QUICK REFERENCE TO ANSWERS TO SPECIFIC QUESTIONS
1. How do I find the right advisor for me
2. What is the student supposed to learn from the advisor
3. What are the advisor’s responsibilities?
4. How can I change research advisors?
The research advisor, who typically also chairs the THESIS AND DISSERTATION committee, is the starting point for this discussion. Since the more common practice is to give students some voice in research advisor selection, it is valuable to know what that individual is supposed to do and how to make constructive contact with potential research advisors to assess their interests and comparability. We agree with Allen (1973), who said, Since you may be working with this committee for an extended period of time, you should-if at all possible-attempt to influence the selection of a committee that increases your chances of completing a high-quality research paper in the time you have allotted for the task. (p. 30)
Others have since advised or implied the same notion (Krathwohl, 1988; Meloy, 2002).
LEARNING ABOUT ADVISOR FUNCTIONS
The advisor is the most important person in the scholastic life of the student during THESIS AND DISSERTATION work. Moreover, university publications repeatedly stress that much of the initiative for finding a research advisor must come from the student. One reason is that faculty members are reluctant to be seen as “selling” students on their specific interests or their particular ideological or research agenda. Another reason is that choosing an advisor tends to be tightly linked to choosing a topic for investigation.
Starting to Talk with Potential Advisors
The care one should give to the selection of an advisor cannot be overestimated. A mistake here could lead to disaster. Yet, students, perhaps particularly new students, find themselves in a complex social and academic situation with very little experience to guide them. An excellent place to start is with other students, especially those who are experienced in the academic program and perhaps well along in the thesis or dissertation process. Ask the experienced students about advisors, about their strengths and weaknesses, the number of advisees they have, and their record in seeing advisees through to successful completion.
Also, a bit of time in library research can tell you what potential advisors have published and where. Try starting with search strategies that focus on subjects in your academic program area and the research area of interest to you and to potential advisors. The research librarian can be of great help here, of course, but some places to start on your own might be the Academic Search Elite , MLA (Modern Language Association) International Bibliography , Public Affairs International , Science Citation Index , Social Citation Index , and so forth. That tells you something about the areas of expertise, as well as the quality of the work of those scholars cited. Another indication of the quality of the work is how often it is cited by peers, and many of the databases will give you that information. All this information is available in your research library and, in many cases, is available on your home computer through access to the library’s on-line resources.
Many faculty members have home pages that will provide a good deal of information about them as potential advisors. Many faculty members, in addition to their academic program or department, are affiliated with a number of other academic centers in the university (e.g., Center for Latin American Studies, the Honors College , or the International Institute for Studies in Education). Investigating these affiliations can yield much information about the background, area of expertise, research interests, and accomplishments of a faculty member. Also, faculty academic backgrounds and fields of expertise are often published by their universities, either in print or on line.
Another way to search for an appropriate advisor is to read the-ses and dissertations from students who have graduated. Of course, the fact that the students have graduated and completed their theses or dissertations is already a good sign. University libraries usually catalog copies of theses and dissertations. Read them and look for the names of advisors, committee members, and the academic area of the dissertation .
Ordinarily, faculty members are pleased to talk about their interests with students. Such discussions should be started by students soon after admission to advanced study. Records should be kept of interviews. Faculty members not exactly right for research advisor may later prove to be good choices for committee membership or consultation on specific THESIS AND DISSERTATION problems.
Before approaching a faculty member, the student should be sure there is something to talk about. That calls for planning a brief agenda. One way to start is by reading one or two of the faculty mem-ber’s most recent publications. Look for places where the faculty member calls attention to the need for more information or to prior research that did not fully resolve the matter that it attacked. Use those references to open the conversation; ask whether anyone known to the faculty member is doing research to close those knowledge gaps. Suggest that you might try to develop a proposal related to the question or questions if no one else is already doing so. Be ready, too, with a few written first-draft research questions or hypotheses that you have developed on the subject(s), but recognize that neither the student nor the faculty member expects that they are in final form. The most important point is to show that a serious effort has been made to prepare for the interview, and that the student has accepted responsibility for the initiative.
