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Should your advisor care about you?


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I'm going to try to not make this a rant, but I'd really like your thoughts about this.

While I completely get the "Boss-Employee" relationship between advisors and students in Grad School, I don't think it's that black and white. I've always thought the relationship between advisor and student was critical to helping the student achieve their goals and providing both support and supervision to the student. Of course, the advisor needs to get something out of the relationship too (hence, why they pay you), but I guess I've always wanted to believe that ultimately, the advisor should have the student's best interests in mind.

I've realized that this isn't the case with my advisor. She promised me a cetain monthly income, and I've never even received close to what she promised, in spite of her praise of my progress and results. This semester, she made me get a grader job, simply because she didn't want to pay me as much, and then got frustrated when I didn't have any work to do for it and thus did more research and wanted to get paid for that. I think she makes up department policies in terms of what I can get paid/should get paid for (mainly because all the other professors in my department have said something completely different), and it's just getting to a point where I'm draining more money than I'm getting in (I'm already having to take out student loans while I'm here, so this makes it worse!).

To complicate things, I wanted to teach a class next semester so I could gain teaching experience (I'm hoping to become a community college teacher) and get a more reliable source of income, but she's trying to talk me out of it, saying that I should focus on finishing my thesis next semester, and promising me the same income she has promised before as an RA. I personally don't know that I believe her, and I'm not sure she has my best interests in mind. I really hope to become a teacher some day, and I think having experience while I'm still in grad school would be a huge plus, if not a full blown necessity. I think all my advisor wants me to do is go on to a PhD (which I have no interest in doing... I want to have a life!), and even though I've constantly impressed my goals and what I want to get out of this program (this is still MY education and MY future), she tries to pigeon-hole me inter the whole PhD-doing research for the rest of my life track. This isn't an issue of meeting requirements. I'm doing well in all my classes and, as far as I know, she is happy with my research. I just think that, instead of encouraging me to do what is best for my future, she is trying to force me into what she wants me to do for my life, and, seeing as she isn't paying me what I'm supposed to be getting paid, I feel less and less of an obligation to humoring her goals for my future (again, I'm not talking about requirements here). I'd love your thoughts.

There are two that I expect, and so I'll address them right now:

1. "Get used to it... that's life": I agree, I expect having to work with and for a lot of people who don't have a shred of my best interest at heart. But this is still school. What I'm doing here is trying to set myself up for a good career, and while having a happy advisor is essential, I also need to make sure that I get what I need to get out of this experience, even if it goes against her wishes for me. Ultimately, that's why I'm here! That's why I moved away from my girlfriend (now fiancee) and my home for. I didn't move here to make my advisor happy, I moved here so I could get the education and experience I need to secure a better future.

2. "Why haven't you changed advisors then?": It's too late to do that. I'm less than a year from finishing my degree, and switching means having to start over with someone else. I've put too much into this to have that happen. Honestly, I do feel stuck.

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You know it's possible that she cares too much. Did you ever think that maybe she's pushing you into an academic research career but that's what she does and she loves it so much that she can't imagine anyone wanting to do anything else. Sometimes mentors can be very myopic and as so focused on grooming you to be like them that they can't see that you want your own career, not a carbon copy of someone else's.

End of the day she's your adviser, she is there to give you guidance not dictate your path. Take the parts of her advice that are applicable to your career trajectory and disregard the rest. You have to learn how stand up to a well meaning but overbearing mentor, if you are lucky this is pattern that will occur many times in the future.

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I think it's very common for advisors to want you to follow in their footsteps. It doesn't really sound to me like she doesn't care about you. From what you wrote, it sounds like she has different goals for you than you have for yourself. Frustrating, yes, but it doesn't mean she doesn't care about you or your career. The income thing definitely isn't fair though!

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Do you not have some sort of employment contract for your RA work? My experience with universities is that they are hopelessly bureaucratic, which would mean that getting paid would be part of that bureaucracy. Hence there should be a contract of some sort or something that should say how much you were getting paid. I personally wouldn't sit idly by while the money I was promised wasn't being paid to me.

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There are several issues here that it'd be good to separate out.

First, yes, the advisor should care about the advisee. But. First of all, not all students want an advisor who is involved in their lives (some are very happy meeting infrequently, only when there are relevant work-issues to discuss). Second, there are advisors who become mentors and care about you as a person, but more often your advisor will want you to succeed in your education/research and nothing more. In that respect, there are many ways to interpret "care." You and your advisor may have different interpretations.

Second, following up on the previous point, it appears that you and your advisor have different goals for your education. If I understand the situation correctly, you haven't been able to clearly communicate with your advisor about this issue (perhaps because she refuses to let go of the option that you'll change your mind and want to continue on to the PhD. She might therefore continue to require of you everything that you would need to become a successful PhD student). Since this is the case and it doesn't look like you'll resolve this problem any time soon, I think you need to actively design your work with your own goals in mind, and keep in mind that some of the advice your advisor gives you and/or some of her requirements of you may not serve these goals. This failure in communication is, I think, your biggest problem. It's not that she doesn't care, but she can't listen to what you're saying, for whatever reason.

Third, what work you should do next year. Since you want to go into adjuncting, I think it's important for you to get the teaching job. As you say, the experience is invaluable. It'll be crucial when you'll be looking for jobs. Maybe this not something that advisors think about if they see themselves as training *researchers* who go into academia and the industry, not *teachers*, but here I think your advisor's expectations of you may be getting in the way and you need to look out for yourself.

Fourth, the payment issue. This is somewhat separate from the other issues. There should be administration people who you could ask about finances and about promises which are not being kept. From everything you write it really doesn't seem to me like your advisor has malicious intent, so I think you should be very careful when trying to resolve this. Bring this up with your advisor and confront her with her promises; only if she doesn't give satisfactory answers, go above her head to whoever the go-to person in your department is in this case (the chair, I presume).

Edited by fuzzylogician
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