Seven Principles of Humane PhD Advising (guest post by Eric Schwitzgebel)


The following is a guest post* by Eric Schwitzgebel (University of California, Riverside). It originally appeared at his blog, The Splintered Mind.


[drawing by Lui Ferreyra]

Seven Principles of Humane PhD Advising
by Eric Schwitzgebel

It’s difficult to be a PhD student. One’s entire future career prospects depend on (or seem to depend on) one’s ability to please and impress one’s dissertation advisor. This generates a lot of stress and a weird power dynamic between student and advisor. Also, one needs to build a new life and a new social network in a new town, during a time in life when social support is often crucial. And one probably wants one’s dissertation to be the best most wonderful awesome thing one has ever written in one’s life, despite never having had any experience writing anything as long and ambitious. Ouch!

In many ways, being a PhD student is a wonderful and amazing thing, but given the above, humane PhD advising is called for—not harshness or rigidity.

Here are seven principles to consider, if you are a PhD advisor, or maybe to hope for in a PhD advisor, if you are student.

(1) Don’t take more than a month to return comments on written drafts. We advisors have a lot to do — the book contract, the grant deadline, the trip to Germany. But it’s our responsibility to give our students comments in a timely fashion. Next month will be busy too, and putting it off won’t actually reduce the overall load unless you are slow enough to discourage students from showing their work very often (and I don’t think that’s what we should normally want). Taking three months to return comments risks slowing down your student’s progress by a whole semester. The student might not prod you. They might say it’s fine, no hurry — but take that with a grain of salt, given the power relations. Find the time.

(2) Don’t assume that your student wants to be a superstar researcher. If you’re supervising PhD students, you probably see the academic world through the lens of research, and you probably esteem other professors in your field mostly in proportion to the strength of their research. It’s great if one of your students lands a job at a research university! It’s good, but nothing special, if they land a job at a non-research-focused teaching-intensive university. If they end up teaching at a two-year community college, well, that’s maybe a disappointment? Of course some students do really want top research jobs and really would be disappointed to teach at a community college. It’s kind of in the air, in grad programs, that a research career is the ideal. But not all students want that. Most of world’s professors work in teaching-intensive schools rather than powerhouse research universities — and that’s great. I love to hear it when students tell me that they’d rather teach community college than land a job at Harvard. If you assume that all of your students want to be superstar researchers, you contribute to a competitive and high-pressure environment in which teaching careers are devalued, students who don’t appear to be on a research-career trajectory are perceived as disappointing, and students may not feel comfortable honestly sharing their non-research career goals with their professors. All of this unfair and disheartening. (Of course, it’s terrific when a student aims for a stellar research career and achieves it. I’m just saying don’t assume that’s what your students want, and don’t push those expectations on them.)

(3) Don’t pressure your students to work more quickly. Sure, the university might want to see them finish in five years. But you should be the advocate of your students’ interests against the university, rather than vice versa. Life happens. Depression. Writer’s block. Parenthood. Second thoughts and half-pursued career changes. Financial trouble. Illness. A rare and exciting opportunity to see Brazil with their sister. The situation is stressful enough for them without their advisor’s giving them time pressure too. You might think it’s in their interest to work more quickly; and maybe it is. But rather than take a harsh or paternalistic approach, pressuring them to work faster “for their own good”, let them decide what pace works for them. With perfect neutrality, help them finish quickly if that’s what they want; and let them take their time if that’s what they want.

(4) Remember that your student is already excellent. It is so hard to gain admissions into a good PhD program these days that only excellent students are able to do so. They might not know how to write a dissertation yet, and they won’t have as deep an understanding as you do of the research methods and the existing literature in your subfield. But I’ve yet to meet a PhD student who didn’t have the potential to be a terrific scholar and teacher. There’s no need for weeding them out or trying to figure out who are the strong vs. the weak ones. Instead, help each of your amazing students more fully realize the excellence they already have.