Still a third effective variation on this approach is to study THESIS AND DISSERTATIONs recently completed under the faculty member’s direction. The majority of academic and professional THESIS AND DISSERTATIONs contain sections on implications for further research. Equally important, the faculty members who approved them had already tacitly agreed to the relevance and importance of the proposed investigations. Foreign students may seek advisors who have successfully worked with other foreign students or who have conducted or directed studies having a strong international component.
As part of getting under way on the selection of an advisor , we urge the student to do two other things without delay . One is to obtain, carefully study, and follow any policies, statements, or procedure that the local school or department has about research advisor selection. The other is to commit time to a careful reading of the rest of this chapter and at least to skim the rest of the book to identify areas to be studied later. The suggestions in the book are intended to be useful in making the most of the student’s important initial steps.
The Advisor’s Role
The role of the research advisor is mainly that of a teacher, but also is that of a guide, mentor, confidant, and senior research colleague. The role definition rests on the premise that the advisor is instructing the student in learning to conduct investigations independently. Successful students and advisors often describe their relationships as respectful and collegial. The advisor, usually older, wiser, and knowledgeable about the ways of the university world, wields a considerable amount of power. The student, typically plagued with anxieties about the ability to do what is expected, looks up to the advisor as someone who has done it and who can teach or impart the needed knowledge and skill.
A general theory of the student-advisor relationship can be illustrated graphically (see Fig. 2-1). In its basic form, the theory holds that the relationship at the outset of THESIS AND DISSERTATION study is one to one, with the advisor mainly in the role of teacher and the THESIS AND DISSERTATION candidate in the role of pupil. Then, as the work progresses, the relationship moves more and more toward that of a junior colleague working with and maturing as a researcher under the influence of a senior colleague. That theory underlies the discussions and the recommendations about student-advi-sor interactions in the major contemporary reports on the subject (CGS, 1990a, 199lb; LaPidus, 1990).
Currently, the above theory fits best in fields in which the prevailing model is that of the THESIS AND DISSERTATION scholar working, for the most part, alone, with no one else sharing the same or very similar research activities and goals. In some disciplines, though, THESIS AND DISSERTATION research projects are typically small components of much larger collaborative studies. In the last case, the vested interest of the advisor in the research may prove to be paramount from the outset, with the result that the advisor takes a larger hand in managing the student’s investigation from the very beginning, thus casting the student in the role of junior colleague and collaborator all the way through the THESIS AND DISSERTATION experience.
In a policy statement, the Council of Graduate Schools (199lb) says:
Because of the inherent status differences of the participants, stu-dent/faculty collaboration can present opportunities for abuse; when students work on faculty projects, conflicts of interest can arise over ownership of the data and the research results. How is an equitable division of credit achieved for collaborative research between a doctoral (or master’s or honors) student and his or her advisor? (p. 11)
The policy statement goes on to respond:
Faculty and graduate students alike see a need for some mechanism to identify and evaluate a doctoral (or master’s or honors) student’s individual contributions to a collaborative research project….Universities should have clear policies governing collaboration among faculty and students and among students. These policies should insure the integrity of the various functions of doctoral (or master’s or honors) research and protect all par-ties’ rights in the research results. (p. 11)
We agree with Myers (1993), who says:
I have never met a student who did not hope to make a personal imprint on his or her dissertation . Often the research idea comes from the student’s own experience. Even when this is not the case, there is a strong desire to implant one’s self-concept in the work. Of course, there are examples of a student taking a minor spinoff of a sponsor’s programmatic research. This is a very efficient way to do dissertation research, but it seldom results in feelings of fulfillment for the student. The internal drive to make it one’s own is powerful and pervasive. (p. 334)
Truly, inherent in the THESIS AND DISSERTATION process itself, there is collaboration, in the broad sense of willing cooperation, between students and faculty members. But, when collaboration promises to involve the student as one of a number of investigators jointly working on more or less connected aspects of a large research enterprise, the above general theory of student-advisor relationship (Fig. 2-1) needs the protection of clear, written guidelines to ensure that the traditional purposes and goals of the THESIS AND DISSERTATION process are never unintentionally subverted, with the real loser being the student.
