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Advising Styles

Greg Lambeth, Ph.D.
January 11, 2006

I have identified 8 primary styles of advising based on my conversations with hundreds of graduate students, discussions with faculty members, conducting Dissertation Writing Workshops and reviewing some of the literature on mentoring. These categories are not discrete and most faculty have characteristics from more than one advising style.

Engaged/Collaborative Advisor

These advisors actively participate in the research process, they care about the research graduate students are conducting and they provide timely, useful, relevant and constructive feedback. These advisors typically form an intellectual partnership with graduate students and they are often willing to provide some assistance with the writing process (e.g., time management and organizational issues).

Supportive, but Minimally Involved Advisor

These advisors are compassionate faculty members, generally well-regarded by graduate students, easy to get along with and they provide encouragement and support. They have a hands-off approach to advising, however, and won't provide significant amounts of input on your dissertation. Some advisors adopt this approach for philosophical reasons, but for others it is more a reflection of their personality.

Technical Advisor

These advisors maintain a strict boundary between academic and professional work on the one hand and personal life on the other hand. They seldom divulge information about their personal lives to colleagues or graduate students and they rarely inquire about the personal affairs of graduate students.

Popular, but Overwhelmed Advisor

These faculty members are often the academic stars in their departments and they are frequently sought after by graduate students for the intellectual contributions they can make to a dissertation. They generally enjoy working with graduate students and they are often perceived as helpful. These faculty may intend for advising to be a priority, but they may be too over-committed and overwhelmed to meet consistently with graduate students.

The (Almost) Never Satisfied Advisor

These advisors have high standards and expectations that can improve the quality of a dissertation, but their feedback may be excessively critical. These advisors are often highly curious and are always seeking new research questions or theoretical perspectives that can strengthen a project. These advisors sometimes assume too much ownership of a dissertation and graduate students sometimes feel that the project "doesn't belong to them". If feedback is not perceived as constructive criticism, then graduate students may not trust these advisors.

The Adversarial Advisor

The adversarial advisor may or may not recognize the hostility and/or abuse of power associated with their interpersonal style. They may be especially insensitive to differences of culture, race, gender and/or sexual orientation. Some graduate students leave their programs after working with these types of advisors for several years. Those students who do complete their degrees generally do so despite the quality of the advising relationship and not because of it.

The Absent Advisor

These advisors are unavailable to collaborate with graduate students on their dissertations. They may be on sabbatical, a leave of absence or working at another institution. Or, they may avoid graduate students or the campus altogether. There appear to be some faculty who have disengaged from their work for personal or professional reasons.

The Impaired Advisor

The impaired advisor is experiencing significant personal and/or professional dysfunction such as alcohol/substance abuse or untreated psychological problems. A graduate student might be aware that these problems exist, but they may not know whether there has been a departmental or institutional response to the impairment. Impairment almost always has a negative affect on some part of the dissertation process.