(5) Evaluate the work, not the student. Evaluation is the constant duty of a professor. But focus your evaluation on the student’s work rather than on the student’s ability or overall quality. Excellent scholars sometimes produce mediocre work, especially when they’re under pressure or trying something new. No biggie! (Reminder: Your student is under pressure and trying something new.) If a student feels that everything they produce will be evaluated as a sign of their genius or (more likely) lack of genius, the atmosphere will be one of anxiety, pressure, perfectionism, defensiveness, and competitiveness. Eventually, of course, the core parts of the student’s dissertation will have to be excellent, but that’s at the end of the PhD program. Assuming that your student is a human being, their work along the way will have its ups and downs, and some of it will have to be discarded or will need at lot of revision, especially if they’re creative, adventuresome, and open to risk. How are they going to get helpful feedback if they feel that you are so constantly judging them that they dare not show you material unless they feel it’s already near perfect?

(6) A hoop is just a hoop. A class is just a class. A draft is just a draft. Help them move efficiently through requirements (without pressuring them to do so (#3)). The standard should be adequacy rather than exceptional brilliance. If your student feels a need to prove their genius at every step, it should be no surprise if they’re stressed out, taking incompletes, prepping far too long for their quals, etc. Since they’re already excellent (#4), if you’ve been a good advisor and if too many uncontrollable life changes haven’t happened, their dissertation will be excellent at the end, when it’s finished (#5).

(7) Be ever mindful of the asymmetry of power. The extreme asymmetry can be easy for advisors to forget, especially for those of us who regard ourselves as egalitarians and who like to be on a friendly, first-name basis with our students. What you “lightly” request might be experienced as compulsion. You might casually criticize, or tease, or razz them as you would a peer, but the effects of such casual remarks can be much more devastating, disruptive, or disorienting than you realize. If a full professor says to another full professor working in the same field “that’s obviously wrong” or “that’s stupid”, that might just be an occasion for friendly disagreement; not with a student whose whole career depends on your opinion.

———————————

All of these principles are defeasible, of course. They represent my perspective on being a humane PhD advisor. I might be wrong, and I might be much less humane than I think I am or than I hope to be. (My grad students say they find me to be a good advisor, but given the power dynamics they might feel compelled to say that. Few of us really know, I think, how good we are as advisors.)

One disadvantage of my adherence to (7) above, I suspect, is that I’m less chummy with my students than some other advisors are. Socializing, inviting students to my house, sharing details of our personal lives, etc., feels slightly strange to me given the power dynamic — is the “friendliness” free or compelled? I feel like I can’t know, and that uncertainty keeps me always slightly guarded and formal. I can only hope I’m not too standoffish as a result.

One disadvantage of my adherence to (2) and (5) above, I suspect, is that the stronger students receive from me less of an encouraging vibe of “you’re the best, you’re going to be a superstar researcher” than they might hope or expect. All my students are excellent and I prefer not to rank them in my mind. Before anointing one as the next research superstar, let’s see how the dissertation turns out in the end. Nor do I especially value research excellence over teaching excellence.

When I think back on how warm and friendly and encouraging my father was with his strongest students (not PhD students in his case, but Master’s), I somewhat regret my restraint in both of these respects. There is, I suppose, no perfect solution but instead a range of tradeoffs that can reasonably be weighed differently.

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Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
2 years ago

Regarding (3): I wouldn’t say “pressure” is what students need. But we should help them learn time management skills and how to move work along quickly and efficiently.

When our students graduate, they will presumably be a bit better than they were in, say, their third year of grad school. But the work doesn’t get easier. Regardless of whether they become full-time CC teachers, R1 research-focused professors, or any mix in-between, their work loads, their expectations, and the standards by which they are judged will only go up. Grad school is in terms of obligations the easiest time in one’s academic career.