Students often feel absolutely dependent on the advisor to finish. It can be lonely. The camaraderie of classes, groups, and grades is all but gone. Prior learning now has to be synthesized and actively drawn on in a rigorous fashion to produce something of worth, something that will be open to the critical examination of the advisor and later a committee of learned peers of the advisor.
Although the roles are different, both students and advisors aim for successful completion. The advisor may become anxious if the student falters, if there appears to be a waste of time, fumbling, or indecision. The advisor will chastise, cajole, encourage, reinforce, and perhaps, at times, threaten. All this seems to be tolerated to a remarkable degree when the student respects and trusts the advisor and knows that the advisor is acting out of concern and interest.
There must be, after all, advisor respect for the advisee in order that the thesis or dissertation preparation is a growth experience. Too much direction and hand-holding can stifle creativity and independence, blind both parties to reality, and weaken the selectivity of the program. No matter how humanistic the advisor’s concerns, it is difficult to argue that all candidates in an honors, master’s, or doctoral program should complete it. The advisor who defends an advisee under any circumstance has gone beyond the bounds of appropriate behavior.
A more appropriate role for the advisor is that of advanced instructor. Here, the advisor presumes that the student is a mature person, possessing the skills and tools of research appropriate to the topic.
A colleague, C. Baker (personal communication, Dec. 18, 1992) has collected statements made by students to advisors; she labeled these “things dissertation advisors hate to hear.” These statements were gleaned from years of experience working with graduate students and their advisors:
Things dissertation advisors hate to hear :
“Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!”
“It would be much easier if you gave me a topic to investigate.”
“I know it’s taken me 6 months to revise my overview, but could you possibly have it read by tomorrow?”
“What rules were in effect when I started the program?”
“You mean that I should have committee members from my pro-gram?”
“I’ll study any topic as long as it doesn’t require statistics.”
“Don’t expect me to know what I’m doing; I’ve never written a dissertation before.”
“You have to sign off on this because I have made arrangements for
my family to fly in from across the world for graduation.” “Couldn’t you make an exception in my case?”
Advisor advocacy is appropriate, but it has to be accompanied by advisee responsibility with respect to identifying the topic, personally conducting the research, setting reasonable and realistic goals and meeting them, and using clear language in writing . If the student fails in any of these respects, without acceptable cause, it is time for some difficult evaluation and reassessment, with requests for appropriate changes in behavior. The student has the right to know what is expected, to understand and discuss these expectations, and to know the consequences of failing to meet them.
Phases of Faculty-Student Interactions
From experiences related by faculty members, it is possible to identify three sequential phases of faculty-student interaction. First is an exploratory phase; the student is given encouragement to look for an area of study. Having been contacted by a student, the advisor throws out leads and gives information about where and how to look for problems in need of investigation, but the student is not directed toward specific problems. The advisor supports the search and offers encouragement to continue it. This is an opportune time for advisor and student to discuss how best to use electronic technology to help accomplish the literature explorations-the browsing-and then to carry out the literature searches that are needed. Advisors can help students learn how to use computer-assisted literature searches to examine what has been reported in a particular “problem area” and to move from that activity to the identification of specific potentially researchable topics within the problem areas being explored. In this phase, also, the advisor informs the student of criteria that can be used to help determine whether a topic is one that would lend itself to THESIS AND DISSERTATION work. For discussion purposes, criteria can be grouped in three categories: the student’s criteria, the advisor’s criteria, and the institution’s criteria. The last includes university, school, and departmental criteria. Chapter 9 supplies a suggested checklist of criteria.
The second stage in the advisor-student interaction sequence is one of moving toward problem focus . The student settles in on two or three problems in a topical area (sometimes more than one topical area). The problems are described, and a beginning is made on stating their boundaries. Though specific THESIS AND DISSERTATION problems have not yet crystallized, there is movement in that direction. The advisor and student have fairly well-defined problem areas to examine. In this stage, a literature search is an important activity. Also, referring to the criteria discussed in the first stage should prove helpful.
The third stage is generation of research questions or hypotheses . The student formulates questions or hypotheses and tries them out on the advisor, on friends, and among the other graduate students. Still endeavoring not to be overly directive, advisors tend at this point to lead the students toward a narrower and more precise problem definition. All of that is done, to the extent possible, in a spirit of cooperative helpfulness. Inadvertent discouragement of students at this stage is all too easy for the closer the student comes to defining a THESIS AND DISSERTATION problem, the more strongly the criticism is felt.
