This person’s official title may vary from institution to institution, and from department to department: in some places they’re called a dissertation advisor, a thesis advisor, or a primary advisor; in others, a dissertation chair or a dissertation committee chair. No matter their official title, their job is similar: this person is the professor primarily responsible for supervising and guiding your dissertation work. If you are writing a dissertation in the sciences, you may work in this professor’s laboratory; in the humanities and social sciences, this professor may guide your project in other ways.
Typically, your dissertation advisor or chair is someone whose research interests closely intersect with your own. It may be that they’ve written and published material in the same research area as your dissertation research, or it may be that they use similar research methodologies to those that you want to use.
At some institutions, graduate students choose which professor will serve as their dissertation chair; at others, students may be assigned a dissertation chair.
Your Working Relationship With Your Dissertation Advisor
In ideal circumstances, your advisor will play a major role in the dissertation writing, editing, and revision process. What this relationship will look like depends on what works best for the two of you. Perhaps you like having lots of guidance and want an advisor who is involved in every step of the dissertation writing process, from writing and editing, to formatting. If you like to work independently, you may prefer an advisor who is happy to stay less involved. It’s important that you try to get to know as many faculty members in your department as possible, so that you can find an advisor who works best for you and your dissertation.
Dr. Tara Kuther recommends that you be realistic in the expectations you have of your advisor, and seek out a dissertation advisor who meets your baseline needs. Leonard Cassuto at the Chronicle of Higher Education has written an essay about dissertation advising from the advisor’s perspective – it’s an interesting take that might help you better navigate your relationship with your advisor.
Your Advisor’s Role in Your Dissertation
Your advisor can help you with your dissertation in a variety of ways. The advisor may coach you on research methods. You may submit dissertation chapter drafts to you advisor for feedback as you write. Your advisor usually also helps you prepare for comprehensive and qualifying exams, if they are required at your institution.
While your advisor should be your first avenue for dissertation help, many students encounter advisors who are distant and unavailable, and don’t provide the in-depth writing feedback, dissertation editing help that students need. In such circumstances, you can turn to a dissertation editor or dissertation consultant for the dissertation help that you need.
Your Dissertation Advisor’s Role Beyond the Dissertation
Ideally, your advisor will serve as a mentor who helps you navigate academia. They will likely write letters of reference when you apply for grants, fellowships, and jobs; and they should be able to provide guidance as you apply for academic jobs and submit your research to publications and conferences.
Because your dissertation advisor or chair plays such a crucial role in your academic career, it’s important not only to choose an advisor with whom you think you can work well, but also to maintain a good working relationship with that advisor. We’ve written more about how to foster solid advisor-advisee relationships here. Even if your advisor isn’t as helpful as you’d like them to be, try to keep the lines of communication open, as your affiliation with your advisor can shape your success in future scholarly endeavors.
Help! My Dissertation Advisor Isn’t Giving Me the Help I Need!
Katie Shives at Inside Higher Ed has some helpful suggestions for managing your dissertation advisor so that you get what you need out of the relationship. But if you dissertation advisor or chair still isn’t giving you the support that you need, we can help. Dissertation Editor’s dissertation consultants can provide the mentoring, guidance, and dissertation help that you need to write a successful dissertation.
If you are early in your academic career and still choosing a dissertation chair, our dissertation consultants can help you evaluate your needs and priorities in order to choose the dissertation chair who will be right for you.