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How to Pick a PhD Thesis Advisor

by Trudie Longren

Your decision to earn a doctorate is an essential step toward a successful career. Unlike bachelor's and master's degree studies, which largely involve coursework, the doctoral degree requires research, field work and writing. Selecting the right person to be your thesis advisor can make the difference between a funded project and one that receives no grant support. Your thesis advisor will steer you from the start of your project until the defense of your dissertation.

Subject Matter Expertise

Your advisor must have expertise in the field in which you plan to write your thesis, so that she can give meaningful feedback on your written drafts and offer guidance concerning the path your research and field work will take. University websites contain biographies and curricula vita that include a list of publications and courses taught; reading the biographies and CVs will give you clues about a professor's academic and research interests. Department heads and graduate study offices are also familiar with each professor's areas of expertise and can offer guidance as to who is available to be a thesis advisor.

Publication and Teaching Record

Universities require every professor to be widely published in their field of expertise, to present research findings at professional conferences and to teach students at the graduate or undergraduate levels in courses related to their specialty areas. Reading the professor's books, chapters, journal articles and conference papers can show you how well a potential advisor's research is received in the field; attending a lecture will give you insight into the professor's ease with teaching students.

Working Relationships

You will spend many hours of time with your thesis advisor as you develop your research plan, choose research methods, carry out field work and draft your thesis. Both students and colleagues can offer important information about a potential advisor's working relationships -- whether she completes her work on time, how well she guides doctoral candidates through the thesis-writing process and if she is available to supervise your project. Choosing a compatible advisor means asking questions about a potential advisor's personality, work ethic and approach to supervision.

Availability

The time for researching and writing a thesis is lengthy and you must know that your advisor will be available during that time to read your drafts and give you meaningful feedback. University professors have many duties outside of teaching and research, including administrative duties, that demand their time and effort. Ask about and weigh these responsibilities before choosing an advisor. Inquire about any upcoming sabbaticals or visiting professorships that could take a potential advisor away from the campus for an extended period of time.

About the Author

Trudie Longren began writing in 2008 for legal publications, including the "American Journal of Criminal Law." She has served as a classroom teacher and legal writing professor. Longren holds a bachelor's degree in international politics, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in human rights. She also speaks Spanish and French.

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