Help Your Advisor Help You

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Learning Objectives

  • Learn what you can do to help build a strong and effective relationship with your advisor.


“Good advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience.” — R.J. Light

Your Role in the Advising Relationship

In the CareerWISE module What You Want in an Advisor, you learned how to assess what you need from an advisor to be successful in graduate school. Of course, it is also important to pay attention to the role that you play in making this relationship work. By reflecting on how you interact with others and how you work best, you may be better able to select an advisor who will help lead you to success, or improve the relationship you have with your current advisor.

The following is a list of Do’s and Dont's that relate to the advisor-advisee relationship. Check the items that apply to you to assess your strengths and weaknesses in being an effective advisee.1

What Helps Your Advisor Help You


  • Seek out opportunities for learning and growth
  • Initiate contact with your advisor
  • Be responsible
  • Focus on your strengths
  • Be open-minded and receptive to feedback (Remember that feedback is an opportunity for growth)
  • Focus on shared interests
  • Be respectful
  • Expect your advisor to respect your boundaries
  • Ask questions
  • Keep your advisor informed
  • Be clear regarding roles and expectations
  • Remember that your advisor is human
  • Give feedback to your advisor on what is helpful to you

What Won't Work to Your Benefit


  • Assume that if your advisor does not teach you something, it is not important to know
  • Wait for your advisor to contact you
  • Show poor work habits
  • Be unreliable
  • Be self-deprecating or presumptuous
  • Be defensive or take things too personally
  • Pass up every research opportunity that is not perfectly in line with your interests
  • Cross boundaries (For example, do not expect your advisor to respond promptly to an e-mail sent late at night)
  • Allow yourself to be taken advantage of (Remember that you can say "no" to doing tasks outside your job description, like making coffee or taking a trip to the dry cleaners)
  • Be afraid to look stupid
  • Fail to update your advisor on your academic or professional plans
  • Assume that you and your advisor are on the same page
  • Expect perfection from your advisor
  • Expect your advisor to anticipate your every need

Advisors and advisees report that conflict is an unavoidable part of the graduate school life,2 but managing conflict effectively can make the difference between a good and bad relationship. The first step in managing conflict involves discussing the roles and expectations of your advisor-advisee relationship with your advisor.3

Following this and other tips from the list above will help ensure that you are doing what’s necessary on your end to maintain a strong relationship with your advisor.


True or False? Advisors and Advisees report that conflict is an avoidable part of graduate school life?

Best Answer: False. Conflict is an unavoidable part of graduate school life, but managing conflict effectively can make the difference between a good and bad relationship.


  1. Regents of the University of Michigan. (2007). How to get the mentoring you want: A guide for graduate students at a diverse university. Retrieved July 6, 2008, from
  2. Knox, S., Schlosser, L. Z., Pruitt, N. T., & Hill, C. E. (2006). A qualitative examination of graduate advising relationships: The advisor perspective. Counseling Psychologist, 34, 489-518. doi:10.1177/0011000006290249
  3. The Graduate School of the University of Washington. (2005). Mentoring: How to obtain the mentoring you need. Retrieved July 6, 2008, from

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

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

Words of Wisdom: Dr. Anderson-Rowland
The importance of finding a good advisor and making sure to get everything in writing.

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

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

Developing a Scientific Identity in an Advisor's Shadow
Challenges faced with establishing yourself as an independent researcher separate from an influential advisor.

Give Yourself Credit
Understanding your strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately giving yourself recognition for your successes.

Persuading an Advisor
Suggestions for defining research.


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