5 tips for working with a thesis advisor

Advice For Working With a Thesis Advisor

  • Develop a Positive Working Relationship
  • Communicate Well
  • Have Clearly Defined Goals
  • Be Proactive
  • Be a Good Listener

A graduate school thesis advisor guides a student throughout the different stages of a final research project. Picking a research advisor who has the background and interests that coincide with a chosen topic is one of the first steps in this process. Once the chosen professor has agreed to work with a student, however, it's now time to understand the best ways of working well together to achieve the pursued goals of the graduate degree.

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1. Develop a Positive Working Relationship

According to the American Psychological Association, there is a developmental connection between student and advisor, and that connection should evolve over time. Be considerate of a thesis advisor's time by coming to meetings fully prepared so as not to waste time. Arrive with an agenda of what needs to be discussed. Have a list of topics ready to review and know what you want to get out of each meeting or conversation. Agree upon the milestones to be reached. In these ways, mutual respect can be achieved and a good working relationship can flourish.

2. Communicate Well

Clear, open communication is key to a good working relationship between a graduate school student and her thesis advisor. Honesty and openness can enable a more successful, pleasant thesis research experience. If some points of disagreement crop up, discuss them fully so unpleasant feelings do not have a chance to fester. Negative things can occur if communication breaks down. Be sure to openly facilitate discussions when a problem presents itself or to review progress and concerns.

3. Have Clearly Defined Goals

Be able to answer the following questions:

"What is this thesis project trying to accomplish?"

"How does the work fit in with the thesis advisor's overall goals?"

Work with the thesis advisor to emphasize the key points of the project so time is effectively spent. Students can follow up face-to-face meetings with concise emails that reiterate the main takeaways from the meeting and the coming weeks' priorities. Each email can then be referred to in the next meeting to keep advisor and student clearly on track and gauge progress.

4. Be Proactive

If struggles with the research project become apparent, use those good communication skills and talk with a thesis advisor sooner rather than later. In this way, students can receive necessary feedback to enable them to attempt a different approach completely or perhaps just fine-tune what's already been accomplished. Being proactive also includes knowing about and working to an advisor's strengths and weaknesses. If, for example, an advisor is known to be a little disorganized, send regular work updates to let him or her know things are on track.

5. Be a Good Listener

Active listening is possibly one of the hardest communication skills. This is especially true if a student has a specific viewpoint about the thesis project and is not open to new ideas. It's important to have an open mind during discussions with a thesis advisor. Take criticism constructively by listening carefully to it. Ask questions and try not to take advice about changes to a project too personally. Really listening to the advice of a seasoned mentor will go a long way toward establishing and keeping a beneficial relationship between student and advisor.

Working on a graduate school thesis is a learning experience in more ways than one. Ensure that the working experience with a thesis advisor remains a pleasant and fruitful one by keeping the lines of communication and understanding open at all times.