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What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Graduate Adviser

An important part of a student's graduate school program could be the adviser he or she works with, but not all advisers are the same. As students consider which program might be right for them, they should also take the below steps to help ensure they end up working with a faculty member who will help them succeed.

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By Jessica Lyons

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Compare Areas of Interest

Before taking any other steps, do your research to see what your potential adviser's areas of interest are. Even if his or her research interests don't match your own 100%, you need to at least make sure that the subject matters are pretty similar and in the same ballpark. If you have a list of several advisers you think you might be interested in working with, knowing if your topics are compatible could help you narrow down your options. As much as you might like to work with a particular individual, if your research is going in two very different directions it just wouldn't work.

Think About How You'll Get Along

Not all people can work together well, so you can't just assume that you'll do fine with any adviser you end up with. Instead, do a little research about the experiences other students have had with faculty members in the past. You might even want to set up appointments with potential advisers in advance since having a conversation with them could help you see who you might have the best working chemistry with.

How Involved the Adviser Will Be

As you start to think about the qualities you want in your adviser, consider if you want one who will be highly involved throughout your study or someone who will only interact on rare occasions. While some professors might be very proactive in seeking you out and keeping tabs on how you're doing, others might not even respond in a timely fashion when you specifically contact them for assistance. Are you going to want a lot of support along the way or do you prefer to be left alone while you work and just talk to an adviser when you run into a stumbling block? The answer to that question could impact the adviser you want to work with.

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Number of Students Advising

You could also want to find out how many other students a professor might be advising at the same time. The more students a professor is working with, the less time he or she will have for each particular student. If you want to make sure you'll have as much time as you need with the professor, then you might want to make sure they are only advising a couple students at a time.

Once You've Found Your Adviser

After you've found that perfect match and have your adviser set, sit down with them to talk about how things will be handled going forward. How often will you meet? Does your adviser prefer you to reach out via e-mail or phone? Plan a schedule for completing different phases of your work in advance. This can all help ensure that you and your adviser are on the same page.

Being sure to treat your adviser with respect will also help you maintain a successful working relationship. Just like you want a response when you reach out to your adviser, you should always send them a timely response when they reach out to you. Don't be late or miss scheduled appointments, either. Your adviser has many other responsibilities so appreciate that they're working with you and be conscious that their time is valuable.

Additionally, it's important to take advantage of all of the knowledge your adviser has to share with you. Listen carefully to their feedback and criticism because their advice is sure to help you along the way. After all, it wouldn't make sense to get an adviser just to ignore their words of wisdom.

Before you worry about finding your adviser, make sure you've fulfilled all of the graduate school prerequisites.

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