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One of the most daunting and yet important decisions in graduate school is the selection of your thesis advisor. Inviting an advisor into your graduate thesis process is like hiring a ship navigator who will help guide your graduate study through the sometimes choppy waters of data research and thesis writing and into the safe harbor of graduation and a good job. Although you remain the captain of your own career, your graduate advisor teaches you how to use the charts and equipment that will bring you to the completion of your graduate degree.

The specific steps involved in choosing an advisor vary according to department and school; however, some aspects of this process are universal, no matter which college or university you attend. Many people compare this selection process to choosing a spouse, because the thesis advisor is someone who will be with you, directly or indirectly, throughout your professional life. As in finding and forging any successful professional relationship, identifying a compatible advisor is not an easy task, and few road maps exist that explain how to manage it. Consequently, most graduate students begin the process of choosing their thesis advisor without much background information. A lack of preparation can lead to disappointing results, whereas an informed approach can achieve a very satisfying outcome. In fact, a compatible advisor can function as your career navigator, someone you can consult for professional advice whenever your career takes an unexpected turn or presents a promising opportunity. In the end, the rewards that come with a reliable advisor who is right for you, your professional goals, and your field of study, are worth the investment of extra time and energy in a thorough search process.

In the stories that follow, I offer you some insight into this sometimes unpredictable quest and share my decision-making process, as well as a few of the experiences I have had in my search for thesis advisors. I hope this chapter will prepare you to choose an advisor who will work well with you and see you through to the completion of your graduate degree.


This is a chapter in GPS for Graduate School: Students Share Their Stories, edited by Mark J.T. Smith, © 2014 Purdue University Press. The chapter is posted courtesy of Purdue University Press.

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