Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Your Advisor Must Be on Your Side

I have heard many stories by PhD students who found the need to change their faculty advisor. Incompatibilities in personality and research ideas do occur. I have actually met more students who have experienced the need to change advisors than who haven't.

Here are some red flags for when it is time to change your advisor:

1. Your advisor is reluctant to write you letters of recommendation. I can get a professor in my classes to write me letters of recommendation without a second of hesitation but if my own advisor declines, saying she doesn't know me well enough, why are we here? If I can't rely on her now for recommendations, how will I rely on her when I am seeking to graduate and am looking for faculty positions?

2. Your advisor criticizes but does not provide guidance. If your advisor is quick to tell you when she thinks your work is lacking, but does not provide guidance on how to improve, then what are we here for?

3. Your advisor does not understand the context of the work you are interested in doing. When I was an anthropology student, I had a professor who could not understand why I wanted to research race. He told me that I was reinventing racism by choosing to discuss race. Why can't you research something more objective, and more neutral? this professor will suggest to you. As a multicultural and multiethnic student and researcher, stay away from folks like this, especially if your work involves issues of ethnic diversity. Most likely, this professor will not respect, will not understand, and will devalue your research.

4. Your advisor has little to no experience in your research and professional goals.  It is important to me that my advisor be experienced and able to share their experiences with market trends and challenges. Grant writing, getting into postdocs or into research programs, and getting through to the tenure track are all important experiences they should be able to share with you.

Your advisor does not have to be your best friend. Your advisor does not have to tell you that you are the most amazing student who ever landed on campus. But your advisor must be someone you can trust academically and professionally. They should really be one of your key recommendations for research programs and positions. They must be willing to assist you to develop into a strong researcher. They need to be able to support and prepare you for PhD candidacy and through the dissertation process.