Thesis Advisers: Choosing Mister or Miss Right

I’m working on my thesis. I think I mentioned that before. Its funny how people’s interest in what you’re doing during thesis seems to be in direct proportion to how soon they’ll be undertaking the thesis project themselves. I’d say the number one question I get is: “How’s it going with your adviser?” In my case I feel very lucky, but I thought, “I should make a guide to help people find a good fit.” Not from a place of authority, just from some observations about the process. Then I thought, “Ohh! Ann Woods, Florence Guiraud, Jessica Turner & Nadya Volicer did a different / better version of that a few years ago as part of Little T.*” Then I realized that for some reason it only exists here in not-PDF form. So, back to my original plan.


How often do you want to meet?
Some advisers like to meet weekly, some only want to meet with you at the four standardized thesis reviews (beginning, mid-term, penultimate & final). Its probably good to first think about what you want and then explicitly ask how often they’d like to meet.

Do you want to work with a professor you have a good relationship with or someone you’ve never worked with but would like to?
I’m a personal advocate for working with someone you know you work well with, but some people come to grad school to try on a lot of different hats and see which ones fit. (In an ideal scenario, perhaps, you find someone who you like but who you’ve never had as a studio instructor).


Talk to the students who have graduated before you.
This is the best way to weed out deadbeat thesis advisers. Seriously.

Search DSpace by adviser name and look at the work that their previous thesis students have produced.
Sometimes I’m surprised how many students don’t know about Dspace! It has all of the previous theses in PDF form: a veritable treasure trove of great things! Its a good way of gauging depth of investigation, range of projects, etc for yourself. At a minimum you can use it to find previous students who have dabbled in your territory as a way of both making sure that you don’t accidentally rehash their ideas, but also as a way of expanding the scope of your research.

* Little T stands for Little Thesis. It was very active a few years ago, then sort of died and has recently been reincarnated as XS, a mostly theory-based pamphlet that appears a few times a semester.


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