Ph.D. Students Facing Advisor Issues

The Critical Nature of the Advisor's Role

Ph.D. students depend on a good working and professional relationship with their Ph.D. advisor. Saying so is a gross understatement of the power and impact of the Ph.D. advisor's role. The quality and consistency of a Ph.D. advisor's advice makes all the difference in the Ph.D. student's choice of thesis and drafting and defense of the dissertation. The advisor's promptness and thoroughness in responding to the student's needs and reviewing the student's work can also make all the difference in the student's perseverance and eventual success. Ph.D. advisors also play important gatekeeping roles, determining or recommending when a Ph.D. student is ready to advance through the program at critical stages toward presenting and defending the doctoral thesis and graduating from the program. The Ph.D. student who doesn't have the advisor's support is probably going nowhere. And the quality of that support, whether vigorous or weak, can also make all the difference in the approval of the Ph.D. student's dissertation and defense and the awarding of the degree. Ph.D. students also depend on Ph.D. advisors for references and recommendation letters.

Causes of Ph.D. Attrition

The Ph.D. student who loses the advisor's support often loses both the battle and the war. Advisor issues are a big contributor to the relatively low percentage of Ph.D. graduations. The Council of Graduate Schools released a long-term study indicating that Ph.D. graduation rates vary from as low as 33% to 75% across disciplines. Responses to those low Ph.D. graduation rat