Principles of Effective Advisor Mentoring

From New Student to New Mentor
In this chapter, we provide recommendations for choosing your advisor based on our survey of current and recently graduated Ph.D. and master’s students’ experiences. While all graduate students may not be able to choose their advisor, these principles can also be applied to working with assigned advisors or choosing additional faculty mentors. While we direct our discussion towards students choosing an advisor, these ideas may also be relevant to faculty members, particularly new faculty members, seeking to be good mentors. The graduate student who chooses their advisor with the criteria recommended can benefit from a graduate mentoring experience that will positively impact their academic degree, the research they discover and share, and the scholar they become


Beginning graduate studies represents a pivotal moment in your academic journey. It entails enrolling in a new program of study or expanding on prior academic pursuits. Given the heightened expectations and demands of advanced scholarship, you brace yourself for more intensive and rigorous academic training than undergraduate studies. Additionally, you may move to a different academic institution, leaving behind the familiar and embracing the uncharted. While aspiring to gain knowledge and skills that will enable you to achieve your career goals, you may grapple with uncertainty about the trajectory of your academic endeavors. For those who are returning to academic life after a hiatus or work experience, readaptation to scholarly pursuits may present an added challenge. To navigate these unknowns successfully, you face a critical opportunity at the onset of your program—how to foster a positive and productive relationship with your graduate advisor.

What Is a Graduate Advisor?

Schlosser and Gelso (2001) defined a graduate advisor as “the faculty member who has the greatest responsibility for helping guide the advisee through the graduate program” (p. 158). These authors later expanded the concept of mentoring to include both guiding and mentoring the student through their graduate program academics and experiences (Schlosser et al., 2011). While advising might represent more general instruction that could benefit any graduate student, mentoring shows an advisor’s personal understanding of the student and their goals, and the graduate advisor-mentor can effectively help guide them in a positive direction for their academic, personal, and career success (Montgomery, 2017). In this chapter, we adopt this more expanded concept of advising to include both guiding a student through a program as well as the more involved role of personal mentoring.

It cannot be understated how important a graduate advisor and their relationship with a student can be in helping them successfully navigate their program, complete projects and a dissertation, and graduate. Empirical research shows that positive student/advisor relationships are critical for doctoral program retention and completion (Brill et al., 2014; De Clerq et al., 2019). In many graduate programs, a student cannot choose their advisor, but in other programs, this is encouraged, particularly if the student is completing a thesis or dissertation. In many other situations, students may be able to seek out mentoring from faculty in their department for specific projects.

In all of these cases, choosing an advisor or mentor is one of the most essential decisions that a student will make to shape their graduate student experience. The magnitude of these life changes, combined with the United States' graduate student dropout rates, may trigger student anxiety instead of excitement for embarking on a new academic program. Studies have shown that between 40–50% of doctoral students will drop out of their program before defending their dissertation or being hooded at graduation and receiving their title of “Doctor” (Council of Graduate Schools, 2008; Lott et al., 2009; Sverdlik et al., 2018). However, proactively choosing an advisor from the beginning of your graduate program can help you set your academic course in the right direction from the beginning.

Importance of Graduate Mentoring

A Hoover and Lucas (2021) study showed the importance of graduate mentoring from the beginning of a program to improve student resilience and to help effectively direct students through the academic process. Exceptional graduate relationships can also make a difference in how you as a student feel about yourself and your ability to contribute to your field. Effective graduate mentors “enhance professional confidence and competence while decreasing isolation and strengthening belonging” (Johnson et al., 2022, p. 68). While all graduate students may not be able to choose their advisor, for those who can, research shows how much students are impacted by their advisors, as Barnes et al. (2012) reported: “Advisor characteristics appear to influence, at least in part, students’ overall attitudes about their doctoral experience, the nature of the relationship that they experience or can experience with their advisors, as well as their ability to make progress toward their degrees” (p. 42). In choosing advisors, graduate mentoring relationships will affect your entire graduate student experience—for bad or for good. Your graduate mentoring relationships also contribute to how you will view your future success. Anderson et al. (2013) showed that student satisfaction with education and self-efficacy in their academic work is affected by the graduate mentoring they receive. Positive student-advisor relationships and mentoring are key for students progressing toward their educational goals, eventual graduation, and future.

