As you have probably heard, your big MAPH task for this month is to find a thesis advisor. Easier said than done, right? That’s why, no matter what stage you’re at in the process, we just wanted to dish out some advice that will help you successfully bring an advisor on board for your project by the end of the month. Plus, we have two big things coming up that will, hopefully, continue to help with this process. The first is THIS FRIDAY (January 13th)–Mentor Thesis Brunch! That’s right, we’re giving you free bagels (again). Except this time, we’ll also be talking down and dirty thesis stuff. Any and all questions are welcome. Get excited. And come prepared to eat and talk.
Then, next week, stay tuned for a blog post where we’ll all (Whitney, Ben, A-J, and Maren!) weigh in individually on our personal experiences with the advisor-finding process (just to, once again, assure you that we’ve all done it and have survived).
(The actual advice comes…after the jump…)
The main thing we want to focus on here is this: when starting the thesis advisor search, no matter how confident you think you are about who to ask, you should DEFINITELY talk to several faculty members before making your final decision. The main reason for this is, after you finally you work up the courage to ask the one person you’re dying to work with, they may say no. Please keep in mind, this is NOT a personal insult. They are not saying no to working with you as a person because of some sneaky faculty rumor-mill about your academic capabilities. It’s usually because they don’t think they can dedicate the time your project deserves (for any variety of reasons–they’re going through tenure review, they’ve already taken on 4 students, they have 3 doctoral students defending dissertations this year, etc.). Keeping your options open and approaching 3 or 4 people at the start of the process will save you head- and heart-ache later on.
So, how do you approach 3 or 4 people? What if you want to work with someone you’ve never met before? (Get ready for another shameless plug…) these are great questions to ask at our MENTOR THESIS BRUNCH on Friday! But, generally, the best way to approach potential advisors is to ask for reading lists. The faculty here LOVE giving students impossible amounts of reading, so asking a professor about something he or she is interested in and then saying, “do you have any suggestions for secondary sources I might look at?” is basically guaranteed to get you on their good side. Then, once you’ve looked at a few of their suggestions, you can go back to them with questions about what you’ve read and any ideas that were generated from the readings. Try to do this within a week or so, just so they remember who you are and what you’re working on. Then, during this second meeting, they’ll (hopefully) be so pleased that you did the reading that they’ll be willing to negotiate.
Once you have this initial relationship going with several faculty members, you can then make an informed decision about who would make the best advisor. Maybe your first choice person hasn’t responded to any of your follow-up e-mails or the texts they gave you aren’t as helpful as they should be. In that case, you dodged a bullet and now you can work with someone who may not be as close a match interest-wise, but will be willing to dedicate the time and energy needed for your project.