II. Guidelines for Effective Graduate Advising

The following catalogue of principles, rules, and expectations for graduate students, graduate advisers, and graduate program directors is adapted from the official GSAS “Guide to Advising.” Healthy and effective advising relationships inevitably entail regular, honest, and respectful communication among the parties involved and, at their best, can foster richly collaborative approaches to research, writing and teaching as well as enduring bonds of mutual affection and respect. But they also depend on a clear division of roles and responsibilities. As graduate students advance in their research projects, they are likely to assume more of the initiative for setting their own scholarly and professional goals, while advisers may adopt an increasingly reflective, responsive, or egalitarian role. Nonetheless, students must be able to count on their advisers to maintain rigorous professional and ethical standards, while advisers should always keep in mind the need to treat their advisees as students, for so long as they remain enrolled in the graduate program.   

1. Choosing an Adviser/Agreeing to Serve as an Adviser

Students can and should seek guidance from faculty, peers, and the DGS in discerning who is best suited to serve as their adviser. Much depends on the nature of the student’s intended research, but personal and interpersonal factors matter, too. The GSAS “Guide to Advising” suggests that “graduate students should begin the faculty adviser selection process by undertaking a critical self-analysis”:

What are their objectives in pursuing a graduate degree?
What type of training do they desire?
What are their strengths?
What areas of knowledge and skills do they need to develop?
Are there any aspects of their academic writing style which they need to improve?
What kinds of research or writing projects will engage them?
How much independent versus team work do they want to do?
What is their working style?
What type of career do they want to pursue? (4-5)

For students embarking on a dissertation in English, it’s especially important to reflect on the kinds of writing support that have worked best for them in the past, from regular informal check-ins to more formal exchanges of critical feedback. Do they work best when left to their own devices, with a large degree of freedom to set their own agenda and pace, or do they thrive on frequent, lower-stakes deadlines and accountability checks? Do they welcome constructive criticism at every stage, or do they need opportunities to discuss their progress in a more open-ended fashion? Are there ways that different members of their committees might usefully play different roles in relation to their research and writing? Students should feel free to share the answers at which they arrive with their prospective adviser(s). Mentoring and advising styles vary, as do the needs and preferences of advisees, and a good adviser-advisee relationship depends not only on shared intellectual interests and commitments but on a common set of hopes and expectations for the relationship itself.

For their part, the GSAS “Guide” suggests, faculty advisers may also find it useful to engage in a process of self-examination before taking on a new advising commitment, particularly by reflecting on their own experiences in graduate school:

What kind of advising did they receive?
What did they like and dislike about the advising they received?
How well did their adviser help them progress through their graduate program?
How well did their adviser prepare them for their academic career?
What did they not receive in the way of advising that would have been helpful to them?
What in their eyes, is the gold standard of ethical and inspiring academic advising?
Has the field changed since they were a graduate student?
If yes, in what ways—and what new approaches to advising might these changes require?

Given the very limited scope of the academic job market in the humanities, it is crucial for faculty advisers in English to consider how they can support graduate students in completing their dissertations and finding satisfying, stable employment, taking into account that, for many students, the paths they take will not lead directly—or at all—to tenure-track jobs in English. Advisees and advisers must communicate openly, non-judgmentally, and early about multiple possible futures for life and work beyond graduate school. It’s likely that pursuing some career options will require expertise beyond advisers’ own, and students should be encouraged to seek guidance from the Office of Career Services, qualified alumni, and other outside professionals. But supporting students to seek alternative professionalization opportunities is only one necessary response to a limited academic job market: emphasizing graduate school as a period of intellectual exploration, in which students develop as teachers, scholars, professionals, and mentors, both by way of and beyond the usual avenues of academic research, teaching, writing, and publication, can help students to build meaningful graduate school careers. Advising that is characterized by mutual respect, commitment, and curiosity can play a key role in this.           

2. General Expectations for Faculty Advisers

Once a faculty member has agreed to serve as a graduate student adviser, they are expected to assist in the intellectual and professional development of their graduate students in the following ways:

• helping students develop academic and professional skills, ranging from identifying a promising research topic to seeking appropriate venues for publication and possible sites of employment;

• providing timely written feedback when appropriate (at a minimum, on at least one draft of every thesis section or dissertation chapter and on the completed thesis or dissertation);

• helping students to set a reasonable and realistic schedule of deadlines for written work, including drafts and revisions, and ensuring that the delivery of their own feedback does not significantly impede that schedule;

• establishing a shared expectation about the frequency of meetings and communications, whether virtual or in-person;

• meeting with students at least once a term to provide constructive feedback on their progress;

• facilitating students’ research by guiding them to relevant academic opportunities or research experiences, such as fellowships or extracurricular programs;

• encouraging and modeling dedication to high quality teaching, research, and advising;