What Matters Most in Choosing an Advisor

Realizing how important graduate mentoring is for program success, how should a graduate student choose their advisor when they have the opportunity to do so? Which qualities will lead to a successful student/advisor relationship, creating a positive experience in your graduate program (Blanchard & Haccoun, 2020; Buirski, 2021), meaningful research opportunities, and a successfully defended graduate paper or project? In this chapter, we provide recommendations for choosing your advisor based on our survey of current and recently graduated Ph.D. and master’s students’ experiences. While all graduate students may not be able to choose their advisor, these principles can also be applied to working with assigned advisors or choosing additional faculty mentors. While we direct our discussion towards students choosing an advisor, these ideas may also be relevant to faculty members, particularly new faculty members, seeking to be good mentors.

Description of the Survey

To inform our discussion in this chapter, we conducted a survey to learn more about how graduate students create and maintain effective advisor interaction through their graduate program. Of the 65 responses received, 42% were Ph.D. students, 36% were MS students and 23% classified themselves in an “Other” category, which included other master’s degrees in related fields. Survey respondents overwhelmingly were in Instructional Design/Technology fields (83%), with the remaining 17% in “Other” Learning Science fields. Most survey respondents were current graduate students (63%), while 37% had graduated. Survey respondents were 72% female and 28% male, with a widespread age-range of participants, the largest percentage of ages was (1) 31–40 (39%), then (2) 41–50 (25%), (3) 51–60 (17%), (4) 21–30 (15%), and (5) other ages (5%). The survey required participants to be current students or to have graduated in the last 5 years (since 2018). Most participants (63%) had not yet graduated, 14% graduated in 2021, and the other years were similar in distribution (2018—6%; 2019—6%; 2020—6%; 2022—5%). Current students indicated they expected to graduate in 2023 (31%), 2024 (17%), 2025 (12%), 2026 (7%), and 2027 (3%).

In choosing an advisor for their graduate program, 57% of survey respondents chose their advisor, while 43% had their advisor assigned to them. Most survey respondents stayed with the advisor they chose, with only 23% changing their advisor mid-program, while 77% stayed with their selected advisor.

What Makes a Good Advisor Relationship?

In the next few tables, we share what survey respondents believed to be the most important aspects of their advising relationship. These findings can be helpful for students in knowing what to look for in an advisor and for advisors to consider how they can be better mentors to students.

Table 1. The percentage of respondents who indicated receiving help from their advisors in one of four distinct categories.
My advisor helped mePercentage
My advisor didn't help me at all8%
Table 2. Percentage of most important advisor characteristics by respondents.
Advisor CharacteristicsPercentage
Personal relationship with student28%
Professional expertise28%
Accessibility/available to meet17%
Project/thesis/dissertation support11%
Knowledge of program policies and procedures11%
Networking/Helpful with employment opportunities6%
Table 3. Rank order of most important advisor characteristics by respondents.
RankAdvisor CharacteristicsPercentage
1Personal relationship with students28%
2Project/thesis/dissertation support25%
3Project/thesis/dissertation support22%
4Knowledge of program policies and procedures23%
5Willingness to co-author publications/present18%
5Networking/helpful with employment opportunities18%
6Willingness to co-author publications/present22%
7Willingness to co-author publications/present31%

Characteristics of Strong Advising Relationships

As we reviewed the open-ended answers to the survey, five primary themes emerged that showed key characteristics graduate students perceived as essential to an effective student-advisor relationship: (1) academic support; (2) emotional support; (3) accountability; (4) information; and (5) networking/career recommendations (see Table 4). Sometimes, you may not be able to choose your advisor, and you may have an advisor who may not provide support in one or more of these areas. That is normal! However, understanding what an effective advising relationship can be may help you advocate for better advising in your program or ask for a new advisor that you believe will exhibit more of these characteristics. In addition, these findings can help a faculty member reflect on how they can better exhibit these characteristics in their relationships with their advisees. We will first present the overall themes and then discuss each theme.

