sentence structure, grammar, paragraphing, punctuation, and spelling. 4. Prepare tables in the form in which they are to be printed. 5. Furnish numbering and legends for all tables and illustrative materials. 6. Proofread final copy and check to see that corrections are made accurately. 7. Present a copy to the Graduate Advisory Committee for their review. 8. Submit the final committee approved version electronically.

How to Choose a Thesis Advisor

Choosing a thesis advisor is the most important decision of your life--perhaps more important than choosing a spouse--because your choice affects everything you will do in your career. Indeed, choosing an advisor is similar to getting married: it is making a long-term commitment. Unlike marriage, however, a good advising relationship should end successfully within a few years. Also, unlike husband and wife, the advisor and student do not start as equals. At first, the relationship is essentially an apprenticeship. But although you start as an apprentice, ideally, you should end as a colleague.

As you consider which professor might serve as an advisor, you should first formulate your goals in undertaking thesis research. A thesis demonstrates your ability to make an original, significant contribution to the corpus of human knowledge. Through your thesis project, you develop skills useful in any career: critical reading of the scholarly or scientific literature, formulation and solution of a problem, clear written and oral communication of the results. Furthermore, you learn the practices of a particular scholarly community: theoretical frameworks and experimental paradigms, publication processes, and standards of professional behavior. You learn how to present a paper at a seminar or a conference, and how to give and receive criticism.

You should seek a thesis advisor who can help you meet your goals, and whose working style is compatible with yours. Here are some specific steps that you can take to find an advisor.

Take a course with a potential advisor, possibly individual study. In an individual study course, you can learn about the professor's working style, with a limited, one semester commitment between you and the professor. The individual study course might involve directed reading, with the goal of producing a survey article that could serve as the basis for a thesis. Or the individual study course might involve a small project in the professor's laboratory.

Ask for copies of grant proposals that describe research projects of possible interest to you. A grant proposal states research problems, explains the importance of the problems in the context of other research, and describes recent progress, including the professor's contributions. Usually, a proposal includes references to journal articles and books that you can look up. You do not need the budget part of the proposal, which contains confidential information about salaries.

Consider working with two advisors. If you are interested in an interdisciplinary project, then you could engage two official advisors, one in each discipline. Even if you choose only one official advisor, you may occasionally seek advice from a second professor, who can provide an alternate perspective. Some departments institutionalize this practice by requiring that the chair of a doctoral committee be different from the thesis advisor. Discuss these arrangements with both professors openly, to minimize possible misunderstandings about each professor's role.

Interview a potential advisor. Before the interview, read some articles written by the professor so that you can ask intelligent questions about the professor's research interests. Prepare several questions such as the following.

What are the professor's standards and expectations for the quality of the thesis, such as the overall length? Will the professor help formulate the research topic?

How quickly will the professor review drafts of manuscripts? Will the professor help you improve writing and speaking skills? Will the professor encourage publication of your work?

Will the professor provide equipment and materials? Will the professor obtain financial support such as funds to travel to conferences or research assistantships? Will the professor help you find appropriate employment? Where have former students gone?

What will your responsibilities be? Will you write proposals or make presentations to research sponsors?

How frequently will you meet with the professor? The most common problem in the humanities and social sciences is insufficiently frequent contact with the advisor. I meet with each of my own thesis students individually for one hour each week, in addition to a weekly group meeting.

What are the obligations to the project funding source? How frequently are reports required? Are deliverables promised? Could publications be delayed by a patent filing? Are there potential conflicts of interest?

How will decisions on co-authorship of papers be made? In engineering and natural sciences, co-authorship is common, but practices vary by discipline. Sometimes, the advisor's name always goes last. Sometimes, the order of names is alphabetical. Sometimes, the first author is the person whose contribution was greatest.

Interview former students. Students who have graduated are more likely to answer your questions candidly than current students. Ask a potential advisor for names and e-mail addresses of former students, whom you can contact.

Was a former student's project unnecessarily prolonged? Did anyone not finish? Why not? Many projects suffer unanticipated delays. Occasionally, for various reasons--not always the advisor's fault--students do not finish theses and dissertations.

How were conflicts resolved? When you work closely with someone else, disagreements are inevitable. The key question is whether conflicts were handled respectfully, with satisfactory resolutions.