Further, hiring committees generally know this and agree. All things equal, taking longer to get a PhD sends a negative signal about about a student. If I had the choice between two people with otherwise equal pedigree, including publications, but one took four years and the other ten, I’d take the one who finished in four years. Once we hire that person, we expect her to teach 3-4 classes a year, publish a bunch, and do a wide range of things she didn’t have to do as a grad student. If it takes someone six years to write a dissertation, all while teaching or TAing only 1-2 classes a year, we’d reasonably worry they can’t hack it as an assistant professor. So, while I’m not saying “pressuring” students is good–I have no idea if that even works–I would say that all things equal, finishing quickly is good for job prospects.Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

“Grad school is in terms of obligations the easiest time in one’s academic career.”

I don’t know about that. Graduate school is pretty hard these days. In many ways, the move from graduate school to an assistant professorship felt like a decrease in workload to me (I’m at a research-intensive university). In particular, the teaching/grading workload as a TA at a public university was at times immense and overwhelming, and I had essentially no control over which classes I was assigned to teach or TA. Teaching feels less burdensome now.

Graduate school is no picnic research-wise either, if you want to get a job at the end. In graduate school, I had to balance writing a dissertation against publishing articles and going to conferences. In my last couple of years in graduate school, I published 3 articles in top journals, went to several APAs and other high profile conferences, and wrote my dissertation. Now I only go to the occasional conference, I don’t bother with the APA any more, I don’t have the dissertation hanging over me (obviously), and I can mostly focus on writing and publishing articles. The burden feels lighter.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  Ben
2 years ago

Typical workload for a fifth-year grad student:
1. TA 1 class a semester. If you do this right, you can spend only 5 hours on the modal week working on class-related activities; more hours on exam weeks.. (If it takes you longer, you probably aren’t doing it right.) The professor assigns the reading and designs the syllabus. You lead discussion sections.
2. Write your dissertation.

That’s it.

Typical workload for a professor at an R2:
https://thebluereview.org/faculty-time-allocation/
(By the way, other surveys of faculty time get similar numbers.)

Report

E
E
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

Typical workload for a fifth-year grad student in 2007:
1. TA 1 class a semester. If you do this right, you can spend only 5 hours on the modal week working on class-related activities; more hours on exam weeks.. (If it takes you longer, you probably aren’t doing it right.) The professor assigns the reading and designs the syllabus. You lead discussion sections.
2. Write your dissertation.

Fixed that for you, in light of what the poster above you actually said.Report

Jason "I'm Obviously Right about This" Brennan
Jason "I'm Obviously Right about This" Brennan
Reply to  E
2 years ago

Has anything changed substantially on average since 2007?

What grad programs requires of students hasn’t gone up much since 2007. Insofar as grad programs are slightly more competitive and demanding, the same goes for…wait for it…being a professor! What it takes to get tenure at, say, an R3 or SLAC is higher than what it took 15 or 30 years ago.

There is overlap, but in general, being a professor means having far more responsibilities and being held to far higher standards than being a fifth year grad student. Grad school is a cake walk compared to being a professor.

I know it’s fun to post anonymous snark, but you aren’t doing any grad students a service by stating falsehoods.Report

E
E

“Has anything changed substantially on average since 2007?”

Looks that way to the people whose posts you keep ignoring, doesn’t it?

And it looks that way to me, yet another person who finds being an assistant professor less demanding than being a graduate student, after recently making the transition.

But you’re going to continue to insist that, ~*~typically~*~, it’s not easier on the other side, based on…your experience from 2007? Again, not relevant. The job applications you read? I read those, too, and, I disagree with you. Grad school is much more demanding now than in 2007, because it takes much more to be competitive for a job. Meanwhile, requirements for tenure, at least at my institution and those institutions of which I’m familiar, have largely stayed put.

And let’s not talk about snark, shall we? You dish out plenty of it. Learn to take it in response. Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

Your workload as a TA greatly depends on who you’re TAing for. Many professors assign far too much work. In my experience they tend to be people who care a lot about undergraduate teaching and end up overextending their TAs as a result. In my graduate department it was not uncommon for professors to assign 4+ papers in addition to two or three exams in a semester. If you have 80 students, that’s a lot of work.

