Near the beginning of the semester I read an article at The Chronicle of Higher Education that my recent experience semi-annual experience of surviving advising brought to mind. The gist of the article is that some graduate advisors do such a terrible job that their advisees pay for advising from others. As a faculty member with over 40 undergraduate advisees, I would argue that many of the same lessons apply. The relevant passages state:
Your responsibility to your advisees extends to telling the whole truth about the academic enterprise at this time. Tenure-track lines have been evaporating for years. Aiming for a tenure-track job is, for most students, unrealistic. For those students who wish to try, the effort requires years of methodical training and calculation of career chances, from the point of arrival in the graduate program through the dissertation defense and beyond. Your job is to look up from your students’ dissertations, and assist them in mastering those skills and calculations.
How? By teaching your Ph.D.’s how to write a CV; to cultivate prominent scholarly supporters; to pursue grant money with a single-minded purpose; to apply for national awards; to publish, publish more, publish higher, write a stellar application letter, and do the elevator talk.
And when, even after doing all of the above, the tenure-track job doesn’t materialize, as it often will not, instead of averting your eyes in shame from their so-called “failures,” you step up, professors, and work with your Ph.D.’s to transfer their skills into some sector of the economy that is not contracting as badly as your own.
While it is true that there are some bad advisors at my institution, and I’m glad that I don’t have to advise students writing master’s theses or dissertations, it seems that if I served my advisees as poorly as some professors serve their graduate students I would be out of a job. For example, the person that I replaced was reportedly a bad advisor, but that person that I replaced was replaced after failing to get tenure. I’m not sure if any research exists on this, but it would be interesting to see if the general orientation toward students and teaching at a SLAC also leads to better advising than the orientation toward publications and grants at larger institutions.