Writing and Presenting Your
Thesis or Dissertation
S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan USA
Note #7 - Adversarial versus collegial relationship with your advisor
I am wondering about the type of relationship you have with your advisor. Would you consider it to be "adversarial" or "collegial" or …..? Is this the type of relationship you like? What type of relationship would you prefer? How can it be achieved?
Academic advisors have a choice. I am always impressed when I meet an advisor who chooses to have a collegial relationship with the student. Such an advisor appears to make the assumption that the student will grow into the same role as the advisor. In the future they will be colleagues. So, you might as well begin now.
Of course, there are certainly advisors who enjoy the power they have and they are intent on using it as the basis of an adversarial relationship.
Graduate students also have a choice that can affect the relationship. Students who experience problems in their academic program often assume that they must fight their way to the end. This can promote an adversarial relationship with the advisor. The problem, of course, is that the student has very little power in such an adversarial relationship. The student may end up entering a fight they can not win.
If you find yourself in an adversarial relationship with your advisor (and have no power) you may want to consider ways to alter the relationship and make it more collegial. For instance, looking to your advisor for answers to meaningful/substantive questions. Or, scheduling regular meetings with your advisor so that problems can be dealt with as they emerge rather than waiting until they are out of control. Or, turning to your advisor to dispel rumors rather than looking to other students (who don't know the answer!) for insight. Or, a periodic email update to let your advisor know you are serious about your program.
When you started your academic program you assumed that the focus would be exclusively on academics. The truth may be that the student-advisor relationship is as strong a focus as academics. Don't disregard it. The advisor is NOT the only person who can turn things in the direction of collegiality. The graduate student has the power to affect the relationship they have with their advisor and can help turn it in the direction of a collegial relationship.
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Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation