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


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.


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.


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