Mentor * refers to a person of competence who volunteers to instruct a junior or less experienced person in an area of mutual interest. The person who finds a mentor will be helped to prepare for a lifetime career without losing a sense of identity. From the relationship comes the confidence to succeed by one’s own efforts (Kavoosi et al., 1995). Such a relationship is especially important to foreign students.
Mentoring is probably the most applicable instructional term for the style of faculty-student interaction in THESIS AND DISSERTATION work. Unlike a tutor
*Some universities use the term mentor as the official designation for the THESIS AND DISSERTATION advisor. Fordham is an example. Mentor was Odysseus’s trusted counselor, in whose disguise Athena became guardian and teacher of Telemachus, Odysseus’s son. Other meanings of mentor are adviser and wise one.
devoted to subject matter, the mentor tends to become more sharing and confidential. The student is apt to learn in depth what the advisor thinks about topics of mutual interest. The faculty member who is truly a mentor is liable to learn much about the student’s motives, plans, and hopes. The searching and reporting by the student often bring new information and insights to the faculty member, who in turn enriches the contacts with the student (and with classes) by talking about them.
Both students and faculty remark that they learn from each other during graduate study. But, there is little literature that bears directly on the learning experiences accruing from THESIS AND DISSERTATION study or advisement (LaPidus, 1990).
Hints as to potentially valuable procedures can be found, however, in the extensive literature on the education of the gifted. Most THESIS AND DISSERTATION students are in that category based on conventional definitions (Sellin and Birch, 1980, 1981).
There remains, however, a constant acknowledgment that the advisor has power that the student does not have. Krathwohl (1988, p. 262) urges the student to look for an advisor who, among other qualities, is “secure enough to stand up to others in your defense if she thinks you are right.” He suggests asking other graduate students about potential advisors who have that strength and who are respected by fellow faculty members for it.
The Advisor as a Model
The advisor is probably the only faculty member the student will see in action so closely and in such an intense way. Thus, it can be expected that the student, if later in the position to serve as THESIS AND DISSERTATION advisor to others, will be greatly influenced by earlier example. The behavior of the advisor is of signal importance, therefore, because it becomes the model for others.
To summarize, the Council of Graduate Schools characterizes the dissertation advisor in this way, and we believe that the same description should hold for the thesis advisor (CGS, 1990b, pp. 7 and 8).
The principal advisor of a dissertation in particular is a mentor in a special position of influence and trust. Inasmuch as dissertation
advisors have the most to say about whether the student has done adequate research, and to make employment recommendations for positions after the degree has been completed, they have a most serious responsibility to foster in the student intellectual autonomy, appreciation of the highest academic standards, and a realistic sense of appropriate career options.
At all stages, advising is a reciprocal responsibility. Faculty are expected to be diligent in providing counsel and guidance, and to be available for consultation. They should demonstrate flexibility and critical thinking, a willingness to be challenged and to challenge constructively, and the desire to help the student to become better at research and teaching than they are themselves.
Both research and anecdotal evidence testify that advisors (and committee members) have power over students, and that the power is sometimes exercised inappropriately (Heinrich, 1991; Smallwood, 2002; White, 1991). If a person is sexist, has racial or ethnic biases, enjoys bullying, or has other inappropriate tendencies and attitudes, the student may be understandably intimidated and have few, if any, defenses. Many women students, especially, develop a view of themselves as “victims” in the one-to-one advisor-student relationship (Vartuli, 1982). But, women are not alone in experiencing the unprofessional behavior of certain advisors. Sexual harassment, for example, can occur in a same-sex advisor-student setting. Sexual harassment or harassment of any other kind is reprehensible and not to be tolerated.
Both students and faculty should be made aware that they will be given a fair, objective hearing if there are cases reported of inappropriate advances or insulting or demeaning behavior. For all advisors and committee members, we propose this guiding rule:
I will never exploit my position of power or status to take advantage of a student-academically, professionally, socially personally, sexually, financially, or otherwise.
