Your Relationship with Your Academic Advisor

Two women at table, talking to each other

A positive relationship with your advisor is one of the most important determinants of your success in graduate school

As a graduate student, you are paired with a faculty advisor. With their expertise, they will help you chart your academic requirements and milestones.

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What Does Your Academic Advisor Do?

Your Advisor's Role

All graduate programs require a faculty advisor, typically associated with your graduate program. Your advisor will help you:

  • Understand the requirements, expectations, and culture of your graduate program, including the standards for professionalism and ethics in your field
  • Set a timeline and plan for reaching important milestones in your academic and research progress 
  • Identify research ideas and career goals, and develop the skills needed to pursue those goals successfully
  • Understand your standing in your program by providing constructive, timely, and regular feedback on your work, including an annual review of your progress 
  • Connect to professional communities and networks both on and of campus

Advisors Clarify Expectations

Communication

Frequent, clear, and respectful communication is the key to a successful and positive advising relationship. Understanding your advisor’s expectations of you as a student and knowing what you can expect from them in return as an advisor can help reduce stress caused by uncertainty or misunderstandings.

Advising Statement

One important tool for clear communication and clarifying expectations between advisors and advisees is an Advising Statement—your advisor's statement of their advising philosophy.

An advising statement outlines what the advisor expects and how they interact with students, such as:

  • How often they expect to meet with students
  • Communication styles and preferences
  • Expectations about things like publishing and participating in professional conferences

These examples of advising statements show the range of approaches and styles.

  • Look at your advisor’s statement if they have one.
  • Make a list of anything that isn’t clear so you can follow-up with your advisor.
  • If your advisor doesn’t have a statement, these guidelines for communicating with your advisor can help you identify questions to ask so you have a better understanding of the expectations for both you and your advisor.

Video Resources

Advisors Collaborate on Your Academic and Professional Development

Communication

Through all stages of your academic career, you will be communicating with your advisor about your career goals and your progress through your graduate program. 

Individual Development Plan (IDP)

An Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a great tool to help you map out your professional goals and timeline. Collaborating with your advisor on your IDP helps ensure both good communication about your research and career goals and a concrete plan to help you achieve those goals. Use your IDP to explore and discuss:

  • Your research interests and the skills and networks to help you develop these interests
  • Expectations for completing degree milestones like courses, exams, and other program requirements
  • Timelines and goals for things such as presenting, publishing, or completing an internship

Talk with your advisor about career planning resources, workshops,  and other opportunities for professional development that will build your skills and help you achieve your goals.

 

Advisors Help to Create and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries

During graduate school, you may experience situations or relationships that could be unhealthy. Below are University resources that can help you in difficult situations. 

Who can I talk to? 

  • Your advisor, Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), or Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) can be help you resolve difficult situations.
  • If you need to talk to someone outside of your program, the Student Conflict Resolution Center can help you address your concerns. 

Finding Mentors

Mentors can provide you with different perspectives, expertise, and motivation beyond your academic advisor and program

It’s unlikely that one individual faculty advisor can help you with everything you need to know in your program and discipline. Mentors can broaden your perspectives and share their knowledge and expertise in less formal ways. 

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Building Your Mentoring Network

You Choose Your Mentors

What is the Difference Between Advisors and Mentors? 

  • Compared to advisors, mentors can serve in a more informal role. Mentors can be chosen through a mentoring program, or you may meet and connect with them through your own networks.
  • You have a range of needs as a graduate student, including the need for:
    • Professional development
    • Feedback on your research and writing
    • Role models
    • An intellectual community
    • Safe spaces to share your experiences and seek support
  • You’ll need multiple mentors at different points during your graduate program, and your relationship with each mentor will be different—some more or less formal, some on-going and others for a short period of time.   

Video coming soon! 

How mentors fit into your academic and professional development

How do mentors fit into your academic and professional development?

Mentors fill gaps in your network and help you identify and achieve goals. Once you know that, you'll likely see that you’re already connected to people may be a good fit and the where the gaps are in your support network.  

  • The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity’s (NCFDD)  mentoring map is a useful tool to help you identify your personal and professional mentoring needs.
  • Use this guide to complete the mentoring map for yourself.
  • Don’t be discouraged if your map has a lot of gaps to fill! 
  • Like an Individual Development Plan (IDP),the mentoring map a planning tool to help you be deliberate in seeking out mentors.
  • Keep in mind, as your academic and professional plan changes over time, your mentoring needs will also change so revisit your map regularly to see what needs updating.
  • Mentoring Keys for Success (PDF)
  • The benefits of multiple mentors (video coming)

How to find and approach mentors

Finding Mentors

When looking for mentors, ask yourself “What is it that I want to do/learn?” and “Where are the places I can find people who have already done that/can teach me about how to do that?”

  • Where you look for mentors will depend on your specific needs.
  • If you're looking to build support around community, you might explore different affinity groups both on- and off-campus, consult with peers, and draw on your existing connections. 
  • Your advisor and your committee members can help you develop your professional networks and connect you with alumni in careers that you’re interested in exploring.
  • Use alumni connections through the UMN Maroon and Gold Alumni Association and LinkedIn

Will You Be My Mentor?

So, you’ve identified some potential mentors. Now it's time to decide if someone is a good mentoring fit and establish expectations and structure around the mentoring relationship:

  • Provide some background on yourself and your overall goals to put your request into context 
  • Be specific about what you’re asking for (e.g., advice on writing a competitive fellowship application and constructive feedback on the draft, guidance on navigating the first year of graduate school, accountability preparing for a major milestone like the preliminary exam).
  • Ask for an initial meeting to discuss your request and how you’ll structure your mentoring relationship if you both decide to move forward (e.g., how often you’ll meet and how, how’ll you’ll communicate, goals and timeline).
  • Remember, just like your relationship with your advisor, it’s important to communicate regularly about how things are going, what is working, and what might need adjusting.