Some Thoughts on Advising

Dr. Chris M. Golde
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Thoughts on Directed Reading | Dissertation Proposals | Writing Groups
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One of the important aspects of graduate education is establishing a relationship with an advisor, although this is generally more important for doctoral students than master's level students. I tend to think of doctoral advising as taking place in two different phases. The first is in the course-taking phase of graduate school, and the second is the dissertation phase. I think it is important to have an advisor for each phase, although not necessarily the same person. Because of the high advising loads we carry in this department, I think it is helpful to lay out my expectations for advisees. This will allow you to be more prepared if we work together. It may also help you as you decide which faculty member will serve as your advisor.


The educational process in graduate education is much more of a partnership than at the undergraduate level. Each of us needs to be respectful of one another, to keep communication clear, and expect to learn from one another. When you come to see me, you can expect that I will give you my full and undivided attention during the time we meet. I will do my best to provide suggestions and to guide you. If you have given me things to read with a reasonable lead time (see below) I will have read them, and will give you feed back on them.

For your part, I expect you to understand that time is my most precious resource. Use my time wisely.
bulletWhen you sign up for office hours this is your time to use as you choose. You set the agenda, you move us along from topic to topic.
bulletIf you have paper work for me to sign, I expect you to bring it filled out. If we are working on requirements or course taking questions, bring a list of options you are considering.
bulletIf you give me written pieces to react to, I expect a cover note attached which explains what the piece is, and what kind of feedback you want. If you have specific questions or puzzles you are wrestling with, explain what they are. In general I will give detailed feedback on the writing, unless you ask me not to (such as for a general problem statement or short piece). I will do this for 2-3 pages, and then I expect you will understand the kinds of things which need work and will use that as a guide for rewriting from there on.

Getting In Touch
The best way to be in touch with me is via e-mail. I will do my best to respond within a day or two, unless I am out of town. Alternately, you can leave me a message on my voice mail. I should return your call within a few days. If you do not hear back from me, feel free to call a second time. If you need to know if I am out of town, contact my secretary Carol Jean Roche, at 263-2730.

I generally have 3 hours of office hours available per week, in half-hour segments. Sign up for office hours on my door. I usually keep several weeks worth of sheets on the door. If you are unable to make my office hours because of your work schedule, contact me by phone or e-mail to set up an alternate time. When you arrive, knock on the door so that I know you are here. Wait in the waiting area at room 1186, I will come and get you. You will get a full half-hour if you need it. I may run late, so plan accordingly.

Which Students
There are a number of students in this department, and the typical advising load for a faculty member is between doctoral ten and twenty students. Since I am an untenured faculty member, I am deliberately taking a lighter load of students. Consequently, I am unable to serve as the advisor for every student who asks. For master's students I restrict my self to those students in the higher education strand, and specifically those more interested in working as administrators, particularly in students affairs divisions.

For doctoral students the advisor-student match should be based in some part on shared intellectual interests. For this reason I am more likely to advise students in the higher education strand. I also think that a good advisor-student match is predicated on a similar approach and working style and approach to research. In this way I see myself as first and foremost a member of the department, and would like to work with students across areas.


Course Taking
Read the information under "Course Taking" for doctoral students. I believe that this advice pertains for master's students as well. You are taking a fairly small number of courses, so I suggest you shop wisely. I encourage students to sit in on twice as many classes in the first week as they intend to take, so that they can make an informed choice among a wide range of options.

There is great opportunity on this campus to work in internships in a variety of offices. Unfortunately, there is not a process for centrally investigating these options. Instead, if you are interested in an Internship, we can brainstorm a list of offices in which you might be interested in learning. Internships are best established at least half a semester in advance. You will need to establish goals for the internship, and they office will need to work with you on that. Most internships are completed for course credit using the EA 700 number. If you are in Higher Education, and do not take the course component which is geared to K-12 students, expect to spend 250 hours at your internship, or about 20 hours per week.


At this point in time I only have the money to support one graduate program assistant per year. It is my priority to work with a student who is more advanced in the program, and can be a partner on research projects. I tend to select my PA in the spring for the following year, and to select a student who I have already had in a class. Thus I will not hire first year students. At this point my emphasis is on selecting students who will be helping primarily with research projects, not with teaching. I also must select students who are well matched in terms of interests and research approach. Should the day come when I can support additional graduate students on grant funds, I will try to advertise widely for students to fill those slots, using similar criteria.

I advise students looking for assistantships to be aggressive and entrepreneurial in seeking assistantships in office around the university. This is particularly fruitful for students who have previous work experience, especially in higher education settings. If you want to talk about ideas of what offices to contact, I would be happy to discuss that with you. We do not have a list of offices that have sponsored assistantships, but I have names of students who will share their suggestions with you.

Course Taking Time
The first year or two (or longer, for those who are part time students) or graduate school is largely about selecting their courses. Some advice that I give all students:

bulletTake courses from a variety of faculty members in the department. This is a way of learning which faculty you get along with, whose ideas or questions are compelling. It is also a way of getting exposed to a variety of ideas and ways of thinking.
bulletTake courses outside of the department: the departments of Educational Policy Studies (EPS), LaFollette Center for Public Policy, Social Work, Sociology and the program in Continuing and Vocational Education (CAVE).
bulletDiscuss emerging intellectual interests with a variety of faculty members. It is a helpful strategy to use course papers as a way to explore ideas and interests.

