3: Managing Academic Relationships

Dealing with Stress

  • Find ways to make progress—even tackling a small task can help you feel good. Any accomplishments should be viewed as positive; let it represent progress.
  • Increase your competency in other areas that could be contributing to your stress (e.g. computer competency, teaching strategies).
  • Find/schedule time to enjoy activities not related to your academic work. Even consider interacting with people outside your program who share some of these interests.
  • Exercise regularly and try relaxation techniques (meditation, yoga, etc.).
  • Be sure to get enough sleep as the effects of sleep loss can harm you both in the short term and the long term.

Developing a Supportive Community

  • Maintain your relationships with family and friends. They can be an invaluable source of support and help you maintain your perspective on life outside of academia.
  • Consider how choices in topic might separate you from your partner or family and discuss these lifestyle changes with them. Talk about the expectations you have for your partner, children, and your family, and talk about the expectations they have of you.
  • Think about whether there are ways to include your family/friends in your work.
  • Join or develop working groups with other students—theory groups, research groups, study groups, and writing groups can be intellectually stimulating and supportive spaces.

Choosing an Advisor and Committee
An effective advisor of your committee should be:

  • Someone interested in and competent to advise on your topic;
  • Someone with reasonable expectations for what you will accomplish;
  • Someone reliable (i.e., will give comments within a reasonable time);
  • Someone accessible for feedback and consistent with advice;
  • Someone with personal integrity;
  • Someone interested in your success;
  • Someone with the ability to responsibly chair the committee;
  • Someone willing to be a mentor during and beyond graduate school;
  • Someone respected by other faculty;
  • Someone you generally get along with and enjoy being around.

Temporary advisors are, believe it or not, only meant to be temporary! Many grads begin working with a temporary advisor and invite that person to become his or her permanent advisor. However, the point of having a temporary advisor is to help you get started in your program and you shouldn’t feel guilty about choosing a permanent advisor later on. It may feel awkward to end this relationship, but most temporary advisors expect it to happen and you should feel free to choose an advisor that suits you best.

Try working with your committee to establish guidelines and expectations for both you and the various members of your committee.

  • Consider working with your committee to establish realistic responsibilities for both you and the various members.
  • Keep an open mind and encourage their suggestions and comments; feedback is important—let your committee know how they are doing.
  • Early on, think about creating, along with your committee, a meeting schedule and stick to it.
  • Sometimes, planning around times when everyone cannot meet is easier than trying to find the “one time” that everyone can.
  • Consider clearly establishing at what point in the development of the drafts they will be given to the various committee members and agree on a response time. Solicit specific response from individual members based on their strengths and your needs in order to Rassure timely and relevant response from them.
  • Take responsibility for communicating with members; do it regularly and build a positive relationship with them. Think about sending regular progress reports to them discussing course work and research.
  • This report should be a regular habit. For instance, submit a monthly report to the entire committee and be clear on what revisions you have accomplished and still need to do. It could also be a forum to resolve difficulties you may encounter.

Suggestions for Handling Situations

  • First, recognize that your advisor and your committee want to see you succeed (despite the feelings we might sometimes have to the contrary!). Keep these thoughts in mind when working out conflicts with your committee.
  • If you disagree, keep lines of communication open. Both you and your advisor need to articulate your positions to eliminate misunderstandings. If you still can’t agree (and the situation becomes insurmountable), perhaps you need to reconsider the membership of your committee. Remember, articulate your concerns early on in the process.
  • If a member is inaccessible or unavailable, make sure that you are being very clear as to when you need them and how to reach them.
  • If feedback is slow in coming (e.g., if it takes weeks or months to get work back), talk with the member and find out why the agreed upon time frame is not being adhered to. Make your advisor aware of the situation. If a resolution cannot be reached, you need to deal with it by channeling your energy and emotions back into your writing, finding outlets for stress, or finding an outside reader.
  • If your relationship with your advisor becomes problematic—depending upon the nature of the situation—seek out the counsel of a responsible person. In most circumstances the graduate chair of your department is the best first step.
  • If you begin to question whether the dissertation is your work or the committee’s, be aware that it is a joint venture; you and your committee. However, you still should feel a strong sense of ownership in the work.