Writing the dissertation is less than half of the research work. You also need to be writing, revising, and sending out articles to journals. And, of course, in your fifth year you’ll probably also be spending a lot of time applying for jobs.Report

A.
A.
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

I have no idea whether my experience was “typical” but that sure did not look like my grad school experience. I taught 3 courses of my own, at two different institutions, and TA’d one course. I proposed and was granted two research grants. I published three papers. And yes, I wrote a dissertation. There wasn’t a single year of my graduate experience where my workload was that easy, and I went to a top 20 program. Report

Jason "I'm Obviously Right about This" Brennan
Jason "I'm Obviously Right about This" Brennan
Reply to  A.
2 years ago

3 course on your own? During the entire time in grad school? The median full-time tenure-track professor teaches 6 courses a year.Report

A.
A.

No, Jason. During one year. And it was actually teaching three courses and TAing 2, not one., I misspoke. Sorry I should have made that more clear. I did take 7 years to graduate, but I also did not go into the program with an MA. Even when I had a fellowship, which was technically breaking the rules, I taught my own courses. During my first two years (when I couldn’t adjunct because I wasn’t qualified) I worked 20 hours a week at a minimum wage job because the cost of living in my grad program area was very high, and we had no opportunities to earn money during the summer. I do think, from talking to others, that my workload was on the higher end. But I also think that the typical grad experience at the University of Arizona was at the lower-end. Very much so. I say this because I was friends with a lot of UofA students, and extremely jealous of their summer funding and light teaching loads,…if I remember a lot had to do with the Freedom Center. (which I don’t oppose by the way, I would have happily taken that opportunity if I could.) I now have an R1 job – and it is awesome. I greatly prefer this workload to my graduate workload. Report

Craig
Craig
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

Jason,

When I was in graduate school, my typical TAing would often require 3 hours a week of lecture, 2 hours a week of discussion section, 2 hours a week of office hours, and 1 hour a week of TA meetings. That’s 8 hours of required presence, with zero time yet allotted for reading, grading, or preparing (three skills I was just in the earliest days of developing). And, because of scheduling demands, those requirements often meant that I had to be on campus five days a week, where I did not have a quiet office or space to work. Finally, the grading. Man oh man, the grading. I had 30 papers to grade every two weeks. So every other week I was in grading hell (as I had not yet learned the tricks of the trade for grading), and the rest of the time I was catching up (e.g., trying to work on my dissertation, trying to keep up with seminar work, participating in department life)

The 5-hour week norm just seems like a dark comic fantasy to me.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

The workload you describe might be applicable to top universities in the English speaking world, but I assure you that compared to say, European universities that are actually among the best in their region (so not the best in the continent), those hours are ridiculously low.Report

Andro
Andro
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

I’m curious how job prospects are affected if a disability, like ASD, is the reason one takes longer to finish. Report

Charles
Charles
Reply to  Jason Brennan
2 years ago

” All things equal, taking longer to get a PhD sends a negative signal about about a student. If I had the choice between two people with otherwise equal pedigree, including publications, but one took four years and the other ten, I’d take the one who finished in four years.”

And how could one reasonably hope, as a member of a hiring committee with limited time and resources, to untangle the various complexities of ‘all things equal’? Perhaps the truth is closer to something like “Well, I did *my* PhD in four years and I had my fair share of extraneous difficulties, too, but I managed and expect others to do so as well.” Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  Charles
2 years ago

Charles, that’s a good question. How can we reasonable hope to untangle the complexities? The real answer is that most hiring committees won’t even try, and they will instead presume–unless you give them strong evidence to the contrary–that the person who took longer is worse.

I don’t blame them for that, either. No one is going to spend 1/hr per application when hiring. There isn’t time for that.* The burden falls upon the applicant to make it easy for the committees to see why taking 7 years to write a dissertation isn’t a problem.

