Prospectus on Graduate Studies and Advising
(With many thanks and apologies to Dan Binkley, Mike Ryan, and Monica Turner)
A huge part of your graduate education will depend on how you interact with other graduate students in your program, but your interactions with your advisor will truly determine the level of your success and happiness as you finish your degree. No graduate experience can or should be planned out completely before it occurs, but understanding the basic approach and philosophy of your graduate advisor before you start can help you to decide whether you have chosen or will choose the correct lab. To help in that regard, what follows is my general approach to advising my graduate students.
I have two basic roles in advising my graduate students. As a mentor, my job is to support, encourage, and nurture the development of each student. Separate from mentorship, as a professor I also am here to judge the accomplishments and potential of each student. I expect my students to be self-motivated and hard-working, and in return my students should expect my support, sometimes including uncomfortable criticism and challenges. Many students’ initial idea of graduate work may not match reality – perhaps the program requires greater dedication, sharper thinking, or broader knowledge than the student is able or willing to give. It is my job to help students develop their visions and accomplishments to meet the demands of the program, but I am not a micro-manager. I work closely with students as to help them develop their research ideas, but I expect students to take charge and ownership of what they are doing. I don’t prefer deadlines because I hope they are unnecessary. On rare occasion, a match between myself and a student does not develop, and I have asked students to leave the lab.
Not every graduate education is the same, but all involve developing your ability to think critically, creatively, and independently. Very rarely does a student enter a graduate program adept at all three of these characteristics. For example, a beginning student may work well on his/her own, but not in a creative way. Students are often critical and skeptical of science but in a very non-creative way. A major goal for students in my lab is to develop all three of these characteristics before graduation. The level of their development depends on the degree program:
A student earning an MS should:
A student earning a PhD should:
The graduate advisor should:
Preparing for the job market
Typically students use graduate school to advance their career or to work toward career goals; that said, much like a B.S. degree, a graduate degree does not guarantee a job after graduation. Students must invest in their post-graduate school success during the completion of their graduate degree. Four ways of preparing to be competitive after graduate school include:
There is no one way for a student or a scientist to succeed. Success is simple for some people because they are extremely intelligent and clever, and are efficient with their time. For others, they succeed simply through extremely hard work. Still others are obsessed with their science, to the point they depend on it as much as breathing. Students and the advisor need to figure out where they fall. I would encourage a student doing very well to reserve some time for hobbies or family; a struggling student, however, should probably be spending more time figuring out how to get out of the mire (or whether an ecology or science path is the right one for them).
Approach to publication
I hold students responsible for seeing a project through to its end. This means more than writing a proposal and completing field work and writing a thesis or dissertation. Research is not considered completed until it is published; this deliverable is a foundation to satisfy funders and to obtain future funding. I value graduate student’s research much more when he/she is the first author (I hold the right to be the corresponding author on graduate student publications). However, I have and will obtain control of the project if necessary – usually because the work is not likely to be otherwise completed in a timely manner. In that case, the student will always remain a co-author on the paper – and I am willing to discuss the student as first author depending on the situation.
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