Selecting an Advisor

Although an initial faculty advisor is assigned to each student during the summer prior to matriculation in the graduate program, students should seek out regular advisors by the end of their first year in residence. (Some exceptions, such as a prospective advisor being on sabbatical and/or otherwise unavailable during a student’s first year, may extend this timeline to the middle of the second year.) The regular advisor should be a faculty member whose research interests and methodological expertise match closely to those that the student intends to acquire. While no faculty member is obliged to accept a student’s request to serve as advisor, invitations are usually accepted except where the faculty member judges that a different advisor would serve the student’s needs and interests better. Graduate School rules restrict academic staff from serving as sole advisor, but in rare cases, and if approved in advance by the Graduate Committee, they may serve as co-advisor.

Assignments of initial faculty advisors are made through discussions among faculty within the four areas of graduate study in the Department. Area faculty consider an incoming graduate student’s background, research interests, and stated preferences in making decisions about initial assignments. Because area faculty seek to match students with faculty members who share their interests, initial faculty advisors often become a new graduate student’s regular advisor, as both faculty member and student confirm a mutual set of interests and a productive working relationship. However, since research interests develop over time and since students may come to know faculty relatively unfamiliar to them prior to matriculation, the Department encourages all students to consider actively whom among the faculty in their area may best serve as their regular advisor.

For students in Media and Cultural Studies, the initial faculty advisor serves as advisor throughout coursework, or until Comprehensive Exams for MA students. Media and Cultural Studies students are then encouraged to consider actively whom on the faculty may best serve as a dissertation advisor, and to formalize this relationship early in their final year of coursework, or following Comprehensive Exams for MA students.

For more information, see the Graduate School’s policy on advising:

After selecting a regular advisor, the student should inform the graduate coordinator, who will enter the advisor’s name in the student’s records. Students may see their regular advisor listed on MyUW.

Questions for Prospective Advisors

An advisor may be the most influential person shaping a student’s program of study and academic experiences in graduate school. Conversations with advisors often extend beyond academic program matters to issues of professionalization, such as readying research for publication and preparing for the job market. For these reasons, students should select their advisor with care.

Below are some questions students may wish to ask prospective advisors. Many of these questions are not simple and may not elicit a quick answer. However, any advisor should be willing to discuss these important issues with students. Students also may wish to discuss these issues with other students who are currently working with a prospective advisor. This list is by no means complete; students should spend some time thinking about what is most important in their graduate training.

  1. What types of research projects have you advised in the past?
  2. What kinds, if any, of research approaches, perspectives, and methods do you favor?
  3. In general, how available will you be to answer questions that I have?
  4. What is your philosophy regarding the amount of guidance the advisor should provide to a student during preparation of the dissertation proposal, dissertation, etc.?
  5. What are your expectations for the amount of time each week I should spend working on my project?
  6. What is your philosophy regarding preparing students to attend professional meetings, presenting papers at these meetings, and networking with other scholars in the field?
  7. Do you encourage your students to submit manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals, and, if so, what do you see as your role in mentoring students through this process?
  8. How long do you think it should take me to get my degree?
  9. What are your former graduate students (if any) doing now?
  10. What is your general philosophy of graduate training and what goals do you have for your graduate students?

Changing Advisors

A student who later decides that a different regular advisor would be preferable should discuss this with the current advisor as well as the prospective advisor and then feel free to seek the change. Students may consider switching advisors at different points in their graduate careers, including the end of academic years, completion of exams, and transitions from the Masters degree to PhD. As with the selection of an advisor, a change of advisors should be based on students’ assessment of who will be able to guide them best into their chosen area of research. Any student changing regular advisors should notify the Graduate Coordinator, who will enter the necessary information into the student’s records.