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Expectations of Graduate Adviser


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Hello All! I am hearing a lot of conflicting information regarding availability of graduate advisers/chairs for their students. As I get ready for PhD studies, I wonder what should one expect? Obviously, there will be ebbs and flows depending on schedules, but what is the norm out there?

Are they available for drop ins at all for their students?

Do they usually have weekly, monthly, semesterly meetings with their students?

Are they generally responsive to emails?

What strategies have folks found helpful?

I have a few friends in PhD programs who are miserable because they don't receive any guidance or assistance from their adviser and I would like to avoid that if possible!

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The answer to all of that is "it depends." The only thing that matters is what your advisor actually does, not what "usually" happens with other advisors at other schools. These things also partly depend on school culture and on individual preferences. You also need different levels of attention and input at different stages of your career. I know some people who meet with their advisor maybe once a semester, and others who have a weekly meeting. Advisors whose door is always open and ones that you always have to schedule a meeting with. I know some who are great with emails and others that e.g. are easier to find over the phone. Also some who encourage their students to talk to others, and some that want you to only talk to them. 

My advice is that it's not very useful to ask about generalities, and instead it's better to (1) figure out what you want, and (2) find out how the potential advisors you are considering operate, and decide whether that is right for you. You learn that by talking to each person's current and past students (and directly to them as well, obviously). You can also learn quite a bit from reading dissertation acknowledgements. This may be hard to do before you even apply, though you can try. It's much easier to learn this information after you've been admitted, when everyone will be more forthcoming. 

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This is an area in which I'd say there is no "normal". 

It all depends on both the advisor and the student. For some pairs, weekly (or more frequent) meetings are common. For some, meetings on the 6 mo to year scale are more common. 

It also depends on where you are in the program. 

So as Fuzzy suggests, take the time to think about what you want in an advisor, and look for someone who fits that bill. 

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