Grad school advisors have a lot on their plates. Among other things, they teach, conduct research, publish, serve on committees, advise undergraduates, mentor other graduate students, supervise research and teaching assistants, run labs, and serve as editors and reviewers for journals and grants. Needless to say, “advising” students may not always be at the top of their to-do list. Regardless, you will develop a relationship with them during your tenure as a grad student, and they will become someone you will often lean on and (hopefully) look to as a mentor.
We have a few tips for building and maintaining a good relationship with your advisor. It’s important for you to take charge of and foster this relationship from the outset.
Communication is key.
As with any human relationship, communication is key, so openly communicate with your advisor regularly. Send them an email at the beginning of each week letting them know what progress you made last week, what you plan to work on this week, and make note of any roadblocks keeping you from making progress. This will not only keep you on track and them in the know, but it will also help you and your advisor set realistic goals. But don’t let email serve as your only form of communication with them. Actual facetime is essential.
One thing to keep in mind is that while you may grow closer, they are still your superior and have been active in academia way longer than you. You may want to avoid over-communication and oversharing, especially at the beginning. Keep the communication professional and concise. You don’t want your advisor to roll their eyes every time they get a message from you. Also, just because they gave you their personal phone number doesn’t mean you have to use it.
You get out what you put in.
This is one of those relationships where you get out what you put in. If you’re doing the bare minimum, ignoring their suggestions or feedback, and simply just trudging along on your own terms, your advisor’s attitude toward you will reflect that. Remember, they have a lot of other things on their plate, so provide some motivation for your advisor and be a person they want to mentor and interact with. Take their hypotheses and suggestions—even if you don’t agree with them—seriously. Test them out and bring back the results or ideas they prompt to discuss together.
Look at it from their perspective.
Your advisor is crucial to your success in grad school. Since they have been working in their respective fields for so long, they have the connections you need. They can advocate for you. They can turn you on to job prospects or post-graduation opportunities. And they can be one of your greatest assets in excelling in your respective field even after you’re well into your career. All that being said, they can’t do anything for you if you aren’t committed and dedicated both to your field and to your own progress.
Grad school advisors have a lot on their plates, but if you establish reasonable expectations and formulate a game plan for your own career as a grad student, they can be your greatest asset through grad school and beyond. Most of all, communicate and keep an open mind.