Advisors who pledge themselves to this credo have set the foundation for being worthy models.
THE THESIS AND DISSERTATION AS A TEACHING DEVICE
The THESIS AND DISSERTATION is a teaching device; this is at the heart of its reason for existence. The honors or graduate student research process normally yields more opportunities for faculty and students to interact on a close academic and professional basis than any other institutional situation. Nowhere else in the university is so much individual time devoted to students by faculty, on a one-to-one basis, in examining substantive issues and academic-professional concerns at the edges of current knowledge and practice. The guidance of student research provides the major opportunity for systematic identification and attack on a problem of interest to both faculty advisor and student.
Practicum in Guided Independent Study
Thesis and dissertation study is aimed at increasing the student’s ability to work independently on problems and researchable issues, building on existing literature. The ability to work independently on a research problem is one of the qualities that often separate those who finish and those who do not. It is not an easy skill to learn to the proficiency level required by the THESIS AND DISSERTATION; it depends very much on one’s attitudes toward doing research and toward one’s own professional skill. But, it can be strengthened by going through earlier, similar processes successfully several times, thus building confidence. Some useful ways universities have to provide this experience are enrollment for directed study, research papers in courses, and research seminars in specialized fields. These experiences should precede rather than parallel the THESIS AND DISSERTATION if they are to be of maximum help. *
Perhaps at no other time is there such opportunity to help students work through questions about the nature of evidence, the nature of scientific investigation, the processes of inductive and deductive reasoning, and the drawing of inferences and generalizing, appropri-
*A number of schools use a THESIS AND DISSERTATION seminar both as a screen and as an aid to students having difficulty. A typical requirement might read as follows: “Upon or near completion of prerequisite course work, honors or graduate candidates will register for the THESIS AND DISSERTATION seminar. There they are expected to develop a THESIS AND DISSERTATION proposal that will meet the approval of the seminar faculty. Students who do not prepare approved proposals after two semesters of seminar will meet with the student progress committee to determine future directions of study.”
ately or inappropriately, from a body of data (National Academy of Sciences [NAS], 1989). Readings , lectures, examination of examples of good investigations, discussions, and hands-on experience in conducting research are all tools that should be common in the work of the advisors and students. At least the opportunity is there if the university provides faculty with the resources and if the faculty is competent to use the resources.
Long-Range Influences of Guided Independent Study
The impact of seminar research reports and of THESIS AND DISSERTATION production on future professional work is not known in detail. There is good reason to believe that such investigative activities do have an influence. Terman (1954, pp. 222-223) reported his own recollection as follows:
I was a senior in psychology at Indiana University and was asked to prepare two reports for a seminar, one on mental deficiency and one on genius….Thereading of those reports opened up a new world to me, the works of Galton, Binet and their contem-poraries…. Then I entered Clark University where I spent considerable time…reading on mental tests and precocious chil-dren…. By the time I reached my last graduate year I decided to find out for myself how precocious children differ from the mentally backward, and accordingly chose as my doctoral dissertation an experimental study of the intellectual processes of fourteen boys, seven of them picked as the brightest and seven as the dullest in a large city school…. Theexperiment contributed little or nothing to science, but it contributed a lot to my future thinking…. Mydream was realized in the spring of 1921 when I obtained a generous grant from the Commonwealth Fund of New York City for the purpose of locating a thousand subjects of IQ 140 or higher.
Perhaps not many dissertations presage such monumental contributions as Terman’s Stanford-Binet Tests of Intelligence and Genetic Studies of Genius, both active today. Many contemporary leaders in the various professions, however, can identify links between their master’s and doctoral investigations and important work they did later.
In guiding THESIS AND DISSERTATION work, teaching opportunity is constantly available to faculty members, whether in experimental investigations, critical analyses of social problems, health issues, developments in physics or computer technology, analytical study of public policy or practice, or developmental projects such as improving the mathematics curriculum or staff of a school. Studies in the United States and abroad indicate that most students need continued instruction in research skills during the time they are engaged in THESIS AND DISSERTATION work (Reynolds et al., 1986; Zuber-Skerritt and Knight, 1986). It cannot be too often emphasized that THESIS AND DISSERTATION activities should teach the candidate to (a) identify and examine critically alternative approaches to any question, (b) marshal facts and data systematically to support choices among alternatives, and (c) test the adequacy of these choices against the reality of the professional workplace and the views of one’s academic colleagues.