Table 4. Results from the thematic analysis organized as eight themes, descriptions of each theme and examples of excerpts from the data connected to each theme. Students could use these themes as topics in meetings with advisors. They could also use the themes as questions for potential advisors to better understand advising practices.
Academic SupportThis key theme means advisors help students in scholastic elements of graduate programs that lead to graduation. Academic support specifically includes help with dissertations, theses, or projects. It also includes providing opportunities for students in research and scholarship. Additional terms included: collaboration, expectations, feedback, partnership, publishing, research.“He explained every step I needed to accomplish. He gave me the ‘insider tips’ like getting each member of my committee to give me feedback well beforehand. He helped discuss the challenges I was facing and how I might navigate those.”
AccountabilityThis theme means advisors provide systematic planning and tracking, including meeting and contact for completing milestones and program assignments. Additional terms included: accessibility.“We meet every other week to discuss my project and for him to give me direction on what to do next.”
Emotional SupportThis theme means the advisor seeks a personal relationship with the student and academic help they provide. The student feels a connection with their advisor that helps them accomplish goals and move forward in their program. Additional terms included: communication, confidence, support.“Provide the emotional support I needed to deal with the challenges of a Ph.D. program. There were many times when I felt like I was on a cliff, and I needed someone to back me down a bit and let me know things would work out and think of a game plan to overcome the current obstacle.”
InformationIn this theme, advisors provide students with needed program or school information, including information on advancement and program requirements. Advisors also provide advice for student questions related to the program. Additional terms included: advice.“I would like more of an overall picture of what the process is like instead of always feeling unsure about what comes next.”
Networking/Future Jobs/Career RecommendationsIn this theme, advisors provide guidance and direction for students related to networking and their future jobs/goals and careers.“More practical career advice and working with me to not only make sure my dissertation got finished but to have a solid step after graduation too.”
Student Engagement (Belonging)In this theme, students are seeking advisors' active engagement with them as students, in their work, and in their future. They are also looking to advisors to help them find belonging in their graduate community.“I barely know [my advisors], and there isn't a desire to know them because they haven't tried to learn more about me.
Not a Good MatchThis theme means students changed advisors due to a mismatch of personality, research interests, or other factors. Additional term included: change of focus.“I was assigned an interim advisor, but later connected with one that shared my same area of interest.”
Advisor LeftIn this case, the theme resulted from students changing advisors due to advisors leaving their graduate program for reasons such as a job change or retirement.“My first advisor was retiring, and I couldn't finish my dissertation before he left.”

Academic Support—A Foundation of Advising

You should look for effective advisors who give academic support throughout your program. In this study, the largest percentage of graduate students reported that their advisors helped them academically (88%) (see Table 1). In identifying what characteristics were most important for students in an advisor (first choice), four of the six categories related to academic help. Six of the top seven rankings in importance of advisor qualities are related to academic support (see Table 3). Academic support included helping to identify goals and creating a plan for academic success, as one student said, “My advisor has taken a personal interest in getting to know me and my academic goals and [helps] me to devise a plan to achieve them.”

Progress Toward Degree Requirements

In choosing an advisor, ask yourself: In what ways will they specifically help me move toward my degree? Helping students engage in research and making progress towards degree requirements such as Ph.D. dissertations and master’s projects was another key element of advisors’ academic support. Another student described their advisor’s academic support as “[Involving] me in research that they were pursuing. This provided me with an opportunity to learn practical research methods, processes, and logistics of a large research project in preparation for my dissertation research.” Providing feedback as students move through their program is also an academic support role of advisors: “He mentored me and helped me through the academic process. He gave advice and critique to help me understand how and what to do.” In this study, survey participants viewed academic support as an integral part of the advisor relationship. It is also important to ask, as the student, what is my role in moving forward in the program?    

Ph.D. Dissertation and Master’s Thesis/Project Support

Project/thesis/dissertation support was ranked among the most essential functions of an adviser (see Table 3) which makes sense since it is a key requirement for completing an advanced degree program. Survey responses showed that effective advisors helped students persist in their education and overcome challenges. One student shared about her advisor, “She did a lot to help me think through challenges. I tried to design the perfect study, but things always came up that required me to pivot and try something different. It was hard to see how I could overcome these obstacles without her guidance.”

Developing Expertise and Partnership

As students are proactive in their advisor relationship, they develop greater opportunities for learning and growth. Ideal advisor academic support should lead a student to develop expertise in the field (Erichsen et al., 2014; Orellana et al., 2016). As one student shared, “I would love to see a graduated mentorship relationship that went from structured to independent work. The framework of ‘I do, you watch,’ to ‘I do, you help,’ to ‘You do, I help,’ to ‘You do, I watch’ is a useful framework describing how a dissertation could be better scaffolded to build gradually student competence.”

