Elements of Good Academic Advising

Provided by the University Council on Graduate Study, Office of the Provost, University of Pittsburgh

The quality of education that graduate students receive is greatly enhanced if students receive good academic advising at all stages of their program. Students need good advising when they are being recruited, when they first register, at later stages in the program, and when they are graduating and looking for a job. Their advising needs vary as they move through the program; their advising needs vary depending on the type of program they are pursuing. These needs can be met either by one advisor or by several advisors.

Given the diversity of these needs, each school, and indeed each individual program, must determine the best way to provide advising. Each program should prepare a document available to students and faculty that describes the program's view on good advising practice. Each program should have a clear policy on how good graduate advising is assessed and rewarded.

To assist programs in doing this, we first list in this document what advisors and academic units should do to meet the needs of students. We acknowledge that these needs cannot be met unless graduate students are receptive and, in many cases, take the initiative in seeking advising and so have subsequently listed the responsibilities of students in advising. Good advising is a cooperative activity that students and faculty must work together to achieve.

This document includes, in attention to this introductory section, three key sections:

  • Responsibilities of faculty/academic units,
  • Responsibilities of students, and
  • Problem resolution.

Responsibilities of Students

Students should:

  • Expect to devote an appropriate amount of time and energy toward achieving academic excellence and earning the advanced degree;
  • Read and become familiar with the regulations and policies concerning graduate study as described in school bulletins and departmental and program brochures;
  • Be aware of time constraints and other demands imposed on faculty members and program staff;
  • Be prepared to take the initiative in finding answers to questions and in planning their professional careers;
  • Communicate regularly with faculty advisors, including the period after completion of their coursework, and be available for regular meetings; and
  • Alert the advisor to uncertainties they may have about program requirements, normal progress, and performance expectations.

Responsibilities of Faculty/Academic Units

Advising Before Enrollment:

Schools and programs must provide accurate, up-to-date information to prospective students about the academic program, the research interests of the faculty, and the degree requirements. Information on the following should be made available: average time to degree, average financial aid available, and employment opportunities after graduation (including the placement record of the program).

Advising of New Students:

Students must be provided with advice on courses to be taken during the first year; clear maps of the requirements each student must meet, including course work, languages, research tools, examinations, internships, thesis or dissertation; and a delineation of the amount of time expected to complete each step.

University regulations require that the department assign to each graduate student a major advisor who, in consultation with the student, plans a program of study and research in accord with school and departmental guidelines. Exceptions might occur in a professional school with a fixed curriculum, since students are not faced with curricular choices.

Departments and schools should assist students and their advisors by preparing clear, current written guidelines about program requirements. These should be placed on the Web for easy access.

Advising of Continuing Students:

Advisors should evaluate student progress and performance in a regular (i.e., no less than annual) and informative way. In these evaluations advisors should inform students about their performance in relation to expectations of normal progress and to norms associated with successful degree completion and placement after graduation.

Advisors should place students' timely completion of degree requirements among their highest priorities.

The following responsibilities could be met by individual advisors, by designated faculty, or in group departmental sessions:

  • Assist students to develop grant writing skills, where appropriate.
  • Educate students about research integrity and make them aware of the University's policies on Research Integrity and on Conflict of Interest.
  • Help students to develop artistic, analytical, interpretive, writing, verbal, quantitative and laboratory skills, where appropriate, in accordance with the expectations of the discipline.
  • Encourage students to participate in professional meetings or perform or display their work in public settings.
  • Help students gain an appreciation of teaching, assist students in improving their teaching skills, and provide them with guidance in how to prepare an appropriate teaching portfolio.
  • Supply students with information about the variety of employment opportunities available to graduates of the program and encourage them to plan toward an employment goal as early in their course of graduate study as possible.

Advising of Thesis or Dissertation Students:

The thesis or dissertation advisor should:

  • Take reasonable measures to ensure that each graduate student initiates thesis or dissertation research in a timely fashion;
  • Schedule regular meetings with advisee to discuss project and return comments on written work in a timely fashion, as determined by departmental policy;
  • Clarify coauthorship publication practices, which should be in agreement with departmental policies; and
  • Take primary responsibility for ensuring that the student receives the advising described in the Advising of Continuing Students section.

As stated in Regulations Governing Graduate Study at the University of Pittsburgh, "meetings of the doctoral candidate and his/her dissertation committee must occur at least annually from the time the student gains admission to doctoral candidacy. During these meetings, the committee should assess the student's progress toward the degree and discuss objectives for the following year and a timetable for completing degree requirements. It is the responsibility of the dean of each school to determine a mechanism for monitoring the occurrence of these annual reviews."

Advising of Graduating Students:

Students should be provided assistance in finding jobs. This assistance includes preparation for making a successful job application, including CVs, teaching dossiers, and interviews; access to information about job opportunities; letters of recommendation from faculty; and encouragement of student participation in or awareness of networking possibilities.

Problem Resolution

It may happen that either the faculty advisor or the graduate student believes that the advising process is failing. Such difficulties should be reported to the designated person in the program handling graduate affairs or to the chair of the program or the department. This person should assist in mediating and in developing meaningful alternatives to existing problems approaching such problems in a manner as informal, constructive, and non-personalized as possible to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution of the problem. It may happen that a change of advisor occurs as a result. Such a change should be handled so that the academic experience of the graduate student is enhanced.

Each school should designate a person at the dean's level whom a student may approach if departmental efforts are viewed as unsuccessful. If these efforts are seen as unacceptable, students and faculty should refer to the University's Guidelines on Academic Integrity for more formal grievance procedures.