An Exercise in Synthesis
Finally, the THESIS AND DISSERTATION should build on a synthesis of all earlier courses, readings, and professional experience that the candidate brings to the task. It is the major opportunity in the scholastic career in which all past experiences can be brought together in a creative independent work of the student’s design. The synthesis is not accomplished without help, but is essentially an independent exercise; as such, it is an opportunity for personal, academic, and professional integration un-equaled elsewhere in higher education. The instructional obligation of the advisor is to set that goal before students and to help them both internalize and achieve it.
SCOPE OF ADVISOR RESPONSIBILITIES
Advisors have responsibilities to a number of people and groups: the advisee, other students, the university, the school and department faculty, the fellow members of the student’s THESIS AND DISSERTATION committee, the members of their academic field or profession, and the registrar and graduate office. While none of these should be ignored, most advisors set as priorities three main responsibilities: to the student, to the other committee members, and to the university.
Responsibilities to the Student
Advisors ought to be committed deeply to the belief that their first responsibility is to the student. At no other time is the student so vulnerable and so in need of close identification with one faculty member. The advisor ideally should be as involved and interested as the student, within the restrictions of time and competing responsibilities.
The obligation to the student is expressed in part in a consultant relationship. The student should feel free to ask questions, try out new ideas about procedures or substantive issues, and obtain guidance and direction when it is requested. No other faculty member should be as ready to help in the dissertation process as the advisor, specifically with regard to two matters: the topic the two persons have agreed to pursue and the university, school, and departmental rules and processes applicable.
The help of the advisor in choosing a topic is expected. After all, the advisor, too, will have to live with the topic. The position of the advisor is delicate, steering a tight course between giving the student a topic and allowing a completely free choice. The risk with the topic chosen by the advisor is, of course, that the student may have little interest in it and may feel inadequate to tackle it. The possibility of conflict of interest arises, too. Will the study become an article or part of a book for the advisor? Is the topic chosen to perform work that the advisor is unwilling to do? Such suspicions inhibit work and endanger relationships. If the suspicions are confirmed and the activity is allowed to continue, one wonders what the real purpose of the dissertation is in the eyes of the advisor, the faculty, and even the institution. It is still a learning situation for the student, but the model may persuade the observer that it is appropriate to use the university to act in unethical ways if it serves one’s purpose and if one can get away with it.
The problem with allowing the student a free choice is no less difficult. It is a shirking of responsibility, putting it all on the student. It provides the perfect faculty excuse for failure at any point in the process: “Well, you chose the topic completely by yourself.” It encourages a minimum commitment on the part of the advisor. It may deny the student the benefit of the experience and the expertise of the research advisor-one of the compelling reasons, presumably, why the university provides this very costly teaching relationship.
It is the research advisor’s responsibility to ascertain that the topic is well thought out, that the student can give cogent arguments as to why the specific topic was chosen, and that these arguments cover all the standard questions in the literature, such as feasibility, efficiency, importance of the topic, competence of the student to attempt the specific topic, and a theory base underlying the student’s understanding of the topic. (These are explored in depth in the next chapter, along with suggestions for satisfying them.)
The student should come to an acceptable topic with the advi-sor’s sound advice, but not with a dependent or authority-beholden attitude. The student exercises independent judgment within criteria agreed on, analyzed, and discussed with the advisor. Such a process regards both parties as mature human beings capable of being self-directed, but capable also of recognizing and accepting suggestions from each other. Each will understand their mutual concerns and commitments to the topic. Each will understand the problems connected with the topic and will be prepared to help resolve the problems. This process can set the tone for interactions throughout the THESIS AND DISSERTATION study period and help to weather many storms along the way.
Unsatisfactory Student Progress : The faculty member who regards little or no progress at the THESIS AND DISSERTATION stage solely as student failure does not understand the advisor’s job. Students’ failure to complete graduate research work may ensue mainly from their own errors or failures, but in some ways the advisor, the faculty, and the university may have failed also.
