This post is written by Hack Library School writers and is part of our crossover week, check out GradHacker’s advice about advisor/advisee relations on their blog here: Hack Library School.
The experience of developing professional relationships with peers and people you respect can be strange. The place of an advisor to help direct your path through grad school is one of those relationships that seems like it should work smoothly, but it does take some careful consideration in how you talk to the person, how you represent yourself and your interests and what you really need from them. Rebecca, Zack and Ashley offer some of their tips and advice below.
Ideally, your graduate advisor is like your therapist–he or she is the person you go to for direction, advice, and sorting through what are no doubt feelings of despair and confusion. I was lucky in that I have a relationship quite like this with my advisor, but if you don’t find yourself with such a soul, there are some things to remember. First, be honest. Even if you don’t particularly like the person you were assigned to, he or she should know what you like or don’t like about the program and your classes. If they don’t know, they can’t fix it. Second, be ambitious. Let your advisor know what you’d like to see for yourself after graduation, in 5 years, or as a life-time career. It just might happen that there is an excellent course or professor in another department. Lastly, keep it in perspective. If you don’t have the world’s most welcoming advisor, there are plenty of avenues you can look down for guidance. Trusted faculty members, colleagues, the blogosphere, and mentors are all excellent options when your assigned advisor doesn’t work out.
I recently read a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education
discussing private “advisor consultants.” The piece opined that most
students don’t get what they need from their advisers in graduate
school. A Master in Library and Information Science program is a bit
different, we have a huge focus on field experience, but challenges
can still exist when adviser/advisee communications breaks down. It’s
why I think the best advice I can give to other grad students is
change advisers. If your adviser doesn’t meet your needs for whatever
reason and there is someone in the program that fits you better, don’t
hesitate to change. It’s better for everyone that you work with
someone who you have a good relationship with. My initial adviser was
great, but she had a work and research background that didn’t fit my
interests. After I found an adviser who fit my needs I changed. If
you’re respectful and diplomatic it’s generally an easy process. If
it’s handled well everybody wins.
To get the most from your advisor, I recommend focusing on three core areas:
First, focus on your path to graduation. Discuss with your advisor your degree’s requirements and the best path for meeting them. As you begin school look at requirements and course schedules to create a degree plan that details what classes you will take by semester. If you’re not required to create a degree plan with your advisor, create one on your own and ask them for feedback.
Second, make sure your advisor understands your context. Grad school can get tough. Job hunting can be tougher. It’s important for you and your advisor to know why you’re putting in this work, spending this money and taking this leap. It’s also important that your advisor knows your context. Do you have kids? Are you working two jobs? Do you have a learning disability? Hopefully your advisor is working to discover these things about you. If not, tell them what you think they need to know so that they can give you good advice that is relevant to your situation.
Finally, your advisor should provide you with some tough love. There are classes you are naturally inclined to take because of personal interest, and there are classes that are appealing because of recommendations from your peers. Your advisor should be urging you towards classes that will foster educational and professional growth. These classes aren’t always the most appealing on paper–or the most popular with other students–but they may make a difference in your future.
Where to Turn
If you feel like you’re not getting the feedback and advice you need from your advisor–seek it out. First, if you think it will be well received, ask your advisor for more engagement. Hopefully they’ll respond to your request. If you’re still coming up short, search for a faculty mentor who can give you good info on your degree plan, coursework and career goals. You can also look to working professionals for advice, or look for alums of your program to get their insight on specific classes and professors.
Your advisor, mentor, or alum can offer input and guidance that you may not get from other students. If I were picking out my courses on an island—my degree plan would look very different. With input from your advisors and mentors you can feel better equipped to make smart choices in your education and career.
[Image by Flickr user JD Hancock and used under Creative Commons License]
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