Choosing the right adviser for your doctoral degree can make a big difference in your overall experience and success as a Ph.D. student. Interviewing faculty is an effective way to learn more about compatibility, accessibility and the potential for creative projects. Consider your individual needs and make a detailed list of the information that will help you make an informed decision. The questions you ask will make an impression on the faculty member you meet and can influence the admission process and further opportunities for fellowships and assistantships.
Obtain Details About the Academic Program
Even though you may be able to obtain program requirements online or in a course bulletin, craft some questions that delve deeper into academic nuances. For example, ask a potential adviser how many students she advises and the average time for degree completion. Ask how student progress is measured and what benchmarks must be met to remain in good standing. The dissertation is the big bear of any doctoral program. Pose questions about alternative projects, collaborative dissertations and the possibility of working across disciplines on a research interest.
Gain Insight About Support and Mentoring
As a Ph.D. student, you’ll be expected to work independently and be self-motivated, especially when it comes to the dissertation phase of your program. You want an adviser who will support you and push you to meet deadlines. Ask a potential adviser what his strategy is for motivating students. Discuss the role of mentoring in the program and the difference between advising and mentoring. Your goal is to find out if the potential adviser will take you under his wing or let you fly on your own. Discuss potential research interests and see if there’s a connection between you and the faculty member. Finally, ask how involved the potential adviser is in the research projects of Ph.D. candidates.
Get Information About Current and Future Opportunities
The road to earning your Ph.D. should be filled with numerous opportunities for professional growth and development. Ask a potential adviser about the types of experiences students have outside of the regular curriculum. For example, ask how many students have worked with faculty on research, written articles for scholarly journals or co-presented at a national academic conference. Since getting a job after you earn your degree is one of your goals, ask how a potential adviser can assist with opening career doors. Understanding more about the connections an adviser has or the jobs and postdoctoral fellowships obtained by previous students can provide valuable insight.
Inquire About Benefits and Compensation
A Ph.D. adviser can be a wealth of information about potential funding options for your doctoral degree. Use an interview to develop a rapport and seek information about potential fellowships, assistantships or paid research positions. A fellowship usually provides tuition and a living stipend with no work requirement. An assistantship or research position provides similar compensation in exchange for work on campus. Inquire about grants administered by the department that may include part-time paid positions for students. Ask about health benefits, child-care assistance and funding to assist with your research and conference travel.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.