Advisor-Advisee Relations: Guidelines

The Department of History takes mentoring and advising very seriously as an essential part of the graduate experience. For first-year students, in addition to the faculty member who was chosen to be their primary contact after an offer of admission was made, the DGS is always available to consult, and there is a dedicated departmental first-advisor (appointed by the chair) who can consult on courses and all other matters. But the most essential relationship is with individual faculty advisors. The guidelines below reflect departmental policies and best practices.

Choosing an Advisor:

From the first, students should think about who they would like to be their primary academic advisor. Within the first semester, students should initiate conversations with a potential advisor about their willingness to serve in this role. This advisor will participate in the progress reviews at the end of the first and second years with the DGS and write the advisor's letter needed for annual applications for financial support. Some students and faculty prefer co-advising by two faculty members. In these cases, both advisor must write supporting letters each year and endorse petitions or other forms. Of course, students should consult as widely as possible with a range of faculty. 

Students should bring to the DGS, or, if they prefer, the department chair, any concerns about their relationship with their advisor.

Responsibilities of Faculty Advisors:

The success of the department rests to a very large degree on the training we provide to our graduate students. Directing graduate students is thus one of the most important functions faculty perform. It is expected that faculty will bring the highest standards of professionalism and integrity to this relationship. This is also an area where direct departmental intervention is constrained by the tenets of academic freedom, so it is crucial that individual faculty act responsibly and follow the spirit as well as the letter of our guidelines (even during periods of leave).

Specific responsibilities of the faculty advisor include:

  • regular meetings with students
  • advice about minor fields and specific courses
  • responding to written work and communications with reasonable promptness and attention (students generally expect at least a brief reply within 24 hours)
  • guidance in selecting an appropriate dissertation topic and input on the dissertation proposal
  • professional mentoring, including providing information about relevant funding opportunities, archival sources, conferences, contacts and advice on job interviews, job talks etc.
  • letters of recommendation for fellowships, TAships, and job opportunities.
  • Annual progress reports to the student and the department on their advisee's progress (see
  • prompt reading of dissertation chapters with critical comments, in person and/or in writing
  • openness to diverse career choices
  • advice on publishing beyond the dissertation, i.e. how to turn the dissertation into a book, how and where to publish articles
  • information on alternate sources of support. Advisors should be open to students' obtaining advice from other faculty members. They should also try to ascertain when problems go beyond intellectual ones and require some form of outside assistance
  • treatment that is respectful, honest, and intellectually challenging. Personal relationships between advisor and advisee can enrich the intellectual and professional exchange; however, caution should be exercised to ensure that inappropriate demands are not placed on either side.
  • acting as a liaison with the department when necessary
  • understanding and adhering to university and departmental ethical guidelines, including concerning sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and discrimination--see and
  • respect for students' privacy and private life
  • recognition of students' diverse backgrounds, needs, and goals
  • reasonable discretion about communications from students. There are some instances where the DGS or other individuals need to be informed; if that is the case the faculty should warn the student information will be shared

NB: Faculty continue to bear full advising responsibilities when they are on academic leave

Advisors are not responsible for:

  • emotional or psychological counseling
  • meeting student deadlines when information/materials are not provided in a timely matter
  • information that cannot be shared without violating professional ethics

Faculty should remember that relationships with graduate students are professional relationships and must adhere to professional ethical standards. See

Student Responsibilities:

The unequal power relationship between advisor and advisee puts the burden of responsibility on the advisor's shoulders. Nevertheless, students also bear a share of the responsibility in the relationship.

The student's specific responsibilities include:

  • giving the advisor fair warning about deadlines for letters of recommendation or other requests
  • treatment that is respectful, honest, and intellectually challenging
  • regular communication with the advisor(s) to inform them of progress in the program (including as part of the APR). It is not the sole responsibility of the advisor to initiate contact; students must take an active role in initiating meetings and communication
  • communicating with the advisor regarding personal problems that may impede or hinder progress. Students are clearly entitled to privacy about their personal lives, but they should inform their advisors if unusually disruptive personal matters arise
  • respect for the advisor's privacy and private life
  • understanding and adhering to university and departmental ethical guidelines, including concerning sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and discrimination--see and

Students responsibilities do not include:

  • performing any service for advisors beyond the regular requirements of course-work, preliminary exams, and the like, unless as part of a paid RAship (and then limited to appropriate work).

Stduents should remember that relationships with faculty are professional relationships and must adhere to professional ethical standards. See

Changing Advisors:  Students are free to change advisors if necessary. Of course, there are potential consequences of changing advisors, including the possible need to take additional courses to meet the new advisor's expectations or field requirements. (The consequences obviously differ depending on the timing of the decision). Before leaving one advisor a student should have reached an agreement with a new advisor, including about their expectations. If a student cannot find an advisor, the DGS may try to help the student find one. The ultimate responsibility for locating an advisor, however, rests with the student. Before accepting a student who has chosen to switch advisors, faculty should acquaint themselves with the student's background and progress in the program and judge carefully whether he or she is suited to direct the proposed dissertation. Consultation with the DGS may be appropriate before a decision is reached.

The Departmental First-Year Advisor

The departmental first-year advisor helps guide first-year graduate students in selecting courses, helps them locate and interact with their primary advisors, and provides general counsel for dealing with the various problems and concerns that arise for new graduate students. First year students must contact the departmental advisor before registering for courses in the first and second semesters. The departmental advisor should take an active role in encouraging students to form a relationship with a potential advisor as soon as possible. Once a student has identified a primary advisor, the departmental advisor defers to that individual for decisions regarding courses and other intellectual issues. The departmental advisor may still continue to offer programmatic information, ancillary advice on intellectual matters, or, indeed, help to negotiate any complications that arise in the advisor-advisee relationship. In addition to disseminating information to students, the departmental advisor should also play the role of giving feedback to the department about graduate student concerns. The departmental advisos serves on the Graduate Studies Committee and remains in regular contact with the DGS.