Another key component in the advisor characteristics (see Table 3) was partnership (Orellana et al., 2016; Jaeger et al., 2011). A student explained, “He treated me like a partner, offering help and guidance but letting me make decisions for myself. He enabled my projects and other efforts, but he didn't own them.” Another student described the student/advisor partnership as “[respecting] my learning process.” When academic advisors were most helpful to students, they let students ‘own’ their own projects but were available to help prepare students for defenses and final dissertation/thesis/project examinations. As a student shared about the academic support they received, “If I ever had a question, I knew I could reach out; I never felt abandoned.”

Seeking Advisor Feedback

Previous research suggested the high value graduate students place on the depth of feedback advisors give on their written work (Abiddin & West, 2007; Overall et al., 2011; Pyhältö et al., 2015; Woolderink et al., 2015). As one student shared, “The professor I was with was not a good match. He did not show an interest in my topic and gave little feedback on how to adjust or improve it. When I changed professors to one that was more supportive, things went much more smoothly.” Feedback is central to your development process from graduate students to becoming independent researchers (Inouye & McAlpine, 2019) and, along with other academic support, provides ideas about why an advisor’s academic skills are essential to a positive advisor-mentoring relationship. Looking for these academic characteristics in an advisor can be helpful for students in choosing an advisor.

Suggestions for Students

If you are able to pick your advisor, try to pick one that has expertise in the area you are interested in. Realize that advisors can give the best advice and mentoring in areas of their specialty. Here are some suggestions:

  • Review the faculty pages for faculty in your program. Have any had a previous career in an area you are interested in? Are any of their research topics interesting to you? Do they supervise experiences or internships that sound exciting?
  • Ask other current and previous students what their relationships are like with their advisors. Do they give prompt feedback? Have they helped connect other students with internships?
  • You might consider doing a small project with an advisor before committing to a full dissertation. You can often ask to be part of a faculty member’s research group, and this can help you see whether you work well together. Oftentimes it isn’t that one professor is a better advisor than another as much as whether their work style meshes well with yours.

Emotional Support: The Surprising Quality Often Most Helpful

Your choice of an advisor who will also provide emotional support is key to your overall experience as a graduate student. This study showed that only about half of graduate students felt they received emotional support from an advisor (49%) (see Table 1). However, students ranked emotional support as the most important quality in an advisor (28%) (see Table 2). Students repeatedly shared how critical advisor emotional support was to their program’s success. As one student shared, “[My advisor] actually knew me as a person and knew about my life. He supported me in academic and non-academic ways.”

Identifying an Emotionally Supportive Advisor

Students benefit from seeking out emotionally supportive advisors—what does that mean? Advisor qualities that students saw as facilitating emotional support, including communication, were also important for the advisor’s ability to support the student, “She was responsive, honest, personable, and really listened so I felt understood.” In contrast, when students saw advisor qualities that did not facilitate emotional support, such as lack of student interest, they did not feel supported by the advisor: “I barely know them, and there isn't a desire to know them because they haven't tried to learn more about me.” Emotional support was described by one student as the advisor seeing the positive in students: “It helps when the mentor is optimistic about the students' research and when he/she is encouraging every step of the way. It's also nice when they try to have a personal relationship with the student.” Of course, it is unrealistic to expect perfection in an advisor. Each comes with strengths and weaknesses. It is important to get to know all the faculty and take the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

Why Emotional Support is so Important in Advising

As important as academic advising is for advancing in a Ph.D. or master’s program, graduate students are seeking an advisor who will provide emotional support for them through the often uncertain and sometimes turbulent times of graduate work (Montgomery, 2017). As one survey respondent described the emotional support and mentorship their advisor offered, “Mentorship is understanding the strengths of the student and encouraging the student to progress. It's also important to find opportunities to encourage the student on things they are doing well. Simple words like, ‘You're a strong writer,’ or ‘I see you made progress on this chapter,’ [or] ‘You're doing meaningful work" can go a long way and be the fuel to move students forward. Emotional mentorship is just as important as technical mentorship.” An advisor’s emotional support is particularly necessary when a student fails, or other situations lead to decreased confidence (Yob & Crawford, 2012). Yob and Crawford (2012) further described the emotional support benefits mentors can provide, saying, “When mentors bring to this situation both emotional support and academic guidance, students are more realistically able to reappraise their situation and make decisions about next steps” (p. 43). As one student said of their advisor, “He gave me confidence that I could succeed.” Students must be willing to listen and let advisors support them in their journey.