In most university programs, the student signs up for a substantial number of credit hours during the development and writing of the overview, the thesis, and the dissertation . The system is designed to reflect in a general way that the student is taking valuable time, and that time carries with it costs to be paid and credits to be awarded. In many programs, this is a substantial block of time-perhaps one-
fourth or more of the total postmaster’s credits required for the doctorate. Viewed in this way, it becomes clear that the student has the right to reasonable faculty time and advice and has paid for this right. The advisor, especially, then has the responsibilities of being available for help, advice, and guidance and of offering such advice and guidance on the highest professional and academic level. Failure in the context of this system is seldom entirely one sided.
Ethical Responsibilities : The advisor’s professorial responsibility transcends material considerations. Whether the student is contributing directly to the support of the institution or not, one would expect the professional behavior of the advisor to be the same. In fact, this concept is at the heart of the idea of professionalism. Specifically, what are the ethical responsibilities of the advisors?
First , the advisor does what is best for students in all academic or professional situations. Although the principle is easy to state, it is not always easy to know or determine what is best for the students. Conflicting values make life difficult for those who try to maintain high ethical standards. For example, if a student hands in a paper that is not his or her own or cheats on an exam, how does the advisor ascertain what is in the best interest of the student? Faculties face many examples of conflicts of values in what is best for the student, and agreement is not always reached. Nevertheless, there must be at least the sincere attempt to put the student first as a fundamental value of advising. An advisor who operates in this way-working as fairly as possible-is usually perceived so by colleagues and students; that action and perception helps to minimize ethical conflicts.
Second , the advisor avoids using the position for personal gain and refuses to accept the offer of such gain. There are instances when faculty admitted being given valuable gifts by an advisee, instances of lavish entertainment provided to advisors by advisees, and the provision of other personal and professional favors.
If a foreign student proffers a gift and insists that it is considered an insult in his or her homeland to refuse to take it, the advisor can, gently but firmly, point out that they are not in the student’s homeland, and that the customs of this land must be applied. The advisor can then explain that here it is considered improper for a student to offer a gift and for an advisor to accept one. It can be suggested by the advisor that the whole matter will be resolved with honor if both the student and the advisor agree to forget the incident entirely and return to their normal relationship.
It can be difficult to draw an exact line between ethical and unethical behavior, but that difficulty is no excuse for failing to try to do so. It is the responsibility of the university as well as the profession to publish codes of ethics and to monitor ethical behavior. In our view, accepting any favors (or the promise thereof), awards, gifts, professional grants, and the like from a dissertation advisee creates an improper and unethical situation. It may prevent the advisor from being critical or objective in evaluation. It creates conditions of expectation by the student. It is unfair to other students who are unable or unwilling to engage in similar behavior. The situation compromises the integrity of everyone it touches, indeed, of the whole institution.
A third matter involving professorial ethics is the use of student work as if it were the work of the advisor so that the advisor gains the credit (Smallwood, 2002). Marchant (1997, pp. 3-5) asked five colleagues at different universities this question: “When should dissertation and thesis chairs or other committee members be included as authors on any papers or articles resulting from the dissertation ?” Key excerpts from their responses follow:
A doctoral dissertation should be an independent research contribution by the candidate so…thecandidate should either be the sole author or the first author.
-Richard Mayer, University of California , Santa Barbara
Dissertation chairs are not routinely included on a paper derived from a dissertation .
-Angela O’Donnell, Rutgers University
Students always merit first author’s slot on publications that derive from a thesis because they take the lead in conceptualizing, analyzing, and writing up those research projects.
-Phil Winne, Simon Fraser University
A dissertation ought to be rewritten for publication by the Ph.D. student with the advisor (or other committee members who contributed to the piece of research beyond the call of their advisor duty) being second author.
-Gavriel Salomon, University of Haifa
Authorship must recognize …fessional contributions [which] include developing a research design, a conceptual model, and building theoretical arguments. Tasks such as creating a data file, carrying out analyses specified by the faculty member, and preparing manuscript are not considered professional contributions, but may warrant acknowledgement in a footnote.
