GSA releases student-adviser guidelines

According to Chair of the Women’s Faculty Forum Claire Bowern, the dynamic between a graduate student and an adviser could make a “difference between graduating and not graduating, getting a job and not getting a job.” Recognizing the importance of this relationship, last week, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences released a handbook to help students and faculty navigate advising relationships.

The “Guide to Advising Processes for Faculty and Students” offers tips on selecting an adviser and provides information about the advising process and the nature of student-faculty relationships following degree completion. The 13-page guidebook gives suggestions to both students and faculty within each section and ends with a list of campus resources that students and advisers can utilize to voice their concerns. The release brings Yale in line with peer institutions like Stanford University and Duke University, which have released similar manuals. Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley said the guidelines aim to “help clarify the expectations for the advising relationship.”

“Fellows in the Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity and graduate students in the Graduate Student Assembly initiated the project to address a cause of friction between students and their advisors involving miscommunication and unclear expectations,” Cooley said. “The students who initiated this project wanted to produce general guidelines for the advising process from both the faculty and student perspectives.”

Last year, the GSA and the Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity began to work on separate projects to provide guidelines regarding the student-adviser relationships.

Stephen Gaughran GRD ’21, chair of the GSA, said that the GSA has frequently heard of “unhealthy” relationships between students and their advisers. Students have complained about an unrealistic workload, lack of feedback and unprofessional attitudes of faculty members. According to Gaughran, the guidelines provide the foundations for a productive adviser-student relationship.

“In many ways, graduate students are incredibly reliant on their advisors, and getting proper support from their advisors can determine students’ success in graduate school and even in their careers beyond Yale” Gaughran said. “For something so crucial to the graduate student experience, Yale has provided surprisingly little guidance and instead has relied on individual advisors developing their own practices in advising.”

Research suggests that productive student-adviser relationships can have a variety of positive outcomes for graduate students. Nathan Vanderford, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky and co-author of a study titled “Evidence for a Mental Health Crisis in Graduate Education,” stated that a positive relationship with an adviser can have a profound impact on a graduate student’s well-being. According to Vanderford’s data, students who do not receive “ample support” and “mentorship” from their advisers are more likely to have anxiety and depression.

Vanderford told the News that although he has not read Yale’s guidelines, he believes they would be a positive step towards improving the student-adviser relationships.

“Negative mentorship relationships can be correlated with increased mental health issues and increased career and academic outcomes that are more strained and stressed than occurs through positive mentoring relationships,” he said.

Lucylle Armentano GRD ’21, chair of the GSA academics and professional development committee, said she was grateful for the “extremely positive relationship” she has with her adviser. Yet, her work with the GSA has shown her that a number of factors can deteriorate student relationships with advisers, including poor communication. She added that sexual harassment is a particular concern within the “tricky power dynamic” of faculty relationships.

Bowern, who directly oversees seven advisees, said that Office of Graduate Student Development and Diversity did a “great job” in compiling a short handbook that provides insight relevant to different disciplines.

“In my experience there can be a lot of mixed perceptions about what advising entails, and setting appropriate expectations is important,” she said.

The GSA meets every other Wednesday in the Watson Center.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu .

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