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Guidelines for Student-Faculty Relationships

This document has its roots in a department-wide student survey administered by the UCLA Psychology Graduate Association in 1992. The first draft of this document was distributed to UCLA faculty members and GSA representatives in 1994. After incorporating their comments, a final review was conducted by the UCLA Faculty Executive Committee in 1995. A revised version was posted on the Northwestern University web site in 1998. The Northwestern version served as the first draft for this document. The document was then revised for the UH web site by the Director of Graduate Studies after incorporating changes recommended by the Department Executive Committee and Graduate Student Council (GSC).


Everyone has a different view of the ideal advising relationships and good advising relationship take many different forms. There is widespread agreement, however, that certain responsibilities and rewards are an inherent part of any mentoring relationship between student and faculty member. The purpose of this document is to describe the basic expectations that should hold for advising relationships. It will recommend ways of insuring that these expectations are met and that relationships are maximally beneficial to both parties. The goal is to increase awareness of the factors that produce a valuable partnership in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

The advising relationship will ideally foster students' confidence, skills, and grounding in theory. This relationship should be the student's doorway to participation in the profession of psychology. In most cases, students and faculty will both feel that the relationship is productive and rewarding. However, if a student is not making good progress toward a degree or is not engaging in requisite presentation and publication activities, this may indicate a problem in the advising relationship. Students who feel the necessary support is missing from their advising relationship are encouraged to communicate their needs, discuss possible remedies, or perhaps find a new advisor. It is important that students are able to recognize unsatisfactory situations early on, and handle them appropriately. It is ultimately the student's choice and responsibility to terminate an unsatisfactory relationship.

What to Expect from Your Advising Relationship

Basic Expectations

At a minimum, students can expect advising relationships to provide:

  1. Guidance with ongoing research.
  2. Guidance in planning professional progress and achieving necessary milestones.
  3. Opportunities for and assistance with professional publications and conference presentations.
  4. Letters of reference required for professional opportunities.

In addition, some advising relationships also provide students with:

  1. Financial support from a grant and other external sources.
  2. Facilitation of exchange of ideas among students and faculty with similar research interests, often in the form of lab meetings, etc.

At a minimum, faculty members can expect advising relationships to provide:

  1. Opportunities to exchange ideas with intelligent and motivated students.
  2. Opportunities to collaborate on research projects and publications
  3. Gratification that they are training a new generation of scholars and practitioners.

In addition, some advising relationships also provide faculty with:

  1. Employed research assistants.
  2. Exposure to new areas of research and new statistical techniques as a result of their students' interests and expertise.
  3. Letters of evaluation required for professional advancement.

These letters of evaluation can be the primary method through which advising is given weight in faculty promotions. If you have had a good or bad experiences with a professor, or if you have any thoughts as to whether a professor will serve students' interests in the future, you can make these known in a letter of evaluation.

Other Expectations

Below are five aspects of the mentoring relationship that tend to vary across advising relationships. Expectations regarding these aspects should be mutually understood throughout the advising relationship. Negotiation of these expectations is often informal, and mutual understanding may well be reached with little discussion. The activities of the advisor and advisee will evolve naturally to meet the changing needs of the student and changing demands of research projects. The important thing is that both parties are aware of what to expect and feel that they can safely raise issues if expectations are frequently unfulfilled.

  1. Frequency and method for scheduling advising meetings:

    There appears to be a common feeling among some faculty members (UCLA, NW and other schools polled) that advising meetings should occur roughly one to eight times a month, depending on the current needs of the student and the research project(s) in progress. Within these g

    Advisor and advisee set up a regular meeting time, and/or the advisor holds a lab meeting attended by all of his/her students. The expectation is that they will always meet at that set time to ensure continuity and frequent communication.

    Advisor and advisee set aside a weekly meeting time during

    Advisor is available to advisee on an "as needed" basis, usually by appointment, and occasionally, by stopping by the advisor's office. If this is the arrangement, advisors are expected to be on campus and available for meetings on a regular basis. Students should keep in mind that faculty members may not want to be interrupted at certain times (e.g., while preparing for a class). The important thing is not that faculty are always available, but that they are available for meetings on a regular basis and do not communicate to the student that a meeting would be an imposition.
  2. How the advisee should prepare for advising meetings:

    Advisee should come prepared with ideas, questions, or results to discuss.

