What kind of Ph.D. Advisor do you want?

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I have been thinking about this question more than ever lately, “What kind of Advisor do I want? What qualities am I looking for when it comes to choosing my PhD Advisor?” I decided to jot down my thoughts on this, so that I can refer to them when needed, and/ or share them with others.

In a few words my Advisor must be a mentor. I don’t need to say a good one, do I? Let me repeat that, my Advisor must be a good mentor who stands by me, and prepares me to be a successful researcher and educator.

Imagine that you are preparing for your oral defense, thesis defense, conference, or some other big presentation. As you read the two situations I present below, I encourage you to note how you feel while reading this. Whatever emotions, fears, and concerns emerge as you imagine yourself in these situations might be a good guide to knowing who you want around you during your Ph.D.

Situation 1: During your time under the care of your Advisor, s/he has been writing papers with you, and working on research projects together. These activities allow you to get to know each other, learn how each person works, their strong points, and areas in which they are not so strong. You are professional with each other – no need to be involved in each other’s personal lives. In fact, I would recommend that you ALWAYS keep a professional line between you and your professor, no matter how warm and fantastic they may be. I will tell you why in another post. Your advisor reads your dissertation and gives you good feedback on it. S/he works with you on preparing you for the presentation. You present for him/her and s/he gives you critical feedback to prepare you. Before your presentation on that important day, s/he meets or emails you letting you know you got this! Building your confidence and letting you know – without saying it – that s/he has your back. During the presentation s/he is engaged, paying attention to everything you say, and giving you that nod of affirmation that things are going well. If you mess up, his/her look lets you know that it’s okay. After your presentation s/he manages questions by the audience. Should someone’s question or critique of your work go outside the boundaries of the work or becomes unprofessional, s/he gives you the opportunity to defend yourself. You will have to continuously have to defend your work throughout your career, so getting good on this is a good skill to have. You have to know the boundaries of your work. Should someone seem to have ulterior motives in their questions or critique of you or your work, you defend your work. Should the critique be going on for more than desired, preventing others from participating, your Advisor shuts this person down and proceeds with others in the audience.

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Situation 2: You have sent your draft of your presentation or document about 3-4 weeks ago and as yet s/he have not gotten back to you. After emailing him/her several times, s/he finally reply apologizing for not getting back to you, giving you  little to no feedback, OR, giving you so many comments that you just don’t have the time to address them. The comments are not very constructive, and seems to even address matters that your work is not meant to address. The forgetful Advisor – be wary of this Advisor – I will write on this in another post. On the day of your presentation s/he arrives late appearing unconcerned, or disheveled, totally adding to your anxiety. During your presentation, s/he makes faces that confuse you. You are not sure if s/he are confused, if you are unclear, or if their minds are on something other than your work. Or, the Advisor is on his/ her phone for most of your presentation. After your presentation, your Advisor opens up the floor for questions. While you are being asked questions, she is on his computer, or outside the room chatting. When someone is critiquing your work beyond the point of constructive or within the boundaries of your work, s/he sits mum. S/he says and does nothing to manage this person and the presentation, both of which have now strayed, in fact, they are nodding in agreement with asinine questions and comments.

 

Which Advisor do you want? Most persons will pick the first Advisor, I am almost certain, or they should. Before you get to this stage there are warning signs that we all need to be aware of, because I am almost certain NO ONE goes in search of the second type of Advisor. Your PhD is not supposed to be years of pain. It will be tough, but it is not supposed to be harmful to your health, psyche, or emotions. As you go along the process, keep your wits sharp about who you choose to be your Advisor. They can make you, and they can break you!

 

While you think of this, think too about the kind of Advisor you want to be. Do not be a dick Advisor! It would be a shame to be mentored by a great Advisor and end up being an asshole. I know persons who were mentored by great people and ended up being dicks, so having a good Advisor doesn’t mean you will be a good one either. Make a conscious effort to groom yourself and train yourself to be an Advisor worthy of praise and respect from your students and your colleagues.

This shit is already hard, don’t make it harder than it should be.

The One where you realized you had no F.R.I.E.N.D.S

Yes. This happens. As I write this post I am still chewing on how to write it. Hmm..

I am social person, but I am also shy. I love my friends, my family, seeing, and doing new things. I am an introvert at times and just want to be with myself, or with my closest people. I don’t talk a lot, and sometimes I do. I am a listener. I love the outdoors, traveling, eating, and all that good stuff. I love people, and sometimes I don’t. I am a loyal friend, and maintain my friendships.

Before doing my Ph.D., friendships were natural, and easy. I had a fantastic experience and transition from my undergraduate life to my professional life. I also lived in a fantastic city, which was the icing on the cake. My circle of friends grew, my existing friendships were strengthened, and new ones were fun. From quantity, I found quality. Quality friendships, and quality life. When I did my Masters I again found great, deep friends. We helped each other through the stresses of our programs, the bullshits you encounter everyday, and even the terrible professors who attack you personally. They got me through shit. These friendships and conversations were no longer around buying your first home, starting a family, or starting the weekend on Thursdays, like they were before. They were now around the things I mentioned above.

