Advisor Issues

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Learning Objectives

  • Learn what good advising is and what your advisor's role is.


“The men in my program consistently receive all of the challenging projects that lead to promising opportunities. It’s as if my own advisor doesn’t believe I — as a woman — can handle more.”

“My advisor’s expectations are usually so ambiguous — if not virtually unattainable — that I often wonder if I’ll ever get through this program.”

“Throughout my pregnancy, my faculty advisor was not at all supportive of my desire to take some time off. I felt as if I was jeopardizing my education and future career by trying to tend to my new family.”

“I’m treated more like a wife or an assistant than a colleague or even an advisee, being asked to run countless personal errands and chauffeur him around.”

“How am I supposed to learn to be an independent scholar, when all of my time and work is spent on my advisor’s projects?”

“My advisor treats me more formally than his male advisees, and perhaps it would even be inappropriate if he and I were to socialize more casually like he does with my male colleagues. However, I feel like I’m missing out on opportunities because of this.”

What is Good Advising Anyway?


Which of the following is the most important to consider in your relationship with your advisor?

The best answer is “c.” While prestige (answer “a”) and expertise (answer “b”) are definitely important in a advisor-advisee dynamic, they will not lead to much if your advisor chooses not to share or to include you. Similarly, while it is important to continually build up your own professional network (answer “c”), whether or not your advisor helps you in this regard is beyond your control. The degree of fit between you and your advisor (answer “c”), however, is vital. Having a strong alliance and being on the same page can help you immensely, both in the short and long runs.

It’s important to have standards with your advisor and your advising relationship just like you’d have for your academic work. If your needs are not being met, chances are that you will feel unsupported or frustrated. It’s good to recognize when there’s a mismatch of what you want and what you’re getting so you can make the necessary adjustments. There are ways to address these issues, as awkward or impossible as they may seem.

What You Want in an Advisor is a module that reviews official and unofficial advisory roles as well as how to assess your advisor's strengths and areas of improvement.

The Stats: Women’s Experiences with Advisors

  • While these discouragers may often be experienced by students independent of their gender, women report lower satisfaction with advisors than men.1,2,3
  • Women more often than men report that their relationships with advisors are more formal, distant, and less collegial.4
  • The pervasiveness of these problems is profound, especially considering the far-reaching implications of a negative working relationship with an advisor.

The Importance of the Advisor/Advisee Relationship

  • Your advisor’s role is multifaceted and changes over time. He or she often serves as your primary guide to:
    • the academic program
    • the dissertation process
    • research and professional opportunities
    • the discipline at large
  • A negative relationship with your advisor understandably may present many roadblocks on the path to finishing your doctorate.
  • The advising relationship has the potential to impact many aspects of the graduate experience, particularly for women. Of women who finished their degrees late, three times as many reported receiving poor advising, as compared to those who finished early; twice as many late-finishers reported that faculty actually thwarted their degree completion, whereas many early-finishers expressed that faculty facilitated their progress.5
  • A positive relationship with an advisor is a strong predictor of productivity and completion of the doctoral degree, whereas problematic advising relationships are associated with longer degree completion times.1,6

Ways to Form Positive Alliances

In summary, forging a positive alliance with a graduate advisor often may be challenging and frustrating particularly for women, who as a group receive less attention, fewer resources, and experience other forms of subtle or overt discrimination in science and engineering graduate programs. Throughout the CareerWISE Web site, strategies are suggested for developing and sustaining positive working relationships with your advisor. The Problem Solving Method will walk you though some helpful strategies.


  1. Pyke, S. W. (1997). Education and the “woman question.” Canadian Psychology, 38, 154–163. doi:10.1037/0708-5591.38.3.154
  2. Moyer, A., Salovey, P., & Casey-Cannon, S. (1999). Challenges facing female doctoral students and recent graduates. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 607–630. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1999.tb00384.x
  3. Zhao, C. M., Golde, C. M., & McCormick, A. C. (2007). More than a signature: How advisor choice and advisor behavior affect doctoral student satisfaction. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31, 263-281. doi:10.1080/03098770701424983
  4. Fox, M. F. (2001). Women, science, and academia: Graduate education and careers. Gender & Society, 15, 654–666. doi:10.1177/089124301015005002
  5. Maher, M. A., Ford, M. E., & Thompson, C. M. (2004). Degree progress of women doctoral students: Factors that constrain, facilitate, and differentiate. Review of Higher Education, 27, 385–408. doi:10.1353/rhe.2004.0003
  6. Lovitts, B. E. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from doctoral study. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Special Characteristics of Your Advisor and Struggling with Life Balance Issues
Advisor's experiences encourage well-informed career decisions.

Key Elements in Good Advising
The importance of being open and honest with your advisor.

Persuading an Advisor
Suggestions for defining research.

Separate Advisors and Mentors
The importance of having a variety of mentors throughout your graduate experience.

Advisor Issues
How a positive advisor challenged his students to think for themselves.

Pros and Cons of an International Advisor
Experiences with an international advisor.

Options for Support
Urges students to seek multiple campus resources for support.

Stubbornness and Tenacity
Highlights the obstacles faced when trying to have research reviewed by the advisor and emphasizes the steps necessary to make adequate progress in the program.

Hearing from Students and Having an Impact
The importance of giving back to students and making an impact in their future education and career choices.


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