    If the advisee has written work (e.g., a manuscript for submission or a thesis draft), a copy should be given to the advisor about a week before the scheduled meeting, so that the advisor has sufficient time to read over it. Keep in mind that a key component of a professor's job is review of manuscripts submitted to journals; this means that your advisor may have a backlog of papers to read, and yours may or may not be at the top of the list. If in doubt, simply ask your advisor how much time he/she needs in advance for the purpose of examining written documents.
  3. How quickly the advisor will return a written draft with comments, and how quickly the student will incorporate the advisor's comments and bring in a new draft.

    Of course, this depends on the size of a document or other task and the proximity of deadlines. Revisions of journal manuscripts will often require 24 hour turn-around. In general, a maximum of two weeks is often appropriate. Remember, if the faculty member is traveling or either party becomes ill, the turn-around time must be extended. The important thing is to make this turn-around time explicit to both parties and then to honor this commitment. As in a game of badminton, both parties are expected to keep the birdie in the air, so to speak.
  4. It is important to develop a shared understanding of the timeline for the advisee's progress through the doctoral program. Typically, the area (e.g., clinical, social) has established guidelines. Also, regulations regarding maximum/minimum courses and support have been set up by the State of Texas Coordinating Board for Higher Education.
  5. As research projects become formalized, it is important to have mutual agreement about the advisor's participation in the planning and write-up of the advisee's research. It is also important to establish as early as possible how this participation will figure into order of authorship for collaborative papers.

Getting What You Expect: Communication

  1. 1. Share your expectations as early as possible. Attempt to clarify your agreements about essential aspects of the relationship. (It might be helpful for students to prepare a list of questions and concerns prior to meeting with your advisor).
  2. Communicate concerns or questions to your advisor or advisee as soon as they arise. If you avoid addressing difficulties they are likely to get worse. Students can take heart in one professor's comment "we are often as relieved as the students are when tensions are acknowledged and dealt with." Usually, difficulties can be worked out; if it appears there is an inherent incompatibility, advisors should be changed.

Choosing an Advisor (Suggestions for Students)

  1. Ask other students.

    Other students, especially more senior students, have a great deal to offer. Ask them to relate their experiences working with an advisor you are considering. What are the positives, what are the negatives? How much time has the advisor devoted to meeting with students? Do students feel supported psychologically by this advisor? Try to talk to as many sources of information as possible because different students can have dissimilar experiences with the same advisor.
  2. Create a relationship that is mutually beneficial.

    Look for advisors who would themselves benefit from the mentor relationship. An ideal situation is when your work fits somehow into your advisor's research program.
  3. Teach and entice your prospective advisor.

    If you can't find someone pursuing research in your area, remember that most faculty members are motivated to advise because of the intellectual stimulation it provides. Therefore, if you want a certain faculty members to take you on as an advisee, take time to get this person interested and motivated. You may have to educate this person on the background of your research. Working together, you might find a way to link your ideas to his/her current projects or interests. you may even discover a new angle for approaching your own work.
  4. Ask other faculty members.

    Faculty members tend to know one another's area of interest, and may be able to guide you to someone who has an interest in line with your own. While some professors will gently steer you away from colleagues they don't think would be ideal mentors for you, others will be reluctant to provide an opinion on a specific colleague's style of advising. One good way to be sensitive to the political constraints on professors is to ask them in an open ended fashion who they might recommend to serve as your advisor.

Important Reminders for Students

  1. With proper communication, most advising relationships are productive and satisfying for both parties.
  2. If it seems to you that your relationship will never reach this point of mutual satisfaction, you have the right and the responsibility to yourself to switch advisors. The sooner you switch, the easier it will be for you to build another relationship, and the less you will have invested in the original relationship. Remember, as one professor said, "ending a collaboration does not imply personal rejection." Some people just don't work well together because of differences in style, values, or intellectual interests.
  3. No matter who your primary advisor is, always make sure that more than one faculty member knows you well, and can attest to the quality of your work and character. This way, you will not have to depend solely upon one person for a letter of recommendation. You will thus be protected in the case of a relationship turned sour, or a departure of your advisor from the university. Moreover, with two or three advisors, you will have the benefit of advice from several sources.