Dissertation advisors as coaches

Many graduate students find that the very people they think are supposed to be coaching them–their dissertation advisors–are not doing their jobs. Many students expect their dissertation advisors to check in with them on a regular basis and to read their submissions in a timely manner as part of the advisement process.

Although I can sympathize with doctoral students, you have to face the hard truth—many dissertation advisors are not good coaches!

Professors have a lot to do. They do not just chair dissertation committees. Some of them are also not good organizers of their time. My dissertation advisor (major professor) was the ultimate “absent-minded professor!” Professors have three things to balance–research, teaching, and service. They also complain that they do not have enough time for their own research, they have too many committee meetings to attend, and they have too many students to advise… Most of it is legitimate.

Calling these people dissertation advisors is probably a misnomer. I believe they should be considered the “director.” They have a stake in what you develop because their name is on the product, but they do not directly contribute to the product–that is up to you.

However, there are ways to get their attention and help during your dissertation. You must be persistent and make your presence known! You must be involved in the department, show up on a regular basis, attend academic meetings and advertised seminars (even if not directly tied to your major), and go to social functions. Be a known face in the crowd. Then they know you are a student and respect you for being part of their community.

If you do not show up, they have plenty of other people demanding their time and attention. You have to be there and show them you are a member of their community; not just taking from them, but also contributing.

Speak up, get involved, and get what you need!