I also learned about friends and acquaintances. I never fucking knew that acquaintances were actually something. I learned about this phenomenon in my Masters. I always wondered, “Who the fuck is an acquaintance?!” Well I found out. I realized that an acquaintance – at least to me – was someone who only knew you when they needed something, or wanted to find out what you were doing. Someone who uses you to advance their politics, or their agenda. Someone who always asks you about your stuff, but is very vague in telling you stuff. Someone who takes, but never gives. I started seeing how strategic people were (I only realized this years later) in what they did. I was now apparently in a world where friendships were no longer what I knew them to be. Apparently, you had to be careful.

Making new friends as an adult is tough. Most people already have their close circle of friends. I too have my close circle of friends, but most of us are on different paths. Most have families, and are actually doing adult stuff like buying homes, cars, and/ or having kids, and getting married. I realized how small my circle of friends were when one day something happened to me. I can’t remember what it was, but I was taking a walk and wanted to talk with someone. I could not think of one person to call. My friends were either far away, or at work, or doing their own shit. Other Ph.Ds had their own families, and other shit to deal with, plus, because of the cutthroat and back-stabbing nature of academia – it’s worst than fucking Game of Thrones – you have to be careful who you tell what, because it can come back to stab you. It was at that moment – and many more since then – that I realized I didn’t feel like I had someone I could call on at 3am if needed to. That did not feel good, since it is not who I am.

Everyone might have a different definition of friendship. I have my definition and currently, I feel like I have many openings for friends. The Ph.D. process is a lonely one, and this decreasing circle of friends adds to the fuckedupness of it. It can also be where you forge very tight friendships with your colleagues since you all hopefully help each other through the arduous, exhausting, and emotional toll a Ph.D. can take on you. Many of your life-long friends have no idea what you do so you can’t talk about your work with them. This I actually see as a plus, because I can talk about all the other bullshit I love to talk about with them. They take me out of the stifling academic bubble. This is definitely a plus. The question for me over the past few months have been, how do I make new friends? Not acquaintances, but friends.

This problem, which I have read about in other places, such as here and here, is pushing me to take action. To try to make time to focus on finding, making, and developing existing and new friendships. True friendships that are not solely around work. In fact, in my Masters and PhD, I have always sought out friendships with people OUTSIDE my program. This way our conversations would never be about our specific area of work, plus I really learn something new and get new perspectives. My goal is to GET A LIFE. I would hate to finish this Ph.D. and feel alone. Because that will be Phase two of the real shit in trying to get an academic position where things will be even worst.

No summer for you!.. well, not really

Woohoo!!! Summer!!!! NOPE! So, what’s summer like when you’re working on your Ph.D? Yes, school kids have a lovely vacation during the summer months, but we are no longer kids. We work in education and research, but long gone are summer vacations.

During the summer, most Ph.D’s are doing two or more of the following:

  1. Writing/ working on papers
  2. Reading
  3. Attending conferences
  4. Working on experiments/ projects
  5. Fieldwork/ Research
  6. Writing grant proposals
  7. Taking a break when they can
  8. Spending more time with family
  9. Drinking
  10. Netflix, TV, etc.
  11. Doing some exciting shit!

During the summer months, a Ph.D. can get a lot of work done. You have no classes or teaching assignments and you can really get the mental space you need to focus, think, dream, and actually work. The weather is lovely and being inside sucks, but if you get the opportunity, you can work (write) outside. That’s what I love about the Ph.D., as long as I am not required to be in my lab, I can take my work anywhere with me.

During the summer months (June/ July/ August), most conferences take place. So time will be spent either fleshing out that long abstract that you submitted weeks or months ago. Oh yes, months ago, so you now have to figure out, “What the fuck did I write?” While cursing your way through responding to the reviewers, you will absolutely enjoy spending time with your thoughts and submitting a great paper to that conference. If the conference is in  a beautiful location – which most of them are – that too will motivate you to getting that shit done.

You may be using your summer to travel to your sites for fieldwork and data collection. For those whose sites are in other parts of the country, or other parts of the world, this means that the latter part of your Spring semester will involve packing and preparing for your trip. This can add some anxiety to your Spring semester. Bear that in mind. Pack all the shit you need, and most importantly, get your IRB approval done early – I will talk about this in another post.

Whether you are doing fieldwork on-site or working in your office, make time to do some exciting shit during the summer. I believe everyone should come back from the summer break with at least one great story! Make it happen! The Ph.D. is a very lonely process – I will write about this later too – so spend all the time you can with your family and friends. You need it. You may not think that you do, but you do, you need it. Use the time to find yourself again and attend to your health (mentally, physically, emotionally).

Enjoy your summer! Get work done, go to that conference in that awesome location, enjoy the outdoors, and spend time with those you love. Your summer will be fantastic!

Link to one of my favorite academic books – Becoming an Academic Writer by Patricia Goodson

For all intents and purposes

I read an article yesterday, and it had me thinking a lot. It had me thinking about Plan B’s and C’s should this Ph.D. thing not work out. When I say “not work out,” I mean, should I wake up one day and decide, “Fuck this shit!”, or decide that I no longer want to be in academia, that I still have something else that I can go to, that I enjoy, that I can make a living from.

In this blog I attempt to document and reflect on my journey through the Ph.D. process. I will share my ups, downs, and the fucking bullshit that comes along with it. I will share the realizations I have had, and the lessons I have learned. I will be as honest as I can.

Here is a link to the article >>>