In 2014, Indira M. Raman published “How to be a Graduate Advisee” with advice for successfully navigating the doctoral process. She states, “To approach this inherently uncontrolled situation constructively, students are encouraged, first, to become aware of their own learning patterns and to apply this knowledge to selecting a thesis laboratory, and second, to cultivate an educational philosophy that helps them adapt to many circumstances” (Raman, 2014). Raman identifies the critical attributes of self-awareness and adaptability to effectively navigate a Ph.D. program. While she writes from the perspective of a neurobiologist who manages experimental laboratories, her insights can be applied universally. Essentially, independence is the most important quality in a successful advisee.
Grace Troupe (2015) integrates Raman’s advice with her own in this article on positive traits of a graduate student as an advisee and as an independent scholar. The very first step listed in Troupe’s article is to set goals, and it also the most interesting aspect because she recommends using a communication tool called an Individual Development Plan (IDP). Using this tool or something similar on an ongoing basis can help you to sort through your short term and long term goals and to plan strategies to achieve them. This is where the rubber meets the road! Look over this sample IDP, and then try your hand at drafting one of your own using a blank template.
Advice on how to navigate the advisee-advisor relationship is varied and can be hit or miss for your particular relationship. If there is one take-away, it is that these are subjective, professional relationships. They are not and can not be objective. They are not and can not be friendships.
Each advisee will have a different relationship with a shared advisor because of human variation…you all have unique research interests, values, personalities, academic strengths, and academic needs. Your advisor’s goal is to support you in becoming an independent scholar. That is why you are here. The strategies that they use to accomplish this task will vary. How can you cultivate open communication with your advisor in which you candidly discuss your perceived strengths and areas of growth?
This article by Gina Barreca (2012) discusses the dissertation writing phase for advanced graduate students, and judging from the comments, it has been quite provocative. What do you think?
Keisha Blaine (2018) recently published a short article with advice for those with a goal of finishing a Ph.D. in five years. Much of her recommendations overlap with other articles mentioned here and synthesize the central ideas discussed above.