• encouraging collaboration that, where appropriate, entails the sharing of authorship or rights to intellectual property developed in research or other creative or artistic activity (note that this is less common in English than in some other disciplines, especially the sciences, but opportunities for co-teaching and co-authorship do exist—and can sometimes be created);

• encouraging students to be open about any problems in their work relationships, including with an adviser, and actively helping to resolve those problems, seeking guidance from the DGS or other university offices as necessary, while maintaining confidentiality as much as is possible and desired by the student;

• recognizing that students in the graduate program come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and making as few assumptions as possible about what they want, need, or know; wherever they can, advisors should work to identify the “hidden curriculum” of graduate school and demystify it for their students

• being aware of and directing students to University resources to support students through challenges, some of which can be found in the Appendix, and reporting any acts of discrimination or Title IX violations that come to their notice as advisers;

• recognizing that success in academic work is contingent upon students’ mental and physical health and supporting them in preserving reasonable leisure and vacation time.

Advisers should also ensure that they understand and are up-to-date on the academic and non-academic policies that pertain to graduate students, including:

• helping students understand the degree program’s requirements and timely progress to degree requirements, such as coursework, language acquisition, research, examinations, and thesis or dissertation;

• informing students of their responsibility to comply with all University policies including those pertaining to: Guidance on Authorship in Scholarly or Scientific Publications, Academic Integrity, and Title IX.

Advisers should prepare students to be competitive for future employment by:

• promoting free inquiry and free exchange of ideas, while abiding by policies on confidentiality of research;

• acknowledging student contributions to research presented at conferences and in professional publications;

• encouraging graduate students to participate in professional meetings, perform or display their work in public settings, and publish the results of their research;

• providing a realistic view of the job market and career options, including what is needed to succeed in students’ career choices or pointing students to resources that provide that information;

• respecting students’ desired or chosen career paths, which may or may not be within academia;

• encouraging and helping students to acquire the professional skills necessary for the careers and lives they hope to cultivate.

Finally, advisers should maintain a high level of professionalism by:

• abiding by the “Yale Teacher-Student Consensual Relations Policy” as well as the official “Yale Policies and Procedures”;

• abiding by the “Yale Expectations for Faculty and Teaching Fellows” while ensuring effective pedagogical development;

• excusing themselves from participating in committee or other decisions regarding any student with whom they have a relationship that could represent a conflict of interest;

• never impeding graduate students’ progress toward the degree or toward employment to benefit from students’ proficiency as teaching or research assistants;

• offering, where appropriate, work beyond the scope of the dissertation (e.g. event programming, mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students, research projects not related to dissertation work) to promote development of important skills, while ensuring that such workloads are manageable and do not interfere with progress on their dissertation;

• being attentive to signs of trouble and approaching and assisting students they feel may be experiencing some type of difficulty;

• interacting with students, staff, and faculty colleagues in a respectful, kind, professional manner;

• working to create and maintain a safe, respectful, and inclusive workplace;

• being attentive to their own biases and how they may impact the workplace;

• not asking students for inappropriate personal favors (e.g. walking dogs, child-minding, picking up dry cleaning, and unpaid secretarial or editorial work);

• remaining aware that academic hierarchies may make it difficult or uncomfortable for a student to set boundaries related to the above expectations, and remaining critically attentive of their own requests and behaviors toward advisees.

Note: the above expectations apply to all graduate advisers, but individual advisers are likely to excel at some roles more than others, and to have different approaches to meeting the needs of particular students. For instance, on a given dissertation committee, one adviser may be especially helpful in responding to drafts and providing structure and encouragement for writing, while another is a particularly expert guide to the job market, the publication process, or other modes of professional development. So long as both advisers provide the essential minimum of feedback and guidance, such differences are not necessarily indicative of a problem. By the same token, some advisers develop close informal bonds with their advisees while others maintain more distance; the same, of course, is true of students. It isn’t required for every advising relationship to look exactly the same, so long as the intellectual and professional needs of the student are being met and the preferences and comfort levels of all individuals are respected.

3. General Expectations for Graduate Students

In order to develop satisfying relationships with their faculty mentors and advisers, it’s helpful for students to understand faculty advisers’ central role in graduate education, while also taking increasing ownership for the content, direction, and progress of their own research. Students can expect advisers to be responsive to their requests for feedback, guidance, and advice, but should be mindful of constraints on their time and willing to provide reminders of impending deadlines. Students can help foster healthy advising relationships by:

• recognizing that faculty advisers will seek to provide guidance and direction for their research on the basis of their own scholarly experiences and expertise; such guidance should be taken seriously, although students should always feel free to ask questions, seek clarification, voice reservations, or suggest alternate approaches;

