Advisors can be tricky. They’re around to help you accomplish your goal, but they also have their own projects and responsibilities. They don’t have unlimited time to prod you and it’s not their job to force you. As a dissertator, one of the most crucial things you can do is to maintain an open line of communication with your advisor because it keeps you moving forward in a positive direction and it helps keep relationships clean. When you communicate your progress freely, your advisor isn’t left wondering what you’ve been doing with your time and you can ask for and receive the help you need when you need it. Maintaining a relationship with your advisor is always easier than rebuilding one, so don’t let yours fall into disrepair by failing to answer emails, even if you’re nervous about your progress or lack of it. You need your advisor’s guidance, so hiding from his/her emails won’t help you get finished. In fact, it’s best to practice professional assertion and send regular emails that communicate what you’re doing even when you’re not ready to send drafts to the advisor. Strive for a formal and polite tone, especially in the early stages of a relationship. There’s time for a more collegial relationship to grow, but don’t force it. Make a plan—hopefully with your advisor’s input—and, as much as humanly possible, stick to the schedule you set. This includes providing regular emails to your advisor informing him/her of how your work is progressing and identifying potential problems before they grow out of control. Be firm (and reasonable) about requests for help, and keep an open mind. There may be times when you don’t like what your advisor has to say, but that doesn’t mean she or he doesn’t have a point you need to consider thoughtfully. Similarly, you don’t have to sit back and passively accept all critique without respectful rebuttal or do everything your advisor suggests in an unquestioning manner. Part of completing a dissertation is maturing into a professional that your advisor and committee would recommend to others as a potential colleague. To that end, you need to learn how to take feedback, use what is helpful, and find your way through this monograph-length project. You alone have the responsibility to write your dissertation, so be assertive about your goals and your plan for meeting them. Emails to your advisor should serve a purpose. You’re both busy; don’t waste your own or your advisor’s time.


Action Steps:

  1. Know how and when to approach your advisor. Don’t fall off the face of the Earth and don’t inundate your advisor with meaningless emails.
  2. Email regularly with confidence and in a polite tone. You have a right to receive feedback and help. You’re paying for it through your tuition. However, that doesn’t mean your advisor will jump the minute she or he reads your email, so be patient and send a polite reminder if necessary.
  3. Keep a record of your email correspondence and notes from phone or face-to-face meetings to help resolve problems if miscommunications do occur.
  4. If you’re hiding from your advisor for fear of letting him/her down, know that you can’t hide forever and you can’t finish your dissertation without an advisor. It’s best to jump in and get the reintroductions over with as soon as possible.
  5. Speak up early when a problem arises. Help your advisor to help you by asking for what you need to get through the problem. Be assertive about your own goals.