Tips on Choosing a Thesis Advisor

Look beyond the rock stars.

Don’t just assume that you absolutely have to work with the big name theorist you mentioned in your application. Everyone mentioned them in their application, and they’re probably really busy doing their big name theorist stuff. Some of these people will agree to work with you, and some of them will be great. Others will tell you they’re too busy, or they’ll be too busy and agree to work with you anyway, which is pretty much the worst. So go ahead and ask them (big caveat: if and only if your project actually relates to the kind of work they do), but pay attention to how engaged they are when they meet with you, and don’t be despondent if they tell you they’re too busy. Be grateful that they were honest, and look elsewhere.

Look all around the Humanities.

It’s okay to have an advisor who isn’t in your department. Consider someone who works in the romance languages or Slavic. Don’t assume that because you read texts in different languages, you’ll be thinking about them in entirely different ways. There are professors in smaller departments doing fascinating work that might overlap with yours in unexpected ways. Seek them out. Go to workshops and talks that intrigue you and look at the faculty lists for the interdisciplinary centers and programs. Take advantage of the fact that the whole division is available to you.

Check out the Harper Fellows.

Because they are technically faculty only in the College, you won’t find Harper Fellows on departmental websites (although some do show up on the websites of interdisciplinary centers and workshops), but they’re an amazing resource. Typically young scholars right out of graduate school, they can be enthusiastic and engaged advisors, as well as excellent mentors who have a vivid memory of what it’s like to be a grad student. They aren’t technically required to advise MA theses, so they can tell you they’re just not interested, but it’s a great idea to talk to them anyway.

Full disclosure: I worked with a Harper Fellow on my MAPH thesis, and it was awesome. I work closely with another Harper Fellow in my other position as a writing intern, and she is awesome.

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