Suggestions on Choosing a Dissertation Advisor

For Doctoral Students at the University of Pittsburgh

Prepared Under the Auspices of the University Council on Graduate Study

Before starting dissertation research, you must have a major advisor who agrees to supervise your work. In addition, you must form a complete doctoral committee, subject to approval by the department chair and the dean, and be admitted to doctoral candidacy. But the first step is the choice of your major advisor. You and your advisor must mutually agree on the advising arrangement and the research topic. Both of you should enter the relationship as well informed as possible about the other. In advising relationships, "divorces" are possible, but they upset the timely progress toward degree and are emotionally draining.

Trade-offs and compromises are to be expected in selecting an advisor. For instance, it might be preferable to choose an advisor whose students take a slightly longer time to complete their degrees if they usually gain better jobs than those of a different faculty member. While some students may be eager to work with a famous full professor, others might fear that the busiest advisors would have the least time for their students. Finally, be aware that procedures for matching students and advisors may vary by program or department.

To select the best advisor, you might meet with all the faculty members of your program and talk with other gradute students in the program about the qualities of the faculty members eligible to direct dissertations. Be cautious about making assumptions, and ask questions covering a range of topics. Some questions should best be discussed with the faculty member in question, others might better be asked of advanced graduate students. To help you, consider the attached list of questions in selecting a dissertation advisor; the list is not intended to be a list of mandatory qualities that advisors should possess. Some items pertain more to specific disciplines than to others. Remember, too, that faculty members will have a number of questions to ask about you.

To the Office of the Provost

Kit Ayars
December, 1996