You & Your Major Professor
Your relationship with your major professor is critical for a successful experience in graduate school. This single member of the faculty will influence what courses you take and the scholarship you pursue. She or he also has the potential to set you on a pathway to success in your preliminary and final oral examinations, seminar deliveries, and job placement. For better or for worse, your partnership with your major professor was not vetted by match.com, however.
Major professors come in all shapes and sizes. They exhibit a range of personality traits that may or may not be compatible with yours. Some major professors are proactive, organized, and constantly focused on your needs. Others have a more hands-off approach, preferring that their students take the lead with planning, executing, trouble-shooting, and communicating. It will serve you well to understand how your major professor operates. Such an understanding will allow you to act in ways that complement your major professor's work style, or you may attempt to modify how your major professor interacts with you. Here are a few suggestions:
- Communicate: Share your concerns. Seek feedback on your performance.
- Professional Development: Discuss opportunities to grow as a professional in your discipline.
- Set Goals: Make mutual, concrete plans for each week, month, or semester.
- Have a Life: ...one outside of your workspace, that is. Take time to attend to your physical and mental health; eat well, and develop healthful habits.
- Show Respect, but Challenge: Respectfully question advice or suggestions that don't make sense; one of you is likely to learn from the other.
- Understand the Motivators: Ask your major professor what her or his top priorities are for your graduate program. You might be surprised by the answer.
- Nitty-gritty: Regularly discuss the more mundane aspects of getting a graduate degree. Quiz your major professor about the policies and procedures of your graduate program and of the Graduate College. A great question might be "What do I need to do to graduate on schedule?" Of course, that question implies that you should have developed a schedule.
- Celebrate Success: Seize opportunities to reward your mutual accomplishments.
- Be Thankful: Express appreciation for the opportunity you've been given.
- Offer Good-natured Advice: Comments on my advising style and constructive feedback from my students have helped me to be a better major professor. Be sure to offer advice in an appropriate way and at the right time.