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There seems to be a wide variance in what faculty members view as their responsibilities as a student’s adviser. I understand that some advisers go above and beyond what's expected and we can't hold everyone to their standards. I also understand that there is no one right method and two advisers with very different methods can be equally successful. However, it does seem useful to understand what we view as the baseline.

My question simply is: what are an adviser's role and responsibilities?

This question refers to both research as well as professional development (support, networking, job search, etc).

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closed as not constructive by Andres Caicedo, David Speyer, Dmitri Pavlov, Alex Bartel, David Roberts Feb 2 '11 at 5:12

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Dear anonymous: what do you actually expect to get out of this question? In other words, how would the answer to this question help you as an individual? In the current phrasing of the question it is not clear what the answer to the those questions are, and your question comes off as somewhat argumentative, which probably won't help your question stay open on MO. –  Willie Wong Feb 2 '11 at 1:28
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I would much rather that a supervisor treats his or her students well and trains them to be good researchers in whatever way is most suited to the particular field of study, than to have a checklist of Roles and Responsibilities that they are supposed to tick off. –  Yemon Choi Feb 2 '11 at 3:00
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@anonymous: my answer to that reformulation: "it depends". Instructorship is not a form of customer service, just as an apprenticeship should not be a form of indentured servitude. And you still aren't saying whether this a German system, a Russian system, pure maths, applied maths, statistics... –  Yemon Choi Feb 2 '11 at 5:13
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@anonymous I suggest opening a thread on tea.mathoverflow.net if you want to make a case for re-opening this question. –  David Roberts Feb 2 '11 at 5:18
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@Romeo: I fail to see how the answer by Brian Borchers is "somewhat of a joke". It may not be what some people want to hear, but that's another matter –  Yemon Choi Feb 2 '11 at 6:10

2 Answers 2

Apart from all the straightforward things that too many people don't do (meet regularly, help find a problem and suggest a plan of attack, help package partial progress into complete if modest theorems, etc) here's the big one:

Be honest if things are going badly!

Ask your student what their goals are. This basically means ask when do they expect to graduate and what kind of job do they want. If they are not on track, say so, because I bet you they didn't know that. Please do not tell them they're not ready at the last second, or write them a lukewarm letter while smiling to their face.

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I think you may have misunderstood the purpose of this site. It is not to give you a forum for venting your anger or your frustration. If you have an axe to grind with your adviser, then I suggest that you follow your own preaching and talk to him personally, rather than ranting here anonymously. –  Alex B. Feb 2 '11 at 5:04
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I completely agree with @Alex. Furthermore, you (@Anonymous) would do well to remember that professors are generally hired more for their ability to prove theorems than for their social skills. –  Igor Rivin Feb 2 '11 at 5:14
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In my limited experience, one is discouraged from being blunt to students, presumably because everyone has their own favourite horror story of an advisor cutting their student of at the knees with criticism. So I don't really appreciate being told "if they are not on track, say so, because I bet you they didn't know that". –  Yemon Choi Feb 2 '11 at 5:16
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please note the author of the question and the author of this answer are not the same anonymous. –  anonymous Feb 2 '11 at 5:45
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@anonymous We don't actually know that. They are both unregistered and anonymous. For all we know, it might be the same user. That's anonymity for you. –  Alex B. Feb 2 '11 at 14:59

In my opinion (and this certainly is in agreement with the practice in my department and university), the advisor's primary job is to supervise a student's work on an MS Thesis or PhD Dissertation. At our institution, advisors are also responsible for making sure that students satisfy the specific course requirements for their degree.

I make it a point to discuss expectations with any student who asks me to be his/her advisor. If the student has unreasonable expectations of me, I'll simply decline to advise that student. If the student isn't willing to meet my expectations, then I'll also decline to advise that student. Sometimes students decide after this conversation that they don't want me for an advisor. The important point here is that both parties should understand how things will work before the student starts working with an advisor.

My expectations of students include:

  1. I meet with my advisees regularly, most often once a week. Each time that we meet I try to lay out specific work for the student to attempt during the next week. I expect students to regularly achieve these short term goals- if a student is consistently unable to do so, I may terminate the advising relationship.

  2. I expect students to write and edit their own manuscripts. I am not happy if the drafts I'm given are filled with typos, spelling errors, or grammatical errors. I want to spend our time together discussing mathematics at a higher level rather than copy editing text.

  3. I expect students to produce research of publishable quality. We plan out papers in advance, including who will be first author (usually I expect the student to take the lead in writing the paper and that they will be first author.) I expect that papers will be submitted before a student defends his thesis or dissertation.

In return, I think that students can reasonably have some expectations of me:

  1. I will be available to meet with them on a regular basis to discuss their project.

  2. I will carefully review their drafts and provide substantive written comments.

  3. I will be willing to write recommendation letters on their behalf.

I don't believe that the general "professional development" of graduate students is the particular responsibility of advisors. Rather, I encourage my advisees to take advantage of available opportunities such as attending workshops and conferences, professional development programs offered through out graduate office, and our institution's writing center and disseration bootcamp.

My advice to any graduate student who is in the process of selecting an advisor is simple- discuss your expectations with the professor before filling out the paperwork to make him/her your advisor.

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In pure mathematics, the first author designation is usually decided in a way that is somewhat unfair to the Rollbanks of the world, and much worse for the Zimmermans. –  Sheikraisinrollbank Feb 2 '11 at 9:56
    
Yes, I'm aware of that system, but it's not as common in the areas of applied mathematics that I work in. Since many of my papers have appeared in journals in disciplines outside of mathematics, I've adopted the more main stream culture, despite the fact that I'm blessed with a "B" name... –  Brian Borchers Feb 2 '11 at 19:35
    
Indeed, it would be even unhealthy if your students got all their professional development from you. The one good thing that advisors can do in that area is to keep informed about what opportunities are available, and to impress on student the importance of taking advantage of these opportunities. –  Thierry Zell Feb 13 '11 at 15:35

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