Believe it or not, choosing the right graduate advisor will help you succeed in graduate school. Why? Because they aren’t just there to help you get through the graduation process. There are there to help guide you through your entire graduate career, including mentoring you when you need it, pushing you towards your goal while broadening your horizons, and one who will speak to your strengths and develop your weaknesses. Graduate advisors are also typically the head of your thesis or portfolio review committee, so you want to choose someone who aligns with your own personal goals.
Informally interview potential advisors
A good way to start your initial search is to research potential advisors in your department of study, set up some informal interviews or meetings with them in their office. Do this for 4 or 5 different professors who you think might fulfill your needs. Interested in a specific area of study? Make sure you interview people who specialized in the same thing, have published papers on the topic, and who you can engage with on the same level during your studies.
When you meet them, let them know that you are an incoming student, what your academic and professional goals are, and ask them questions that may help you further down the road. Academic advisors are aware of the benefits to advising as they were once students too and likely have other students whom they advise.
Pick an advisor that is good at what you are interested in
You most likely have an area(s) of study that sparked your interests during your bachelor degree that you want to pursue in your graduate degree. In other words, if you enjoyed learning about medieval literature while getting your bachelor’s in English, choose a program and advisor that specializes and teaches classes in medieval studies.
You’ll also want to be sure that you look up articles and books that they published. Read these articles from front to back and be sure to understand their main points. You don’t have to necessarily agree 100 percent with your advisor, and in fact it will be good if they challenge you intellectually. At least be sure that your area of interest is in the same wheelhouse as your own. You’ll spend many hours discussing and debating the merits of your classes and thesis or portfolio, so make sure that they can teach you something and you are armed with the knowledge to keep up.
Choose advisor that is a great mentor
While area of interest is an important factor, you’ll also want to make sure that the advisor you choose knows how to be a good mentor. This means that your advisor needs to be a good teacher and will put in the work to guide you in the direction you want to go. It isn’t enough to be knowledgeable in your subject area. They could have published the top book in your subject, but if they don’t know how to nourish your own abilities, you might as well just read their book and choose someone who will get you where you need to go.
What do other students have to say about them?
You’ll have to dig a little deeper to find out what other students say about your potential advisors, but it is certainly important. During your initial interview with them, ask them if you can meet some of their current or past students. You can do this through email or by phone or through text, the important thing is to get honest feedback from others they currently are in contact with. Look online, too, for reviews and ratings of the professor in question, and if all else fails, ask to audit one of their classes to see how their students react to their teaching and then speak with some of them after class.
Ask plenty of questions and never assume you know the full picture
This may go without saying, but ask as many questions as you can and need to. You don’t want to end up assuming something and then come to find out later when it is too late that it isn’t what you thought at all. The old cliché, no question is a stupid question, applies here.
In the end, the graduate advisor you choose will be one who is able to help you pursue your own goals, not push their own agenda on you. On the other side of the coin, you want an advisor that is able to challenge you and not one that slacks at their job. Take some time to interview potential advisors, do your own research, and make a decision that will lead to success.