Effective Student-advisor Communication

In our study, effective communication was also an important part of an advisor’s emotional support (Artiles & Matusovich, 2020), and students who recognized the red flags of poor communication changed advisors. You may not always get assigned to an advisor who is the strongest fit. It is okay to change to advisors! As one survey respondent shared, “The previous [advisor] was not helpful at all. Rather, I have received harsh words and have been shut down from communication via email.” Students should try to work through communication issues but acknowledge legitimate reasons to change advisors if necessary, and then change in a timely, professional way.

Students also need to be proactive in communicating with advisors when they have extenuating circumstances. Advisors cannot help you if you will not let them. In the research, emotional support was as important as academic support (Curtin et al., 2016; Ruud et al., 2018), and students should strongly consider this element of their advisor relationship. One survey response read, “[My advisor] actually knew me as a person and knew about my life. He supported me in academic and non-academic ways.” As you let your advisor know how they can best support you, your advisor can better play this role.

Suggestions for Students

When you can choose an advisor, choosing an emotionally supportive advisor is key to success in your academic journey. Students should expect to give their best effort to get to know their advisor.

  • For the most effective mentoring relationship, try to get to know your advisor more personally. Ask questions about them and share information about you that will help them in mentoring you.
  • Build trust with your advisor. Establish ways to build mutual trust with your advisor. Examples include: meeting and keeping deadlines; responding promptly to emails; attending a conference together; and working on research together.
  • Be honest with your advisor about concerns you have regarding program issues. Ask for help with problems and resolving difficulties as you move forward in your academic goals.
  • Don’t be afraid to change advisors if the relationship is not working effectively. You need an advisor who will be your greatest supporter on the journey to graduation. If the advisor you have is not that advocate for your success, you can find another faculty member who will be.

Accountability: Keeping You On Track

Whether or not your advisor requires accountability from you may decide your progress in your program. Students ranked “accessibility/availability to meet” as the third highest characteristic for an advisor in the advisor rankings (see Table 2). In survey responses, these characteristics are closely related to similar terms for accountability. Students repeatedly cited “accountability” as a key characteristic for effective advisors. One student reported the most important thing their advisor did was “Regular check-in sessions to encourage, support, and help me with any issues that came up.” Accountability was helpful for student progress even if students did not always meet their scheduled milestones, “He has continued to work with me and spend time with me reviewing my work even though my progress has been very slow.” Students also shared that accountability meant the advisor empowered the student to succeed through their guidance and direction: “[My advisor] met with me weekly to provide feedback. [They] answered my questions. [They] let me take charge of my project.”

Accessibility is Key in Advisor Accountability Role

Students should seek accountability from their advisors. Advisors encouraging student accountability in their graduate progress or providing accessibility/availability to meet (see Table 2) were among the principal issues for students in a successful advisor relationship. As one student shared, “[They met for] regular check-in sessions to encourage, support, and help me with any issues that came up.”

While an advisor focus on accountability might seem counterintuitive to a positive student relationship, especially if the student was not performing ideally, another student shared why consistency, accountability, and their regularly scheduled check-ins were so critical: “[From the start of my studies] this has helped establish a great relationship and kept me accountable.”

One survey response shared, “I wish he would have given me due dates. . . . for me, personally, having someone push me, or hold me accountable would have been nice.” When advisors encourage students to stay accountable through their program, they build trust (Meyer et al., 2022), and the student realizes the advisor is counting on them to succeed. By helping you stay accountable, advisors encourage you to “keep [your] progress going” (survey response).

Suggestions for Students

Accountability is fundamental to staying motivated, positive, and focused on your goals, even when situations might be discouraging. It can also help to build confidence and create a sense of self-awareness as well as foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration. The following suggestions can help your advisor keep you accountable:

  • Set regular check-in sessions: Meet regularly with your advisor for encouragement and support. Take the initiative to set the agenda. Discuss your goals, academic progress, and professional development. Ask for advice on your upcoming class schedule. Address any challenges.
  • Summarize the meeting: Shortly after the meeting, summarize the meeting, identifying action items and next steps. Send it to your advisor.
  • Create an individual development plan: Document your progress, keeping your goals and action items updated so you can measure your progress.
  • Ask for feedback: Feedback is the impetus to improvement. Consider the feedback and develop an improvement plan.
  • Ask for help: Don’t waste time trying to figure things out on your own. Ask for help early on to make the most of your time in your graduate program.

