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Advising Best Practice: Clearly Communicate Expectations

All relationships revolve around sets of expectations. When these expectations are not clearly articulated, disappointment, frustration, and misunderstanding are likely around the corner. Making sure that you and your advisor are on the same page with regard to what you each expect of the other is key to a positive working relationship. Looking ahead as the term winds down, you might aim to set up a meeting with your advisor in January to check in and clarify goals and expectations for spring term. Consider sending a follow-up email summarizing what you both agreed upon, so you can refer to it later.

Expectations to Clarify:

  • How often will you meet? Via Zoom or in-person?
  • What is the best method of communication for each of you?
  • What is a reasonable response time for feedback on written drafts?
  • How much lead time will your advisor need for letters of recommendation? What materials will they need from you?
  • If you are collaborating, how will you approach questions of credit and authorship?
  • What does your advisor generally expect of a student at your stage of the PhD? Of you in particular?

Quick Tips:

  • Know Your Style. Take a few minutes to consider what your past advising relationships have looked like. How do you hope your graduate school advising relationships will be similar or different? How do you think your advisor would describe their advising style? 
  • Look Ahead. What are deadlines, obligations, or priorities that will impact your workflow for the next few months? Consider asking your advisor what's ahead for them, too, so you can plan deadlines and meetings accordingly.
  • Ask Around. Review your department or program’s handbook and draw on institutional knowledge to clarify what will be formally expected of you. Ask your peers about informal departmental or advisory expectations: what has worked well or not-so-well for them?


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