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Working With Your Thesis Advisor

Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010


Your thesis will be an integral part of your graduate education, and your advisor will no doubt become your greatest facilitator during your thesis writing process. Your advisor's job is not only to calculate your final grade but also mentor you and foster your growth as an effective writer and researcher. Before you begin to develop any kind of working relationship with an advisor, there are certain items you should consider.

To begin, realize that your thesis is not the only research paper that your advisor will be reading, and above all, is dealing with time constraints also. Preparedness is the key to developing a positive working relationship with your thesis advisor.

First and foremost, during your school selection process, search for an advisor whose research is in your area of interest. At this stage, networking with other graduate students is crucial. Learn how their relationship is or was with potential advisors. Inquire about the advisor's style - is he or she more interested in frequently meeting with the student or does he or she favor a more independent student approach? Is he or she more prone to hand out ready-made topics or is he or she interested in individually developing topics with students.

Other items to consider while searching for a thesis advisor: What is the average length of time that their graduates needed to obtain their master's degrees and Ph.D.s? How high is their students' drop out rates? How long have they been advising? Some individuals feel more comfortable with an advisor who dons years of research work experience, while others prefer the fresh approach of someone with less experience. Ultimately, it comes down to personal style.

You've done your background check, you've made your school selection and you've been introduced to your research topic and your advisor, but you're not quite sure of what direction your thesis should take. The time has come to set up an appointment with your advisor. To begin, you may want to set up a regular meeting schedule. In doing so, you will stay focused and motivated, and your advisor will be familiar with your progress.

Time is precious for you and for your advisor, so prepare for your meeting with an agenda of what you wish to discuss with him or her. Develop a list of topics you want to discuss, and decide what are you seeking to obtain from your meeting. Prior to your next meeting, summarize your progress since your last meeting and have notes handy from that meeting also. Be prepared to write during the meeting; our brains are not human tape recorders, and you won't remember every recommendation and suggestion that your advisor provides. Moreover, it is a good idea to rewrite your notes shortly after leaving the meeting. If you wait several days, your notes may seem unintelligible. Rewrite them while the discussion is still fresh in your mind.

Lastly, your thesis advisor is human; you may not agree with his suggestions every step of the way. Maintain open and honest communication. If there is an area of disagreement, discuss it with him or her. Don't let negative feelings fester. This is a learning experience for both of you, and you want to be certain that it remains a pleasant and fruitful one!

 

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