Working with Faculty
Differences Between Advisors & Mentors
An advisor is a faculty or staff member who helps you understand and make decisions about your course of study. A mentor’s role is more broad and may touch on academic issues, the professional field, and your general development.
Graduate students are typically assigned faculty advisors in their major areas of study who will assist them with planning first-year courses. Advisors will also supervise research during the first year. Although many students maintain the same advisor past the first year and/or make this person the chair of their supervisory committees (in the case of doctoral students), this is not required.
Rather than trying to find a single mentor, you may choose to build a mentoring team. While mentors often are faculty members, they can be your peers; advanced graduate students; departmental staff; retired faculty; faculty from other departments, colleges, or universities; and professionals outside the university. The team approach you take will likely be an informal one, and the mentors you select may or may not see themselves as part of a formal team. If you have drawn individuals from varied fields or professional sectors, your mentors might not know each other, at least not initially. It is up to you to decide if there are advantages to introducing your mentors by proposing collaborative work.
More on Mentors
Finding a Mentor - When and Why
Mentoring: Ask for Help
Mentoring: Build Your Own Team
Faculty have a range of teaching, research, and community service responsibilities, so you may find that making an appointment works best when contacting them. Students who have difficulties meeting with a faculty advisor should speak to the Graduate Program Coordinator or Graduate Program Advisor.
You should feel free to pursue work with another faculty member should you find one who better fits with your educational goals. In addition, you can turn to any faculty member regarding specific issues; for instance, you may meet with someone who is doing research in an area of common interest. Such informal advising – without formally changing advisors – is common and highly encouraged.
How to have productive meetings with your faculty advisor
Establishing a positive and productive relationship with your faculty advisor is a critical step in achieving graduate school success. You can begin this relationship by planning your first meeting(s) ahead of time so that you can discuss the topics that are important to you.
At some point in your graduate career, you might want a new mentor or advisor. The issues can be more complex if the same person fulfills both of these roles for you. Because of the relatively informal nature of mentoring, there is no formal policy for acquiring mentors as there is, in most departments, for acquiring or changing a research or dissertation advisor. Know the differences between the two processes, and the basic guidelines applicable to each. Changing mentors is not an issue if the relationship is an informal one, i.e., the person is not your thesis/dissertation advisor.
Also, changing mentors does not necessarily imply difficulties in your relationship. Your priorities for mentoring may change based on your personal and professional growth, rather than because of misunderstandings. A good mentor will support you in your search for others who can assist you.
Changing advisors is common in some fields of study and less so in others. It usually requires that you follow departmental procedures. Changing advisors is easier if your department encourages students to work with multiple faculty members and you make changes early in your career.
More on Working with Faculty
Seek Out Your Faculty Advisor Early
Let Your Faculty Advisor Get to Know You
Reaching out to Faculty
Navigating Challenges with Faculty