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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How Your Academic Advisor Can Help You

Clarify Expectations


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

Collaborate on Your Academic and Professional Development


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.


Create and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

Graduate student feedback and data shows that not all advising relationships are positive ones. 

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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Differences Between Advisors and a Mentors

You Choose Your Mentors


All graduate programs require a faculty advisor, typically associated with academic milestones and requirements of your graduate program. 


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.

Video: What is the Difference Between Advisors and Mentors? 

Coming soon! 

How to Find Mentors

How Mentors Fit Into Your Academic and Professional Planning