-Rick McCown, Duquesne University
All five respondents qualified their answers to account for unusual circumstances. But, all insisted, except for extraordinary conditions, that the THESIS AND DISSERTATION student have unquestioned priority as the first author, and that any additional author earn that privilege through having made a significant contribution to the research itself.
If each advisor puts the legitimate work of the student forward, encourages the student to publish, to read papers at professional and academic meetings, to pursue further research, and to do all this under the student’s name, there will be little likelihood that the advisor will have to worry about ethical transgressions on this score. Certainly, the contributions of the advisor, when real and substantial and beyond the normal teaching and consulting role of a THESIS AND DISSERTATION advisor, should receive due credit. A guide that helps govern such questions is to divide the credits commensurately with the amount of work and time invested by each (Fine and Kudek, 1993; Smallwood, 2002). If that guideline is followed, it is difficult to imagine how an advisor’s name could appear at all as a coauthor, much less a senior author, on a publication arising out of a thesis or a dissertation done by a student unless a very substantial amount of additional analysis, interpretation, discussion, and editing is done by the advisor after the THESIS AND DISSERTATION has been approved by the final oral committee.
A fourth note on ethical behavior concerns competence. Qualitatively, within the narrow confines of one’s specialty, the self-examina-tion of competence seldom arises. In fact, however, faculty competence varies a good deal; it is indeed the wise and ethical advisor who is aware of faculty limitations.
A reasonable position regarding competence would be something like this: Be as parsimonious as possible in the selection of re-search-advising responsibilities; serve only on THESIS AND DISSERTATIONs of other advisors when you are sure you have a needed competence and can make a substantial contribution; be willing to admit that there are many dissertation areas for which the best you can do is learn from the student; and finally, lace the committees of your advisees with the most competent experts you can find.
Maintain Competency : One of the important responsibilities of advisors is to maintain their academic and professional competencies. Without this, an advisor is not much good and even may be harmful to the student. A faculty member maintains competency by reading the literature, by keeping up with the latest thought (even though the latest is not always the best), by teaching and keeping in contact with colleagues and students, by taking a meaningful part in conferences and meetings, by listening and discussing, and by speaking and writing . Perhaps no other activity keeps faculty as sharp in doing rigorous research and writing and the subsequent exposure to the critical analysis of colleagues and other experts. After all, one can say or write what one wants, within the bounds of propriety, before a class of students who will be graded on how well they restate it later; it is quite a different experience to address a group of colleagues and experts.
We do not maintain that the best advisors are those who do the most research and writing . The variables associated with excellence in advisors are too complex for such a conclusion. The point is that a given faculty member will probably be a more competent advisor for having personally done research and writing . We, in fact, feel so strongly about this point that we recommend that one of the criteria for the appointment of research advisors from among the general faculty is evidence of high-quality research and writing . We do not believe that such evidence would be as difficult to assess by peers as some may suggest.
Responsibilities to Other Committee Members
Traditionally, the advisor chairs the committee and sets standards of committee behavior. The research advisor sets the climate of expertise and high standards within the committee. No one else is in a position to have such a positive or negative influence on the committee climate for no one else can set the level of expectations for committee behavior. Most faculty will tend to conform to the expectations and leadership behavior of the chairperson of the committee. It is unlikely that the committee will rise above it. Indeed, the accepted (although unstated) rules of committee behavior make it very difficult for members not to conform to the pattern set by the chairperson.
Defining Committee Roles : Many advisors hold a pre-overview work session with the committee to go over and agree to rules for operation. Sometimes, the institution or a professional group has detailed standards for expectations (CGS, 199lb). At many institutions, though, each committee sets its standards under general rules. Indeed, the frequent vague guides for students or faculty are one of the motivating forces behind the preparation of this book.
Useful rules with respect to committee role start first from the notion that the committee should know and agree on its expectations for itself. These are best discussed openly and explicitly before individual instances come along to test the limits of the principles. Second , rules should enjoin the committee to act always in the highest interest of the student, consistent with maintaining high professional, academic, and institutional standards. Of course, words like “high” and “highest” have to be defined operationally within the institutional context, but agreeing to the principle is a good place to start. Third , operating at a professional level implies that committee members consistently treat the student and one another with respect and maintain a collegial atmosphere. Persons can disagree without being disagreeable.