How to know if you’re working with a great adviser

Getting into graduate school is a huge accomplishment in itself. Once you’re in, you’re bound to have anxieties about how you will stack up against your peers and make your way through a new landscape of classes, assignments, relationships, and original research. One critical piece of the puzzle is connecting with your graduate adviser. But, it can sometimes be difficult to know what’s appropriate to expect from someone you just met (or in some cases, haven’t met yet).

To help you get a sense of what you should be looking for, or to know if you’ve got a great one, here’s our list of qualities that make a great adviser.

  1. They guide your conceptual development.
    When you arrive on campus, you might have ideas about what you want to learn and study or how you want to make a difference. But, all of those ideas have come BEFORE you’ve taken a class. Your goals might stay the same, but how you get there and what knowledge you bring with you will certainly evolve over the course of your program. A great adviser will help you conceptualize your passions and skills, and translate them in order to do your best work.
  2. They challenge your assumptions.
    We enter our programs with tons of anecdotal experiences and intuitions about how the world works. Great advisers will ask the right questions to ensure you’re exploring your ideas from all angles, and that you’re not overly relying on stagnant opinions or beliefs. They teach you to be thorough, to check your own biases, and to seek innovative processes and methods for seeking answers to your questions. They also model for you the critical thinking skills and investigative approaches they want to see you develop.
  3. They keep you on task.
    Grad school can be overwhelming; and, when you try to focus on everything, you’re not truly focused on anything. An adviser can help you prioritize your workload and craft a reasonable approach to daunting challenges like designing your first research study or completing sections of your dissertation. A great adviser will help you choose how to invest your time and energy in work that will be meaningful to your career development and will help you complete your program.
  4. They look out for opportunities for you.
    Throughout your graduate studies, there will be people you should meet and know, paths you might want to pursue, funding opportunities you should apply for, conferences you might want to present at, and publications you could offer meaningful contributions to. A great adviser will help you grow your network and match you with opportunities that will earn you the experiences you need to meet your intellectual and professional goals.
  5. They celebrate your unique interests.
    You were accepted into your academic program because your program believes you have the maturity and the aptitude to contribute to the intellectual and social dynamics of an academic department. A great adviser will help to draw out those unique qualities and interests in you to the betterment of the whole community. And, that means helping you uncover your own passions and questions, and recommending strategies to develop your own voice. Great advisers will read up on your topic and understand the nuanced differences between your approach and others’ in your field of interest.
  6. They make themselves available.
    Are you struggling to get started on a major research project? Do you need advice on what courses to take next? Are you experiencing challenges in your personal life that are affecting your studies? A great adviser will make time to meet with you and will help you to find timely and effective solutions to the inevitable questions and issues that arise during the course of an academic program. Sometimes this means meeting via skype or touching base through email. But, a great adviser will always find a way to connect with you, support you, and brainstorm with you in the critical moments when you need advising most.