Report

Avalonian
2 years ago

Thank you for this, it’s all really important. I struggle with (7) as well. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here, but in general I knew a lot of grad students who wished that their supervisors were more, and not less, “chummy”. A ‘chummy’ supervisor might just be a good friend and a confidante, and such relationships tend to break down a lot of the barriers and misconceptions that lead to the problems mentioned in (6). Moreover, and let’s just be real here, it has to be that high rates of depression and anxiety amongst grads are at least partly due to isolation and loneliness. It would be really great if we, as advisers, could foster genuine relations of care in spite of the power differential. I don’t yet know how to do this, though.Report

Adam
Adam
2 years ago

I’m curious as to how (1) and (5) are defended.Report

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Adam
2 years ago

I find 1 and 5 very intuitive; they should be mandates, not just suggestions.

(1): surely a student shouldn’t have to wait more than two or three weeks for a response. I think instructors are within their rights to say: “I’ll take this in pieces. Comments on each 2500 word section every week. And we’ll discuss the whole at the end.” Or: “I’m sorry, but you’ve caught me at a very bad time . . . comments by [date no more than six weeks away].” But I think it’s bad to leave a student hanging more than three weeks, say, or even for two weeks if you are their primary supervisor.

As for (5), why would you evaluate a student instead of evaluating their work? Yes, you have to do that in certain committee meetings (e.g., when you have to decide whether to fail them out of a program, or contrariwise, give them a job) and when you writing a letter of reference, but first of all it is epistemically dangerous and secondly you’re almost never asked to do that. Certainly, it’s uncalled for when you are assessing a paper: Why say ‘you are brilliant/mediocre/bad’ rather than ‘this paper is brilliant/needs a lot of work/needs a motivating idea’?Report

Adam
Adam
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
2 years ago

Thank you, Professor. I apologize; In being distracted and hasty, I failed to ask what I actually meant to ask (a possibly more interesting question): how would one would defend the denial of 1 and/or 5? Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  Adam
2 years ago

I’m not sure if anyone would deny 1 or 5, but some may still not follow them for various reasons, just as students may not deny that they shouldn’t take, say, a month to write a short draft yet still take that long.Report

John Fischer
John Fischer
2 years ago

I suppose I could just walk down the hall and tell Eric in person, but I’ll do it here. I find all of these suggestions really thoughtful and important. I have struggled with many of them, trying to figure out what the best balance is. I think it will never be straightforward how to proceed in a way that is supportive and respectful of our students, but also faithful to our families and ourselves. In any case, I’m grateful to Eric for codifying and expressing some of these concerns.Report

Camille
Camille
2 years ago

Great post. All excellent recommendations (esp. #2).Report

Michel
Michel
2 years ago

I think (4) is especially important, and too often goes forgotten.

I have often heard faculty (at my grad program, at conferences, on the internet, etc.) denigrate their graduate students because they didn’t end up at the same super-fancy program from which they got their PhD decades ago. And I have heard a lot of similar stories from students and former students. It’s an attitude that can be very destructive in a graduate program, even when it’s not widely shared.

And of course it goes hand in hand with the assumptions that genius is innate and unlearned, and that a philosopher’s quality can be measured either by the PGR rank of their doctoral program, or of their current institution..Report

Smith&Jones
Smith&Jones
Reply to  Michel
2 years ago

I was at a post-conference bar awhile back and the person, Y, next to me was a young prof with an Ivy League PhD who was now teaching at a state university with a graduate program. Y spent a good portion of the evening complaining and repeatedly describing the students in that PhD program as “clueless shitshows.” Y was so distraught about how little they knew that Y even contacted an old advisor to verify that Y’s graduate school self was much smarter and better than Y’s own graduate students.