• recognizing that faculty advisers are responsible for monitoring the accuracy, validity, and integrity of the students’ academic work, and, in the case of published research, ensuring that the contributions of all participants are properly acknowledged;

• being aware of time constraints and other demands imposed on faculty members and staff by honoring agreed-upon deadlines for submitting work and—whenever possible—avoiding last-minute requests for meetings, letters of recommendation, or other time-intensive forms of support;

• arriving at shared expectations about the frequency of meetings and other forms of communication;

• coming prepared to advising meetings;

• taking the initiative to arrange meetings or communicate via other mechanisms with faculty advisers as often as necessary to keep the advisers informed of any factors that might affect their academic progress, including research or time to degree;

• consulting with the advisers to resolve any problems in their working relationships with their advisers or others, seeking guidance from other faculty or staff as needed;

• recognizing that a single adviser will not be able to serve in every role or meet every need, and seeking to diversify, de-centralize and expand their advising and mentoring network where possible.

Graduate students should also take primary responsibility for informing themselves about policies, requirements, and practices governing their financial support, degree and course requirements, research activities, and conflict resolution. This may involve:

• consulting departmental guidelines for graduate students, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences “Programs and Policies” bulletin, the official “Yale Policies & Procedures”, and the “Yale Teacher-Student Consensual Relations Policy”;

• fulfilling the expectations of policies and requirements, and requesting necessary adjustments or accommodations well in advance, whenever possible;

• seeking clarification from the DGS, faculty advisers, and staff if they are uncertain about the precise meaning or application of a regulation or policy.

Students should maintain a high level of professionalism by:

• maintaining absolute integrity in taking examinations, creating original works, and, for those doing research, in collecting, analyzing, presenting, and disseminating research data;

• responding openly and positively to fair and constructive feedback on work submitted for feedback;

• giving advisers sufficient time to read and comment on work in progress and due notice for requests for letters of recommendation;

• maintaining the confidentiality of faculty advisers’ professional activities, including research, creation of original works and other creative endeavors, in accordance with existing practices and policies of the discipline (in English, this primarily means not citing work-in-progress without express permission of the author/researcher, although it could also include asking for permission to incorporate an insight or idea offered by the adviser into the final or published version of a project—advisers are typically generous with such offerings, but it never hurts to ask, or to offer acknowledgment!);

• informing faculty advisers of conflicts and working towards a clear resolution;

• seeking the advice of faculty advisers, if appropriate, when deciding to take on work beyond the scope of the dissertation (e.g. department event planning, peer tutoring, serving as a graduate student fellow for the McDougal Center, the Office of Career Strategy, or the Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity) as these may slow progress on the dissertation work;

• interacting with students, staff, and faculty in a professional manner to create a safe, inclusive, welcoming, and respectful workplace;

• being attentive to their own biases and how they may impact their workplace interactions;

• seeking assistance if or when problems arise.

4. General Expectations for the Graduate Program in English

The Graduate Program as a whole has a key role to play in fostering an environment in which graduate advising relationships flourish. The Chair, DGS, other department officers, members of the Graduate Studies Committee, the graduate faculty, and graduate students themselves bear different forms and degrees of responsibility for creating and maintaining environment, but every individual can take part in ensuring its continuance. The particular responsibilities of the DGS in English include:

• creating an intellectual community where students, faculty, and staff can thrive in pursuit of academic excellence, especially by shaping the graduate curriculum and providing support to the department’s colloquia and working groups;

• creating and maintaining an environment where faculty, students, and staff feel welcomed, supported, included, respected, valued, and safe;

• introducing new graduate students to the policies, practices, and resources of the department and the University through an orientation or advising session and follow up as needed to ensure students’ understanding, assuming no prior knowledge on the part of any student;

• providing students with documentation of departmental policies, degree requirements, and timelines (see the “English Graduate Student Handbook,” which is updated annually and issued to all incoming graduate students);

• being present at all PhD oral examinations, as an impartial observer, and at prospectus conferences to offer general feedback and guidance to the student and their committee;

• designating one or more members of the faculty as resources to help graduate students and faculty resolve conflicts: in English, these resources include the department chair, the director of graduate studies, and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, which can be consulted anonymously if needed;

• providing guidance to students about altering their advising relationships (for instance, if a student’s faculty adviser leaves Yale, a faculty adviser and student have irreconcilable conflicts, or a student wishes to change faculty advisers);

• resolving problems locally and quickly if possible, and consulting (and/or directing students and faculty to consult) as appropriate with the offices and organizations listed in the “Resources” section of this guide, below;

• recognizing that in some cases, due to their personal relationships or commitments, they may not be the best source of support for a student facing a particular challenge, and ensuring that such students are aware of non-departmental resources including Dean’s Designees and the GSAS Administrative Dean, as well as peer support available through the Graduate Student Advisory Committee in English or the Graduate Student Assembly.