If you have a major conflict with your advisor, first attempt to find solutions within you department, consulting another trusted professor, other members of your committee, or the department head. Should you be unable to find a solution by working with people in your department, be assured that we in the Graduate College are available to help mediate conflicts. Fortunately, major conflicts are rare. It is most likely that you will enjoy a successful, intellectually satisfying thesis project.

Finding an Advisor

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One of the most common questions the Undergraduate Program Office receives concerns how to find a suitable thesis adviser.

Government theses can be supervised by either faculty members or advanced graduate students in the Department. Often, undergraduates start their adviser search by talking with teachers whose classes they enjoyed. Was there a professor or TF who really inspired you, or with whom you felt you had established a good relationship? If so, you should feel free to reach out to them and ask if they’d be willing to sit down and discuss potential thesis projects.

In addition, the Government Department has created a searchable database of potential thesis advisers. To use this tool, please follow these instructions:

  • Go to the “ People ” page on this website.
  • Under “Filter by Thesis Adviser,” choose “Potential Senior Thesis Adviser.” You’ll now see a list of all thesis advisers in the department.
  • You can search within this list by subject matter, geographic region of study, methodological approach, and affiliation by clicking on the appropriate keywords.
  • If you want to view a particular adviser’s profile, open it in a new window or tab.
  • Don’t use the “back” key on your browser or click on the “Quick Search” option, or you will need to start the search from scratch.

We have also compiled the following searchable spreadsheet of graduate students who have expressed interest in advising theses during the 2024-2025 academic year:

Your concentration adviser is a great resource for guidance about finding a thesis adviser and about the thesis-writing process generally. Feel free to reach out to them at any time to set up a meeting. 

Initial Meetings with Potential Thesis Advisers

It is often helpful to identify several possible thesis advisers and meet with them to discuss your ideas. Keep in mind that just as important as finding someone who is knowledgeable about your topic is finding an adviser with whom you’ll work well. Feel free to ask potential advisers about their availability in the upcoming year, as well as their expectations from advisees.

In your initial meetings, you don’t have to be worried about your topic not yet being fully developed—in fact, it is in the earliest stages of thinking about a research question that such mentoring conversations can often be most helpful. Think of this initial meeting or series of meetings as a fact-finding mission. You’re just talking through a potential topic, and you don’t have to ask the first person you speak with to be your adviser (though it’s always a good idea to ask if they can recommend other people for you to speak with as well).

By the way, don’t worry about writing to either faculty or graduate students “out of the blue”; they are aware juniors will be searching for advisers and won’t be surprised at all to hear from you. In fact, you’ll likely find them to be very happy to chat with you, even if they ultimately don’t end up advising your thesis.

Timeline for Finding an Adviser

You should start trying to identify potential advisers early; the ideal time to begin looking is late in the fall semester or very early in the spring semester of your junior year. Keep in mind that some deadlines for summer research grants are due as early as mid-February of your junior year, and having an adviser on board by this point can simplify the process of applying for funding. 

If you haven’t identified an appropriate thesis adviser by the end of your junior spring, please contact Dr. George Soroka , Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, to discuss your situation.

Deciding on an Adviser

As noted above, Government theses can be supervised by either faculty members or advanced graduate students in the Department. Depending on the project, it may even be possible to be advised by someone outside the Department, but you’ll need to talk this through with the DUS or ADUS and receive permission. Please note that joint concentrators typically have an adviser from each of their departments.

One question often asked is whether it’s better to have a faculty member or TF advising you. There is no clear answer; it truly depends on your topic and the person advising you. The one exception is if you know you want to go on for a PhD in the social sciences; in this case, having an established faculty member advise you (and hopefully write a strong letter of recommendation afterwards!) is preferable. Note, however, that many popular professors are forced to turn down advising requests each year, simply because too many students ask them. So again, it is in your interest to get the advising situation sorted as soon as possible.

Once you’ve found an appropriate thesis adviser, you should submit a signed thesis contract to the Government Undergraduate Office. (Note that there are different forms for TF and faculty advisers.) 