Advisors as Information Resources: Helping You Progress

Many survey responses cited advisors being able to provide “resources” and “answer questions" as two of the most important advisor information types provided. An essential role of graduate advisors is to provide information for students as they navigate their programs. In the survey, one respondent described the ideal advisor role as “someone that I can count on to explain something that I am having a difficult time with” and another described an advisor as someone who [provides] information about opportunities I didn't know about.” While students did not prioritize as highly the category “knowledge of programs and policies” (see Tables 2 & 3), survey comments still showed that graduate students valued advisors who could provide them with helpful and timely program information that moved them forward towards their degree. For example, one respondent shared that their advisor should “make sure I have the proper classes listed and answer a question about if I need a class or not.”

Advisors’ “knowledge of program policies” or “information” was also a top priority for students (11%) (see Table 2). This category ranked fourth highest in the student rankings of most important advisor characteristics (see Table 3). Student comments showed that they wanted their advisor to provide a clear understanding of their program’s process and procedures: “I would like more of an overall picture of what the process is like instead of always feeling unsure about what comes next.” When advisors provide clear information for students, it helps them have realistic expectations for their program requirements and be able to plan and set goals accordingly with minimal surprises (Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2014).

Suggestions for Students

The following are suggestions on how to receive holistic support from your advisor throughout your graduate program.

  • Advocate for yourself. No one knows what you need more than you. Take responsibility for your academic actions and decisions.
  • Be proactive in working with your advisor. Ask for a meeting to share your academic and professional goals and discuss accountability measures.
  • Set goals from the beginning of the program and be flexible but stay focused on them. Create a graduation plan with short- and long-term goals. Discuss plans regularly with your advisor and reevaluate goals as needed.
  • Manage expectations: Discuss mutual expectations for communication and establish advising roles with your mentor.
  • Ask questions: Ask questions about important program information. This knowledge will help you stay on track to graduation.
  • Suggest mentoring groups. Along with several graduate students, consider forming a mentoring group with professors if they are not already a part of department advising (Bagaka et al., 2015). Groups could include discussing weekly writing progress, identifying conferences to attend together, or working on publications together.

Advising for the Future: A Focus on Networking/Career Goals

You will not be a graduate student forever, and your advisor should be able to help you as you take the next step on your career path. Students reported that 59% of advisors helped them professionally (see Table 1). This category was last in students’ most important advisor characteristics (6%) (see Table 2), but in the rank order of advisor characteristics, it tied for 5th highest priority (see Table 3). Students wanted more than only academic help from their advisor; they wanted support as they looked for post-graduate careers and opportunities: “More practical career advice and working with me to not only make sure my dissertation got finished but to have a solid step after graduation too.” When asked what ideal mentoring looked like to them, many students cited advisors who helped them with networking and finding future jobs, “It's the advisor's responsibility to help students find full-time employment after the academic experience. That should be baked into the graduate program. All program faculty should try being aware of their student's professional trajectories and helping them network where they can.”

Advisors Help Students Prioritize Future Career Options

Research has shown that effective advisors significantly impact student’s future career choices and path (Gardner, 2010), including networking (Corsini, 2022). Study responses show the importance of students seeking out advisor guidance on career goals from the beginning of the program: “[My advisor helped] me think through my goals and navigate the options of how to fulfill them.” Another respondent shared about their graduate student experience and how their advisor helped prepare them for a future career, “[They] asked me to think carefully about the subfield I was interested in and if I was ready to commit 3–4 years to studying that field intensely and make a career of it.” Setting career goals and strategizing with an advisor about future jobs or networking opportunities can help a student focus in their program, take advantage of learning opportunities, and avoid unnecessary classes and aimless direction.

Survey responses showed that graduate advising career support should include more practical career support. Another respondent shared, “Now that I work in industry, I participate in daily stand-ups, sprint planning, creating timelines, etc. On one of my first days, I was asked to create a Gantt chart. I didn't know what that was. Those kinds of project planning experiences in addition to the mentoring would have been helpful.” When students considered the ideal advising experience, they wanted advisors who could “help me think through my goals and navigate the options of how to fulfill them.” With their professional goals and networking as a focus, they were more likely to be prepared by their advisors to be qualified Ph.D.s and master’s graduates with networking opportunities and credible job prospects, and less likely to have had the experience. This respondent shared, “I would have liked to see . . . more focus on preparing for next steps after graduation. For example, coaching on how to build a portfolio for jobs if going into industry or building up publications for academia. I was able to get a job . . . but those two things are pretty important for future jobs.”