I hope Y-likes, if there are any, come around to the view that something like rule (4) is a good idea. If not, maybe another rule would be: just keep it to yourself. Report

Eric Schwitzgebel
Eric Schwitzgebel
2 years ago

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments and appreciative remarks, folks. I’m glad that this is resonating with so many people! 🙂Report

Michael
Michael
2 years ago

Oh yes, #7, and #7 again! Semper vigilans…

I try to mentor our younger faculty, who often feel closer to the grad students than to the other faculty members, that they can be *friendly* with their students without trying to be *friends* with them. And mentorship ≠ friendship — indeed, I suspect they’re mutually exclusive.

Friends don’t sit on friends’ dissertation committees.Report

M
M
2 years ago

A thought on (3).
I had an excellent advisor who, among other things, kept things very impersonal and wasn’t at all pushy. He would give me a lot of freedom in terms of what to read or write, what conferences to attend, etc. This worked well for me and others who are used to work on their own. But it didn’t work at all with other students, who lacked the motivation to carry out their research, and ended up not finishing the PhD. Demanding work to be completed, and being assertive and systematic enough in doing so, could have been a resource in that case.
Of course, one may think that it is just fine if people who lack independent work abilities and organizational skills fail to get a PhD. In a way, they don’t have what it takes. On the other hand, though, I have reasons to think that the students I mentioned were doing excellent work, so it’s a pity that they didn’t finish, and more so because they were on a scholarship. What they lacked was a sense of duty as members of a community and as people who are enrolled in a program (and are being paid on those grounds). I wonder if an advisor could/should perhaps do something to remind people of their position. This might include putting some considerable pressure on people, under some circumstances. In this sense, that’s exactly what your boss would do at most jobs. Report

Chris Surprenant
Chris Surprenant
Reply to  M
2 years ago

“This worked well for me and others who are used to work on their own. But it didn’t work at all with other students, who lacked the motivation to carry out their research, and ended up not finishing the PhD.”

It sounds to me like it worked well. If they lack motivation to complete their work while in graduate school, they’re not cut out to be professional academics. We all operate in a world where it is very difficult to be successful. If folks can’t cut it, the sooner they learn that the better.Report

M
M
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
2 years ago

Chris Surprenant,
I think your interpretation is a plausible one: maybe it just wasn’t their thing. I concede that in my first comment, and I am certain that being successful (in academia or elsewhere) isn’t for everyone.
But people are different. Some people thrive under pressure. Some aren’t confident enough in themselves and would give up rather than withstanding scrutiny in the form of a dissertation committee. Some just need to understand that they need to put in more effort. Not all of these people are worth saving (academically speaking, that is), but presumably some are. Being somewhat sensitive to these individual differences could be a virtue for an academic advisor.Report

Marcus Arvan
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
2 years ago

“If they lack motivation to complete their work while in graduate school, they’re not cut out to be professional academics.”

Chris, this conditional is false. I lacked motivation while in graduate school, and I have done okay as a professional. And I have known plenty of people who were similar in this regard: people who struggled in grad school but went on to have good academic careers. People change. Grad students are often young people in the process of maturing. They should be given the chance too, rather than prejudged.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
2 years ago

”It sounds to me like it worked well. If they lack motivation to complete their work while in graduate school, they’re not cut out to be professional academics.”

This is almost too simple to be true. The organizational qualities and motivation of an individual can differ between different intervals of their lifetime. And it just could be that the survival-of-the-fittest approach is unnecessarily harsh, leading to dropout of people whou could have been a valuable part of the academic community, if only they navigated better through that challenging time of their life. And I dare say that nearly everyone working in an academic context knows such individuals, or knows some for who this is probably true.Report

Smith&Jones
Smith&Jones
Reply to  M
2 years ago

Fundamental attribution error much?

I propose adding another item to the list:
Don’t reflexively chalk up people’s struggles in graduate school as either deep flaws of character or innate and immutable lack of ability.Report

M
M
2 years ago

An additional thought, this time a proposal for an additional requirement:

(8) Be informed about the *current* state of the job market, and give students plausible advice regarding how they may find the job they want (or at least don’t give them wrong advice, and indicate them where they could find reliable information).