The Importance of a Good Working Relationship with your Adviser

Without a doubt, establishing a good working relationship with your thesis adviser is one of the most critical factors for thesis success. The key to this is regular, forthright, and clear communication—by both parties. If you read through comments from past Hoopes Prize winners, they invariably talk about how important their advisers were in the thesis writing process. In contrast, poor thesis writing experiences are often linked to poor advising relationships. The best advice we can give you to speak to would-be advisers openly about your expectations and scholarly habits. Do you work best when you can sit with someone and throw ideas at the wall? Or do you need more directed guidance and deadlines to keep you on track? How often do you expect to meet with your adviser (we recommend meeting at least once every two weeks, and preferably even more frequently as the submission deadline approaches)? How available will she or he be in the summer, if you have questions while away from campus? All of these are things to discuss with your prospective adviser before you sign the advising contract.

To reiterate: once you find an adviser, you must have regular meetings, although the frequency of these meetings will vary over the course of the year and from student to student. It is almost always a good idea to schedule your next meeting before you leave any meeting. You should also be clear with your adviser from the very beginning and over the year about your needs and expectations. The thesis is your project and you must drive it. Y our adviser is an ally and a resource, but this is ultimately your project.

Things to look for in a thesis adviser

Peter Kennelly

On the scale of human interactions, the relationship between a graduate student and his or her thesis adviser ( a.k.a. major professor) lies somewhere between that of roommates locked into a long-term lease and a marriage. Finding a good match among the faculty typically is the single most important determinant of the quality of a graduate-school experience. It is therefore critical that entering students get to work early and diligently to learn all they can not only about potential mentors and their research programs but about themselves. Ask the following questions:

  •  Is this potential adviser someone you respect, someone you would like to model yourself after?  
  •  Where are the potential adviser’s former students? Do they tend to transition to the types of postgraduate and professional opportunities that appeal to you?  
  • What kinds of skills are you likely to develop in this lab?  
  •  Do students from this lab get their work published in quality journals?  
  • What is the lab group like? Are they hard-working and enthusiastic? Do they get along with one another?  
  •  What do you need from a mentor? What are your strengths and weaknesses?  
  •  Are you likely to respond well to this person’s particular training and managerial style?  

Notice that the list does not ask questions about the potential adviser’s area of research. The biggest mistake a student can make in selecting a major professor is ignoring the signs of a potentially poor match because he or she is enamored of the faculty member’s area of research. A research project is a tool, a vehicle for transforming curious and committed students into capable, independent research scientists whose skills are translatable and evolving. As long as a student finds a project interesting and challenging, labels matter little in the long run. A student–mentor relationship based on mutual respect, good communication and shared expectations offers a richness and depth that will animate your entire career.

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Peter Kennelly is a professor of biochemistry at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

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Honors Thesis Faculty Mentor

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You will work closely with a faculty mentor of your choice when completing your Honors Thesis.

Your faculty mentor will help you to develop a research plan, outline goals, and delineate which thesis/capstone components should be written during each of the two semesters (with the understanding that the effort put forth and the quality of work completed during each semester can receive a separate grade). It is also the responsibility of the advisor to set a deadline for a draft of the thesis so that you will have enough time to make any necessary changes to the final document. Your faculty advisor may also guide you in the presentation of the final thesis during a departmental function or showcase.

You will select your thesis mentor from the department in which you are intending to graduate with honors. A thesis mentor should be a faculty member in that department, and cannot be a staff member, adjunct faculty member, or visiting professor. You may select a thesis mentor who is not a member of the department from which you are intending to graduate with honors only with that department's approval.

The Honors Faculty Advisor for your department will be responsible for reviewing and making a decision about your request. The W. A. Franke Honors College will reach out to that individual, after receiving your prospectus form, in order to obtain feedback about your request. You are also welcome to reach out to your department's Honors Faculty Advisor proactively, in order to make sure they support your request before you submit your prospectus.

As you are completing courses in your freshman through junior years, embrace opportunities to get to know your professors. You will later be able to contact these professors when you are narrowing down your options for a thesis mentor. Most departments have an official Honors Faculty Advisor who can help connect you with a potential thesis mentor if you are unsure how to get started.

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E-Mail To Dissertation Supervisor – How To Approach It

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Writing an e-mail to your dissertation supervisor can feel daunting. The process is often marked with anxiety, especially when one is uncertain about the nuances of professional communication or the specific expectations of their supervisor. Efficient communication with your academic advisor is a vital factor in your process towards completing a dissertation . This guide provides practical tips on how to draft an e-mail to your dissertation supervisor.


