One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Thin Line: Advising vs. Supervising

The panelists:  Laura Dillion has spent decades advising students at three different large universities, and spent time as department chair.  Susanne Hambrusch has experience dealing with situations between students and advisors that went from bad to worse.  She says that just knowing that a situation can occur is important.  Lori Pollock has had experiences being the unbiased mediator between graduate students and their advisors.

Can I be co-advised by two professors? Can I switch advisors?

Sometimes switching advisors is controversial both in terms of your own work and in terms of the political climate of the department or school.  Consider your own work, which may or may not move with you to the new advisor or department.  It likely won't.  Figure out if you will still have a project, and enough to do in order to graduate with a big dent in the new field.  If there are concerns (and there should be), find someone that doesn't have a stake in the problem, and ask him or her for help.  Someone unbiased can provide valuable advice.  It could be a former instructor, a graduate advisor, or even more senior graduate students.  Some students don't ask for help.  In some places there is no help.  That's where you should turn to other sources: e.g., friends' advisors, family, the Systers mailing list.

How and when do you ask about the author order and/or about presenting the paper?

Talk about it early.  It can change, but know before you invest a ton into a paper how much credit you'll get for the work.  Three possibilities are alphabetical order, percentage of writing done, and switching author orders if you expect more than one publication.

How do you know what your research contribution is on multi-authored work, and what you can present as your own work?

This is a good question in interviews, so make sure you have a well-reasoned answer: your research is your identity.  The abstract of your dissertation, and your introduction, should make it very clear the different roles.  Co-authored and multi-authored work can become "background" for a dissertation, and some papers never make it into anybody's dissertations.  Think ahead: the part that's yours is the part that you will continue when you graduate. Be scrupulously honest.

My advisor keeps giving me more work, and I want to schedule my dissertation and graduate.

Ask.  Sit down with your advisor(s), and have the conversation.  Don't wait until after you've done the additional work to ask, but ask right then.  Show your credentials: the number of papers you have, your advancement proposal which has been fulfilled, the chapters you've written, etc.  It may the case that you aren't ready to graduate, but it may be that you are.  It may be that you have differences in expectations (e.g., your advisor thinks you want to go to an R1 research institution, but you want to go into industry) which have serious differences in preparation for graduation.  You won't know unless you have that conversation with the advisor.

What if my committee doesn't think I'm ready, but my advisor does?

Your advisor is your advocate.  He or she needs to convince the committee that you're ready.  There are no hard-and-fast rules to follow: you may want to look for a mentor for an outside, unbiased opinion.

What if my advisor is a total jerk? (This question was truncated and summarized.)

Find someone that can advocate for you.  Go to the other faculty.  But don't go straight to the dean, going over the head of the senior faculty and department chair, because this can cause bad feelings and really burn bridges.  Learn about what's possible in your university and what resources you have.  Sometimes it takes intervention for your advisor to do change; sometimes you have to switch departments and get your work to count toward your new affiliation.  But get support from the senior people in the school that have influence. 

What if my advisor lost his or her funding, and has no more money?

Understand that this could very well be true: the faculty member may have thought he had secured money but the money didn't come through; he or she could have overanalyzed the financial possibilities for the quarter or the year.  Sometimes the money just disappears, such as with government contracts.  It is embarrassing to the advisor, especially when the advisor had already made plans on the money (such as by promising you funding).  Consider going to the chair or graduate director.  Take up a TAship, teach a summer class, or find other sources of funding around your department or even in a different department.

How do you transition from being a student to being an advisor?

First you have to find a job in a supportive environment.  Attend the CRA-W workshop for junior faculty in which they teach you how to be a good mentor and advisor.  Have a mentor in the department that you join, that can help you along.  Don't do it as trial an error, one student at a time. As a graduate student you can work with undergraduates in the summer on collaborative projects, and practice advising and mentoring.

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