are there good advisers? or just good students?

Recently, the topic of quality advising has come up in conversation. The question is: are there actually good advisers? Or is it mainly a selection effect? A related question: do star advisers make star students? I’d be interested if readers know if there is  a literature on this question. Here are some hypotheses:

  • It is easy to be a good adviser by simply not being a bad adviser. A lot of advisers undermine students by either being negligent/non-responsive or overly aggressive and stressing students out. Even if you don’t have any special advice for students, you can probably increase your student outcomes by actually meeting with students, not being a jerk, and doing paper work on time.
  • Having a star adviser is probably neutral on the average. My hypothesis is that some academics are very good at multitasking. When they become famous, they can keep up the work and help students. Others disappear into a world of committees and administrative posts and abandon the student.
  • Advisers with a long string of strong placements tend to be at top schools, which suggests a selection effect. Most employ the “reliable/stable/nice model” and attract good students. A few employ “survival of the fittest” – they only take students who are capable of high quality work and weed out the rest. The Indiana model (support students at all skill levels) seems to be very rare.

Add your own ideas in the comments.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street


Written by fabiorojas

September 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. Fabio,

    You are being quite politically correct by having the addendum toward the end :) But I do believe you are a great mentor.



    September 21, 2016 at 1:59 am

  2. Dealing with lots of different people on a daily basis can be overwhelming, especially in a limited area as instruction ( not education) where everyone has to achieve more or less the same. There a few models that work for some, even for most, but never for everyone.



    September 21, 2016 at 4:16 am

  3. I am looking forward to more responses. I can see strong claim in your first point. Just by not being too harsh and doing paper work on time, advisory can be really good to student. But does that make him “good advisor” – he is simply “Not bad”. I have started believing that really “being good” itself is making instructors as “good advisers” too. Period. Other all good things are just corollary to this. I mean how much to stretch student or when is student still learning or started breaking these judgement calls are just outcome of “good person” down there.

    Looking forward for more comments on this. grad skool rulz are what brought me to this blog, but recently doctoral student, academia n higher education articles are reducing on this blog. Hope to see more discussion on these topics.


    Santosh Sali

    September 21, 2016 at 5:48 am

  4. The really top advisors not only have top students who place at top places, they nurture weaker students to completion and do their best to get them jobs, too. Different students need different kinds of advising, and among the not bad advisors (i.e. after eliminating those who simply don’t do the work or are hostile or abusive) good advising is multidimensional and advisors who are really good in some ways can be mediocre in others.

    Liked by 2 people


    September 21, 2016 at 7:30 am

  5. Obligatory comic on the nine types of principal investigators:



    September 21, 2016 at 4:23 pm

  6. From the dissertation: “The transfer of human and social capital: Employee development through assigned peer mentoring.” Moore, Paul Cameron. Stanford University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2001. 3026870.

    “The results show that some effects of mentoring do not depend on mentor confirmation. Task knowledge, which was relatively static in the present context, was transferred in all mentorship dyads. However, other effects of mentoring depend on the confirmation of the relationship. The transfer of wage maximization knowledge, which was a more dynamic body of knowledge, was only evident in dyads in which mentors
    were named in the protégés’ friend or advice networks. Also, only in confirmed mentoring dyads did the social networks of mentors and protégés show more overlap than expected by chance or coexistence in the same social environment, demonstrating the sharing of social capital. “

    Liked by 2 people


    September 21, 2016 at 6:46 pm

  7. Great, and underspecified question. Do advisers matter in terms of what student outcome? Finishing a dissertation? producing “good” work? getting employment? getting sane? getting happy? learning how to be an independent investigator? I think we are more likely to get useful answers if we are clear about what we want to know. I think a good adviser should be able to help, at least a little, on all of these dimensions, but obviously the base line of student background, disposition, and ambition matters. Sanity, for example, isn’t always easy to come by.

    In all cases, sorting out selection, treatment, and halo effects is also tough. I agree with olderwoman that many identified “good” advisers work with students who bring a range of ambitions and accomplishments to graduate school. I also agree with Fabio that bad advisers absolutely exist and we can see the casualties everywhere.

    “First, do no harm” is a good motto.


    David S. Meyer

    September 23, 2016 at 7:01 pm

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