  • 1 E-mail to Dissertation Supervisor – In a Nutshell
  • 2 Definition: E-mail to dissertation supervisor
  • 3 E-mail to dissertation supervisor: Style and tone
  • 4 E-mail to dissertation supervisor: Tips
  • 5 E-mail to dissertation supervisor: No reply

E-mail to Dissertation Supervisor – In a Nutshell

  • The first e-mail to dissertation supervisor should have a clear subject title, a formal salutation, and error-free language.
  • Keep your e-mail to dissertation supervisor short, relevant and with a clear call to action.
  • If you do not receive a response to your e-mail in, say, a week, you can send a polite follow-up email.

Definition: E-mail to dissertation supervisor

There are several instances where you would need to send an e-mail to dissertation supervisor, as highlighted in the list below:

  • Arranging an appointment for an initial appointment of a follow-up meeting.
  • Asking questions about a problem you encounter and getting clarification.
  • Confirming agreements for matters you discussed.

It is a good idea to make a summary of what you and your supervisor agree on regarding issues such as deadlines and steps forward. Request your supervisor to verify your notes to ensure you agree and are completely clear on the way forward.


E-mail to dissertation supervisor: Style and tone

Write your e-mail to dissertation supervisor formally and use your school email address to come across as professional (in place of your account). The guide below gives tips on writing the e-mail to dissertation supervisor, the style to use and what to avoid.

Addressing your supervisor

It is best to address your supervisor formally in your first email. Since you do not know how they would prefer to be addressed, it is better to err on the side of caution. An initial informal e-mail to dissertation supervisor may send the wrong message and cast doubt your attitude and professionalism.

If your supervisor responds to your email with their first name in the closing, e.g., (‘Sincerely Gabriel’), it may be okay to address them by their first name in the following email. However, we recommend waiting until you have exchanged a few more emails where they have closed informally to be extra safe.

The table below gives examples of closings and salutations you can use in your e-mail to dissertation supervisor on formal and informal occasions.

Email signature

Using an email signature is at your discretion, although it is not necessary. However, you can model it as below if you do choose to use it or if your program requires it:

  • First name and surname
  • Study program
  • Institution of study
  • Telephone number
  • Email address

The e-mail to dissertation supervisor must be well-written with good grammar and correct English (or any appropriate language). We strongly recommend that you proofread your e-mail to dissertation supervisor carefully for any mistakes before sending it or ask another person to read it to get a fresh set of eyes on it.

A concise e-mail to dissertation supervisor will display your professionalism and seriousness about your project.

E-mail to dissertation supervisor: Tips

Below are some valuable tips for writing an e-mail to dissertation supervisor.

Concise subject line :

The purpose of a subject line is to summarize the email and get the reader interested. Use a short, clear summary to reinforce your call to action.

Connections :

Make sure you mention any connection you may have with the supervisor. Did you hear the professor speak at an event, or were you referred to them by a former student or their colleague?

Keep it relevant :

Dissertation supervisors are usually busy, so stick to what is pertinent to the dissertation. For instance, do not add personal anecdotes to your e-mail to dissertation supervisor unless they are essential to the application.

Do not ask long, complex questions in the e-mail to dissertation supervisor :

Save any complicated questions for when you can speak to your supervisor more personally. This will allow you to get detailed answers and follow up where you are dissatisfied with a response. You will also save your supervisor the time and effort needed to write replies to your questions.

Have a clear CTA (Call to Action):

Your e-mail to dissertation supervisor should be very clear and leave no doubt about what you want from them. Ask your questions as clearly as possible. You are more likely to get a faster response if your supervisor is clear on what you want.

Introduce yourself :

After requesting to work with them, introduce yourself briefly. Include your institution of study, research interests and why you are interested in working with them. We also recommend attaching your resume to the email.

Respond as quickly as you can:

Confirm any appointments your supervisor makes, provide any information they request, answer their questions and request clarification on what you don’t understand. Taking the initiative to contact your supervisor shows that you are serious and driven. Contact your supervisor to arrange an appointment instead of waiting for them to set it.

E-mail to dissertation supervisor: No reply

Supervisors will usually always respond to your emails; however, the reply rate may vary. Do not take it personally if they do not respond to your email immediately. Researchers also teach research and travel, and may even supervise other students.

