Feature

At first, the stats look promising: 91 percent of newly minted doctorates are happy with the quality of mentoring  (PDF, 3.3MB) and advising they received in grad school, 84 percent reported receiving regular research guidance from their advisors and 68 percent received feedback about their career preparation, according to research by the Council of Graduate Schools. "By and large, students who complete their doctorates report that their advisors are doing a good job," says Robert Sowell, CGS's vice president for programs and operations. But with just 65 percent of psychology PhD students making it to the finish line, a third of grad students seem to lack the guidance they need to succeed. What exactly does that entail? Today's students share their humble requests:

Respond to our emails — after you read them. "Radio silence" in response to an email can provoke a lot of anxiety, says Jessica*, a clinical psychology grad student. "I really appreciate it when advisors and supervisors respond, even if they aren't able to address my questions," she says. A quick, "Let me check on this and get back to you," is extremely reassuring, Jessica adds. But while any response is better than none, one that answers the question at hand is best. "My advisor often skims my emails," says Sophia, a developmental psychology graduate student. When the response fails to answer her questions, she has no choice but to write another.

Don't treat us like research monkeys. A warm, collegial demeanor inspires students to work hard, says Eli, a school psychology graduate student. It's disheartening when professors treat their advisees like low-level research assistants, piling on grunt work without giving students the opportunity to learn, grow and contribute their own ideas, he says. "Try to keep a balanced relationship with your students," Eli says. "We are going to be your colleagues soon."

Check in with us. Students need guidance throughout grad school, not just as they write their dissertations, says Jannette, a school and clinical psychology graduate student. "I wish we had made an effort from the beginning to meet frequently, not only when there was an urgent or important matter to discuss," she says. Weekly meetings may be overkill, but an occasional email asking, "How are you doing?" gives students an opening to seek advice on their course load and other smaller issues, says Candice, a social psychology graduate student. "Taking the time to email students and check in with them is a hugely important part of forming a relationship with your new students," she says.

Be open-minded. If your student wants to try a new statistical technique or data-collection method, don't dismiss it without consideration. "Advisors can be very resistant to new ideas," Eli says. Additionally, advisors may not appreciate how quickly students can conduct literature reviews, collect data and complete statistical analysis with PsycINFO and other Internet-age tools, says Miriam, a developmental psychology grad student. "They think if you do something fast, you couldn't have done it well," she says.

Provide clear, constructive feedback. Few things are more discouraging than when an advisor writes, "Do you even want to be here?" or "You aren't taking this seriously enough" on papers, says Sophia. "Never question a student's motivation," she says. "Instead, try to provide objective feedback on the content of the paper." Advice on APA style and other small edits are certainly appreciated, adds Miriam, but don't forget to address big-picture questions. "I don't just want to hear about my writing style, I want to know if I've homed in on the right theoretical model or used the right methodology," she says.

Keep up with changes in the job market. Advisors need to make peace with the fact that many of their students will go on to have careers very different from their own, says Sophia. "I am going to do research for a nonprofit," she says. "I want a job that isn't going to consume my life like academe does." Even within the ivory tower, expectations for new professors are changing, with funding going to scientists who can translate their findings into programs that benefit the world and who can communicate their work to the public, says Miriam. "Being able to write about your research in an accessible way is a really important skill," she says. If you don't have the expertise to help your students learn new skills like these, help them find someone who does, Eli adds. "Keep in mind the field is changing all the time, and sometimes we know about what's going on before you do," he says.

Quiz

  • Discover what aspects of your advisor-advisee relationship may need work by taking the "Advisory Working Alliance Inventory" by Dr. Lewis Schlosser, of Seton Hall University, and Dr. Charles Gelso, of the University of Maryland.