Jennifer L. Bloom, Florida Atlantic University
Helen Mulhern Halasz, University of South Carolina
Rebecca Hapes, Texas A&M University
The Council of Graduate Schools reported a small but steady increase in total graduate student enrollment from 2003 to 2013 (Allum, 2014), sustaining the need for faculty and professional staff advisors to effectively advise graduate students. Graduate program faculty and staff advisors are an integral part of student success at the master’s and doctoral levels. Research about graduate student advisors indicates students have clarity about desirable and undesirable advisor characteristics (Bloom, Cuevas, Hall, & Evans, 2007). In addition, research has found that advisor behavior influences student satisfaction (Zhao, Golde, & McCormick, 2007). While much of the recent research has explored student perceptions about graduate advisors, inquiry about factors influencing degree progression and completion is lacking. The purpose of this article is to provide graduate student advisors with three specific strategies for positively influencing graduate students’ progress towards graduation: setting clear expectations, having periodic progress meetings with students, and serving as advocates for students.
There are a variety of ways in which expectations can be communicated to graduate students to help clarify roles and responsibilities. Student handbooks delineating academic policies and procedures are often disseminated at the college level and serve as a complementary resource to institutional resources. At the academic program level, graduate programs can and should outline programmatic and professional expectations during their new graduate student orientations. A comprehensive orientation enables students to begin their graduate programs with a clear understanding of the program and faculty expectations.
Additionally, going through a mutual expectations exercise gives students the opportunity to break into small groups of 2-3 to brainstorm what their expectations are for the program, program director, academic advisor, and each other. After sharing with the rest of the group at Orientation, the results should be compiled and distributed to all attendees. Similarly, graduate program directors and advisors need to clearly share their expectations for students on an ongoing basis. Both student and administrative expectations can be documented and shared with all participants either digitally or during a follow-up in-person meeting to ensure that the information was accurately captured.
Regular Progress Meetings with Students
Meeting with students once a semester or on an annual basis to discuss academic progress and research milestones is a key way to track student progress and to identify problems and issues early in the process. These meetings can be hosted by the student’s graduate advisor, program coordinator, academic advisor, or thesis/dissertation committee. The purpose of the meeting is to allow students an opportunity to reflect on their accomplishments, challenges, and goals for the upcoming term. It is a good idea to document topics covered in the meeting and to share minutes of the meeting with all attendees for tracking purposes and future reflection.
Many graduate programs require students to submit an annual report detailing academic progress and experiential education opportunities. A helpful tool for students to document and plan their annual research and related professional activities is an IDP - Individual Development Plan (Fuhrmann, Hobin, Lindstaedt, & Clifford, 2015). The IDP, developed by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and used by graduate students who receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is available at https://myidp.sciencecareers.org/. The IDP also provides structure for students and advisors to discuss career aspirations and strategies to achieve student goals. The University of Wisconsin also has a helpful IDP template available at https://grad.wiscweb.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/329/2017/11/New_UW_IDPform-FINAL-fillable.pdf. For disciplines other than science, program directors and academic advisors can adapt the Individual Development Plan to highlight priorities specific to their graduate degree programs.
Advisors as Student Advocates
Sometimes graduate students do not feel that they have a safe place to share their concerns about their progress, program, instructors, and/or advisors. Therefore, programs may want to establish a safe place for students to get advice on how to advocate for themselves with their graduate advisor and to share resources and strategies to deal with issues that arise.
Graduate students may be considered by many as non-traditional students, adult learners, and individuals embarking on their professional journey. For these reasons, it is easy to forget that graduate students may be reluctant to share their concerns. Academic advisors need to be available to assist students as they consider their options for handling difficult situations. Many conflicts between graduate students and faculty are rooted in unclear communication, so it is important for academic advisors to be skilled in coaching graduate students on when and how to approach instructors and committee members in a constructive manner.
Graduate student advisors play an important role in the academic lives of graduate students. Three strategies for enhancing the experiences of graduate students have been described: setting clear expectations, meeting with students, and serving as student advocates. Employing these three strategies will help graduate students make the most of their graduate school experience and facilitate progress toward completion of their graduate degrees.
Jennifer L. Bloom, Ed.D.
Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Higher Education Leadership Master’s Degree Program
Department of Educational Leadership & Research Methodology
Florida Atlantic University
Helen Mulhern Halasz, Ph.D.
Academic Advisor & Student Services Coordinator
Graduate Programs, College of Nursing
University of South Carolina
Rebecca Hapes, M.S.
Senior Academic Advisor II
Department of Entomology/College of Agriculture & Life Science
Texas A&M University
Allum, J. (2014). Graduate enrollment and degrees: 2003 to 2013. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.
Bloom, J. L., Cuevas, A. E. P., Hall, J. W., & Evans, C. V. (2007). Graduate students’ perceptions of outstanding graduate advisor characteristics. NACADA Journal, 27(2), 28-35. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-27.2.28
Fuhrmann, C. N., Hobin, J. A., Lindstaedt, B., & Clifford, P. S. (2015, Sept 14). My IDP- Individual development plan. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved from http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/
Zhao, C. M., Golde, C. M. & McCormick, A. C. (2007). More than a signature: How advisor choice and advisor behaviour affect doctoral student satisfaction. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31(3), 263-281.
Cite this article using APA style as: Bloom, J.L., Mulhern Halasz, H., & Hapes, R. (2016, June). title. Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]