If you don’t receive a reply in about a week, you can follow up politely. However, be careful not to look too impatient by not allowing your supervisor sufficient time to reply.

If your supervisor still does not respond after your follow-up e-mail, you can contact your program or the department secretary, who can contact you with your supervisor.


How should you approach a dissertation supervisor?

Your first e-mail to dissertation supervisor should clearly state who you are and what you would like from them. It is beneficial also to mention how you heard of them, whether by attending their lectures, by recommendation, or another way.

When can I address my dissertation supervisor informally?

In your first e-mail to dissertation supervisor, address them formally by their title to avoid giving the impression of unprofessionalism. If your supervisor responds with an informal closing severally, you may assume that it is alright to address them as so.

Can I contact other potential supervisors?

Yes, you can. However, when sending an e-mail to dissertation supervisor, you should make it clear from the beginning that you are also contacting other potential supervisors.

This transparency will help you avoid any misunderstandings in the future.

What should I do if I don't get a reply to my e-mail to dissertation supervisor?

The response speed will vary among supervisors, as most are often busy with other commitments. Wait for about a week, then send a polite follow-up e-mail to dissertation supervisor.

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  • Dissertation Advisory Committee
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Dissertation Advisory Committee; Thesis Acceptance Certificate

The Dissertation Advisory Committee formally approves the dissertation by signing the Thesis Acceptance Certificate . In PhD programs that are not lab-based, this committee also guides the student in writing the dissertation. The committee should work cohesively in supporting the student to produce their best work. The signatures of these faculty members on the Thesis Acceptance Certificate indicate formal acceptance of the student’s scholarly contribution to the field.  

In some fields, especially in the sciences, the Dissertation Advisory Committee described below is known locally as the “Dissertation Defense Committee.” In these programs, a separate additional committee (also called the Dissertation Advisory Committee) that includes the student’s primary advisor, will guide the student’s progress until submission for formal review by the DAC/defense committee. The members of the DAC/defense committee give formal approval to the finished work, but the student’s work will be understood to have occurred under the guidance of the primary advisor. The changes to the DAC/defense committee as described below do not in any way affect the essential structure of dissertation advising that already exists in lab-based PhD programs. 

The following policy applies to every Harvard Griffin GSAS Dissertation Advisory Committee formed on or after July 1, 2024. Any Dissertation Advisory Committee approved before July 1, 2024 is subject to the rules outlined below, see “Grandfathering.”  

Effective July 1, 2024:  

  •  The graduate thesis for the PhD shall be accepted, and the Thesis Acceptance Certificate signed, by at least three advisors, who will form the Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC). At least two members of the committee shall be on-ladder faculty members. 
  • In FAS-based programs, the Director of Graduate Studies or Department Chair or Area Chair shall sign off on the proposed committee.  
  • For programs based outside the FAS, the Program Head shall sign off. 
  • A program may petition the Dean of Harvard Griffin GSAS to consider a variation to the above requirement. 
  • A Professor in Residence or Professor of the Practice may serve as a non-chairing member of the DAC, as long as the committee composition is consistent with “1.”  
  •  Senior Lecturers and other non-ladder faculty may serve on the DAC as the third member when appropriate, as approved by the Director of Graduate Studies, Department Chair, Area Chair, or Program Head, as long as the committee composition is consistent with “1.” 
  • Tenured emeriti faculty members (including research professors) may serve on the DAC. They may co-chair the DAC with a current on-ladder faculty member from the student’s department or program but may not serve as the sole chair. 
  • Non-Harvard faculty of equivalent appointment rank to on-ladder faculty at Harvard may serve as one of the non-chairing members of the DAC.  
  • A committee with co-chairs shall require a third member, consistent with ”1.” 
  • Additional members may be appointed to the DAC, as long as the core three-member committee is consistent with ”1.” 
  • They may continue to serve as a committee member if they have moved to another institution with an appointment rank equivalent to on-ladder at Harvard.  
  • Or, if they are no longer serving on the DAC (by choice of the student, the student’s program, and/or the departing faculty member), the advisor must be replaced in accordance with ”1.” 
  • If the departing faculty member will remain as chair on the DAC, a co-chair must be designated in accordance with “1.” The co-chair may, in this instance, be the Director of Graduate Studies in the student’s program if a faculty member with field expertise is not available to serve in this capacity. 