I could offer specific examples, but will more briefly say that some colleagues and friends of mine have received terrible advice by supervisors who still think that the job market is what it used to be when they got their jobs. The result, of course, is that their students end up being not as competitive as they could be when it comes to finding a position.
I understand that a professor need not be a placement expert, but uninformed or outdated advice is irresponsible.
Report

Cranky prof
Cranky prof
2 years ago

About #7.

I think it’s important to approach this issue with the attitude, “What is best for my student?”

When I was in graduate school, I had some faculty members (including a junior faculty member) misguidedly try to be “friends” with me. It was just horrible. In fact, I experienced it as incredibly exploitative, because I felt that I wasn’t in a position to turn down some of the overtures of “friendship.” And I don’t tbink those people wanted real friendship. I think they wanted me to be very, very nice to them and very very flattering to them, and they knew that I would feel like I “had”’ to be very nice and very flattering because of our respective professional positions.

But I also had teaches who tried to keep distance as a performance of superiority—they were “putting me in my place” by behaving in ways that were standoffish or rude or just deeply unpleasant. Or they enforced healthy boundaries, but in a way that was nasty and condescending instead of gracious and kind. (Often, with the presupposition that I or other students were always trying to push those boundaries—even though we plainly weren’t and were just trying to figure out how to interacts with these folks we saw as all powerful.)

Both cases were bad, but the primary issue to me wasn’t around the boundaries per se. It was the fact that professors were deciding how to interact with me in ways that were mostly guided by their egos, and not what was best for my education.

Students are not props in power plays—whether those powers plays involve getting too close or staying too far. And boundaries are there so that people can get work done effectively—whether that involves working colleague to colleague or mentor to mentee. Boundaries are not primarily a performance of hierarchy or lack thereof.

It’s a lot easier to figure out where a boundary should be when you start by asking, “What is best for my student’s education?”Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Cranky prof
2 years ago

That’s an excellent pointReport

--bill
--bill
2 years ago

A candidate for a number 8:
Know what sorts of good non-academic jobs are available to students graduating from your program, know resources at your institution (outside your department) that can help students to get these jobs, and make students aware of both.

When I was a grad student, back in the 90s, I and many of my fellow grad students took courses in computer programming; if you could do logic, you could program. Some people left before finishing their phd to go to Silicon Valley, some ended up there after not getting a (good enough, in their eyes) academic job. The professors who mentioned programming classes did a good thing, I think.Report

Tim O'Keefe
Reply to  --bill
2 years ago

Know what sorts of good non-academic jobs are available to students graduating from your program, know resources at your institution (outside your department) that can help students to get these jobs, and make students aware of both.

I agree 100% with the idea behind this–that graduate programs should help their students get non-academic jobs, if either (i) the student decides not to pursue an academic career., or (ii) getting an academic job doesn’t work out.

But I think that this would be done better at the departmental level, than by each individual Ph.D. advisor. After all, many professors at Ph.D. programs themselves have little familiarity with the non-academic job market, and having each of them trying to familiarize themselves with that market, and with the campus resources available to job seekers, and then to be in charge of communicating that information to the people who happen to be their dissertation advisees, seems inefficient, and would likely result in many alt-ac students falling through the cracks.

Instead, every department should make academic and non-academic placement a priority. That means, in addition to conducting mock interviews and the like, departments should gather the information –bill describes above and disseminate it to all of its graduate students (and to its faculty). Individual professors at departments that don’t already do this sort of thing should push to have their departments do it.Report

Adam
Adam
2 years ago

Are we assuming that (1) holds with respect to different sorts of comments for different sorts of writing projects (e.g., comments on drafts of dissertation chapters, comments on pre and post-submission term papers, comments on papers a student wants to publish, is presenting at conferences, etc.)?Report