I expect to meet with those course taking students for whom I am primary advisor about once per semester. Please sign up for a half hour time during my office hours at the beginning or end of the semester. In these meetings we will talk about what is exciting in what you are learning, what kinds of courses you are thinking of taking the future, and are you still committed to pursuing the PhD? I expect you to come prepared to discuss these things.

Switching Advisors
I firmly believe that students should be able to switch advisors. The advisor who worked well for the course taking part of advising might not be your top choice for the dissertation part of graduate school.

I believe that every student should compose a dissertation committee of those faculty members who will be most helpful. It is useful to think of those faculty members as a team of advisors, each of whom might bring some particular expertise to the party. Picking people who will provide the right kind of support, intellectual and methodological tools and interest in your topic are all important.

The dissertation chair should be someone who both cares about your topic and is committed to your success. It should be someone with whom you can work effectively, and who has the time to help you. This need not be the world's or department's leading expert in your topic.

Committee Membership
I am available to serve as the second or third reader on dissertation committees. While I am more likely to serve on committees for students with a higher education focus, I can also serve on committees with other topics in the department. The important questions are these: what "value added" do I provide for your committee? What expertise or role do you expect me to provide?

As a second or third reader my role is different than that of the chair. Exactly what that role will be is something to negotiate with your chair, who might have some thoughts on the subject. In general, when coming to discuss the possibility of my serving on your committee, it would be helpful for you to be able to describe the project you have in mind and what kind of help you would like from me.

Some people begin this process quite early on. We might meet once in a while to discuss evolving ideas and ways of looking at a problem. This is sort of an intellectual brainstorming session. If you want to do that, please sign up for half an hour in my office hours. In most cases, I meet with students once they have a pretty good idea of the direction they want to go. At that point I expect you to have a one-page statement of the problem you are investigating. It would like a copy of that several days in advance, so that I can read and react to it.

Once you are writing the proposal, I would be happy to meet with you occasionally to discuss evolving thinking. I would be willing to read and react to drafts of your writing; but I would expect these texts to be fairly succinct -- no more than 10-15 pages. I would need at 1-2 weeks lead time to read them before we meet to discuss. At this point, I would expect that your advisor had already discussed the issues at hand with you, and that you were looking for additional perspectives.

If you give me texts to read and react to I expect you to attach a cover letter in which you explain: what stage of draft this is, what you think are the strengths of it, what areas you particularly have questions about, what kind of feedback do you want (purely conceptual, feedback on the writing, questions about organization, etc.) I expect you to be thoughtful about what you want from me, and to use my time as constructively as possible.

Proposal Writing
Writing a proposal is the most difficult part of the dissertation process, I believe. In this phase, which may take from a semester to a year, I would expect to work together fairly intensively. As your chair, I expect to read a fair number of drafts and work with you on them. We might meet as frequently as every few weeks. When we work on the proposal it is important that you give me about a week's lead time on reading your work (5-10 pages is probably normal) and a cover letter explaining what you are trying to accomplish, and what the main questions you have. I think it is most helpful if you talk with other faculty members at this point, particularly as you are shaping the conceptual framework and then operationalizing your problem into a specific methodology. (Please see Some Thoughts on Proposal Writing.)

At this point, particularly for part-time students, you may find that you are not making a lot of progress. You will need to take responsibility for keeping me posted on your progress and your time line for work. If I do not hear from you for longer than a semester, I will come looking for you. I strongly feel that students I advise must be making steady progress (barring unforeseen personal obstacles, of course). If you are not making any progress for a longer period of time, we will meet to discuss whether you really intend to complete the degree and if I am the appropriate advisor for you. I will only approve 999 course registration for students who are actively making progress.

Dissertation Research and Writing
At the point you are collecting data I expect we will meet whenever you feel that we need to meet. Particularly when you have questions or problems that you need help resolving. If everything is going well, I would appreciate a monthly e-mail to keep me posted on your progress.

Once you begin writing, I will read drafts of your text. However, it is my expectation that you only give me drafts under two conditions: 1) you are wrestling with a problem and need some feedback, or 2) you are quite content with the shape of a chapter and feel like it is a good draft. In the second case I would expect that other students you share writing with have already read the text, and you have incorporated their feedback into your revisions. If you are giving me text longer than 20 pages I would expect that you would give me two weeks to read it. As the ends of semesters roll around, be aware that my time for reading will shrink.

Writing Groups
I feel very strongly that every student should have a group of students with whom they share their work. A writing group can provide you the kind of on going feedback and help on drafts of writing which I simply do not have the time to provide. Furthermore, a trusted group of allies can help with the process of dissertating. I do not believe in undertaking the dissertation process alone. (See Tips for Successful Writing Groups.)

version 1.2
August, 1997
Chris M. Golde

Thoughts on Directed Reading | Dissertation Proposals | Writing Groups
Back to: Chris M. Golde