Please note:

  • “On ladder” refers to faculty members with tenure or who are tenure-track. The phrase “on ladder” is generally not used at HMS, but all HMS and HCSPH assistant, associate, and full professors are considered to be “on ladder” according to HMS Faculty Affairs, and, for the purposes of this legislation, may serve on the DAC/defense committee. 
  • With regard to paragraph 3.b.ii, and in keeping with the spirit of this legislation, ordinarily a scholar appointed as a College Fellow would not be ready to serve as one of the three core members of the committee. 
  • With regard to paragraph 3.b.iv, individuals who do not fit this category (e.g., a scholar holding a non-ladder faculty position at another institution) may sit on the committee as a fourth member, in accordance with paragraph 3.d.  
  • On the rare occasion that a situation requires special consideration, programs are advised to consult with the Dean of Harvard Griffin GSAS.  


Grandfathering, and rules applying to all dissertation advisory committees, regardless of status prior to July 1, 2024:  

For dissertation advisory committees approved before July 1, 2024 under the former policy ( Two signatories must be members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS); FAS emeriti (including research professors) and faculty members from other Schools at Harvard who hold appointments on Harvard Griffin GSAS degree committees are authorized to sign DACs as FAS members. Harvard Griffin GSAS strongly recommends that the chair of the dissertation committee be a member of the FAS. If approved by the department, it is possible to have co-chairs of the dissertation committee as long as one is a member of FAS) , the following rules apply:   

Dissertation Advisory Committees approved prior to July 1, 2024 will be grandfathered, except in two situations:  

  • An existing DAC chaired by an individual whose faculty appointment does not meet the requirements of the new rules will need to be adjusted. A co-chair should be designated, with the option of appointing the DGS to serve as co-chair, as allowed in paragraph 3.e.iii;  
  • An existing DAC with fewer than three members should be updated, and the new member(s) should be consistent with the new policy.   

Thesis Acceptance Certificate

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How to Choose the Right Financial Advisor — A Guide for Entrepreneurs Use this guide to select a financial advisor who not only understands your unique financial needs but also has the expertise, experience and connections to support your business and personal goals effectively.

By Shirl Penney • Apr 26, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Business owners need advisors who offer more than just trading skills; they should also assist in goal planning, risk management and legacy establishment.
  • Advisors who grasp the unique demands of entrepreneurship are often entrepreneurs themselves.
  • When selecting a financial advisor, entrepreneurs should prioritize finding someone with relevant experience guiding clients through various stages of business growth, managing unpredictable cash flow, crafting investment strategies and navigating complex tax scenarios.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Because you're a business owner, your financial advisor should know more than how to trade securities. You need an advisor who can help you plan and work toward your financial goals , manage the risks you encounter along the way and build a legacy for the next generation. You need someone who understands the cycles and pressures of entrepreneurship and has a track record to prove it.

Advisors who understand that their entrepreneur clients require more than standard financial services are often entrepreneurs themselves. Entrepreneurial advisors tend to be based in independent "registered investment advisors," or RIAs, overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In this article, I'll share a few specific things entrepreneurs should look for when choosing a financial advisor .

Related: You Have to 'Date' Your Financial Advisor to Find the Right One — Here Are 3 Tips to Doing Just That.

Look for passion tempered by training and experience

Because they've had experience as RIA owners, these advisors know the stages of business development from startup and early growth through achieving scale and, in some cases, selling the enterprise. Motivated by a fascination with personal finance in the context of business ownership, these advisors either focus on entrepreneurs exclusively or maintain a healthy roster of business-owning clients as a passion project within a broader practice.

Enthusiasm is no substitute for expertise, however. An advisor who can make sense of your business and personal finances has experience managing unpredictable cash flow , crafting investment strategies that complement your business and navigating complex tax scenarios.

An advisor's experience can't be overstressed. Has a particular advisor successfully guided business owners through various stages of growth and increasing complexity? Does this advisor have smart things to say about your industry? If "yes," then it's likely he has navigated challenges similar to those you encounter and can offer advice that's practical and feasible.

