Graduate Student Advising

Advising is a crucial aspect of the graduate student experience, an activity that is central to the successful completion of a graduate student’s education. As an advisor, it is your responsibility to ensure that your advisee receives the guidance they need to successfully navigate their academic training, graduate in a timely manner, and enter the profession of their choosing. Advising graduate students is a privilege, and the relationship you develop with them will affect their time at Harvard and their ultimate career.

As an advisor, you may feel you don’t have all the answers: The Advising Project is available to help. The Advising Project is an in-depth initiative launched in fall 2019 by Emma Dench, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, focused on improving the advising experience of master’s and PhD students at GSAS. We are in the process of creating a suite of resources, developing various tools, and organizing workshops. We encourage you to reach out to The Advising Project for more information.

GSAS students are enrolled in 58 different graduate programs; each student’s experience is unique, meaning that each advising relationship is unique. While no single advising approach can be applied universally, several recommendations can be put into practice in all advising relationships.

Setting Expectations

During your first meeting with your advisee, discuss expectations:

  • How often will you meet?
  • How long will your meetings normally last?
  • What are your expectations for communication? Email? Office visit?
  • How long should a student wait for a reply to a communication before following up?
  • What your role as an advisor will cover and who else in the program or at Harvard can help with their academic training.

Be sure to revisit these expectations regularly as the student progresses through their academic stages. And remember that, no matter how positive a relationship you have with your advisee, they will recognize that a power differential exists. Do what you can to create an environment in which the student will be comfortable discussing difficult topics.

Communicate Available Resources

GSAS students have access to GSAS and other Harvard resources that will help them during their graduate careers. Examples include the Fellowships & Writing Center, Office of Career Services, Accessible Education Office, and Academic Resource Center. Familiarize yourself with these resources so that you can refer to them at various points in the student’s career. If your advisee has an overall concern, you can direct them to Danielle Farrell, director of student services.

Faculty should also be aware of issues of diversity, inclusion, and belonging, understanding that a student’s identities can impact their sense of belonging in the program and at Harvard. Reach out to GSAS’s Office of Diversity and Minority Affairs for more information and guidance.

Advising Network

Advisors should be the student’s primary point of contact, but effective advisors recognize that students benefit from multiple perspectives. Connect them with other faculty members or program staff who may inform their project and provide fresh perspectives.