Suggestions for Students

Prioritizing career planning is important in a mentoring relationship. Ideally, you would begin discussing your goals for your career plans during your first mentoring meetings. Ask for help with career guidance and networking as you move through your program.

  • Evaluate your current skills and professional interests. Compare your current strengths and competencies with those required for your desired career. Meet with your faculty advisor to create a well-structured career development plan that aligns with career aspirations.
  • Throughout your program, seek out advice from multiple advisors who can help you with networking. Ask about an advisor’s career journey. Be willing to explore different options through internships and introductory meetings with professionals in your chosen field. In early networking, be less concerned about a specific job and more open to learning, realizing that with your advisors’ support, learning and networking can lead to the right career.
  • After graduation, stay in contact with your advisor. Let your advisor know what professional field you choose and keep them updated in more detail than a social media post update. In addition to providing references, they can continue to be a mentor and can help you with networking and your career search in the future. Now as a colleague instead of a student, you may find new opportunities to collaborate with them as you advance in your career, benefiting both of you.


Pursuing your graduate degree requires a deliberate and focused approach. Your student-advisor relationship is a critical factor that can significantly influence your successful completion of your program and your future career path (Brill et al., 2014; Creighton et al., 2010; Lunsford, 2012). This study showed that graduate students can make essential choices in their degree progress that will positively impact their relationship with their advisor. When choosing an advisor, graduate students should prioritize the five strategies identified for positive advisor relationships in this study: (1) academic support, (2) emotional support, (3) accountability, (4) information, and (5) networking/career advice.

First, with the most significant survey results showing the importance of academic support to the mentoring relationship, you should verify that your advisor is a good match for you. You should prioritize creating a positive relationship with your advisor (Burkhard et al., 2014). Ideally, your research interests should align with your advisor’s, or you should choose a research field the advisor can actively support and confirm that your advisor’s feedback style will help you make progress in your program. A second important finding of this study is that an essential advisor quality for students was emotional support, even though less than half of students said their advisor had provided personal help for them. If students seek emotional support provided by their advisor, they may need to do more than wait for the advisor to reach out to them, realizing that the most effective mentoring may be “outside the lines defined by formal mentoring approaches” (Fries-Britt & Snider, 2015, p. 9–10). You can help facilitate emotional support with your advisor by seeking mentoring interaction that allows for more in-depth personal engagement between you (Black et al., 2004). These interactions may include get-to-know-you questions about challenges the advisor has overcome, mentoring groups, partnering together in research, or other activities outside of the classroom organized by the department, but these personal mentoring experiences allow you to connect with your advisor in a more individual way and can enhance your overall academic experience.

As students carefully and intentionally choose their advisors, their pathway to graduation, though still an uphill climb, becomes a much more navigable course. You have an advocate to help you through the unforeseen difficulties of a dissertation, thesis, or project. You have a cheerleader to encourage you when you face personal and professional roadblocks along the way. You have an academic guide to help you be accountable with your writing on your graduate journey. You have an informed professor to provide you with the information and resources you need to stay on track for a timely graduation. You have a trusted advisor who sees possibilities for your future, understands your goals, and connects you with networking and career opportunities. The graduate student who chooses their advisor with the criteria recommended can benefit from a graduate mentoring experience that will positively impact their academic degree, the research they discover and share, and the scholar they become.


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Camey L. Andersen

Brigham Young University

Dr. Camey L. Andersen works with the Succeed in School program to improve education for youth in countries around the world as a manager of Education Support for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is an Adjunct Instructor of Religious Education at Brigham Young University. She earned her PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology and her master’s degree in English from Brigham Young University. Her research focus is improving mentoring and her doctoral dissertation, “Improving Mentoring in Higher Education,” showed the importance of mentoring in a global higher education initiative, BYU-Pathway Worldwide. Her mentoring publications can be found at
Carolyn Andrews

Brigham Young University

Dr. Carolyn Andrews is a highly motivated, team-oriented professional with over two decades of combined administrative, teaching, and research experience in higher education. Prior to her service as Associate Dean, Carolyn developed BYU’s Online program which has now grown to over 200 courses serving over 40,000 annual enrollments. She also has been a faculty consultant and academic product manager for BYU’s Independent Study. Prior to her work in Continuing Education, Andrews worked in the School of Family Life. In April 2020 she completed her Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology at BYU.

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