Remember, emotion clouds judgment. Knowing your business is everything to you, an entrepreneurial advisor will work to keep you calm and focused — especially when the stakes are high.

Find an advisor who gets business and has connections

Some advisors who specialize in business-owning clients enjoy working with entrepreneurs from a variety of business types, while others prefer going deep into specific niches. The generalist can draw on varied scenarios when formulating solutions for your business, while the specialist enjoys the advantages of concentration — namely expertise and credibility — in your line of business.

The choice will depend on your field and your circumstances. Are you looking for an advisor versed in early-stage fundraising for technology startups, exit-planning options for dentists, or the needs of a franchise restaurant owner in fast-growth mode? The answer should color your selection.

An advisor suited to an entrepreneur like you will have strong connections in finance and finance-adjacent spheres outside wealth management. After all, advisors who can call on investment bankers , tax professionals, insurance consultants and legal experts can put you on solid ground when it comes to spotting industry trends, devising valuation strategies, managing risk and keeping everything on the up-and-up when it comes to tax and estate planning. An advisor with working relationships in these spheres can provide full-spectrum financial insights on your enterprise and perhaps open doors to broader business opportunities.

Related: Is Your Financial Advisor Right For You? Here's A Simple Test To See If It's Time To Move On.

Use these tips to find an advisor you can trust

A major factor in evaluating financial advisors is their potential as a long-term partner. Entrepreneurs should vet potential advisors by asking for references from other clients in similar business phases or industries. These insights can tell you a lot about the advisor's capabilities, work style and overall responsiveness.

Taking the time to check an advisor's professional certifications, compliance history and status as a fiduciary (viewable online at BrokerCheck ) are also essential steps for choosing a wealth manager. Fiduciaries, such as RIA-based advisors, are constrained to put their clients' interests first. Stockbrokers, meanwhile, adhere to a lower standard stipulating only that their advice be broadly "suitable." If you're still unsure whether your advisor is a fiduciary, ask for a signed pledge that will act for you in a fiduciary capacity.

An advisor's transparency about fee calculation and openness about the advisor's compensation sources are significant trust builders and must-haves for avoiding conflicts of interest. It's also critical that the relationship be collaborative. From the start, you want an advisor who proposes solutions that mesh with your personal and business goals. This shows the advisor has already taken time to understand your values and risk appetite and that they aim to provide meaningful advice.

Put "works well with me" at the top of your list

To assess this alignment, start by sharing your vision for and expectations of the relationship. Probe the advisor's investment philosophy and her approach to financial planning and portfolio construction in the context of business ownership. Ask how she tailors her advice to meet the specific needs of entrepreneurs, with case studies and anecdotes to illustrate her concepts. Meeting the team that supports the advisor can also provide insights into the depth and breadth of expertise the advisor's firm offers.

As mentioned, having experiences in common as business owners can support long-term collaboration between you and your advisor. Advisors who run their own businesses possess insight into the challenges and opportunities you face as an entrepreneur, resulting in appropriate advice.

Related: The Truth About Your Financial Advisor

Comprehensive advice for business owners should go beyond business and investment considerations. For most of us, after all, money is just a tool to help us accomplish our personal, family and philanthropic goals. A skilled advisor integrates these personal aspects of financial management with the business to ensure actions taken bolster other important facets of the entrepreneur's life.

Finding the right financial advisor is a crucial step for entrepreneurs eager to improve their financial health and make the most of their opportunities. A suitable advisor blends industry knowledge, experience, networking capabilities and a deep understanding of entrepreneurship. By choosing an advisor who can act as a partner, entrepreneurs can achieve financial strategies that support equally their business and personal goals.

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President and CEO of Dynasty Financial Partners

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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  1. Choosing a Thesis Advisor: A Complete Guide

    Choosing a thesis advisor or dissertation advisor (often referred to as a dissertation chair) will have a significant impact on your entire dissertation writing experience, and for many years to come. For many doctoral students, their thesis advisor is their single greatest influence in graduate school. Selecting a thesis advisor is a big ...

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    2024; or students doing thesis in Fall 2024 would need to have a thesis advisors by the end of Fall 2023. By default, MArch I students are scheduled to do their theses in the Fall, unless their thesis semester is deferred via "spli ng" or from taking a leave of absence. The default thesis semester for MArch II students, is in the Spring.

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