Graduate Student Handbook

Graduate Advisors

Academic Advisor

You will be assigned a faculty advisor upon entrance to the program. This person will serve as a contact for you until you choose a Ph.D. advisor. The academic advisor should also be able to guide you if you should run into academic or Department-related issues.

Ph.D. Advisor

The Department encourages students to begin research early. As soon as you decide on an area of specialty, this decision should be formalized in the choice of a dissertation advisor. Your decision should, in most cases, be made no later than your second year of study and reported to the Department Head's office after consultation with the advisor. Any faculty member within the PTYS Department or the Lunar and Planetary Lab is eligible to advise you in this manner, including Professors and Research Scientists. A list of eligible faculty that can serve as Ph.D. advisors can be found here.

Your Ph.D. advisor will be very important to you in your career here. They will teach you, guide you, pay you, and even learn from you. The advisor-student relationship, therefore, must be a workable one and satisfactory for both sides. Don't choose an advisor simply because you like the research they do. Your advisor-student relationship will factor into your grad school experience more than you might think.

Different advisors have different styles, and it is up to you to figure out what you want and need. Talk to fellow students to get a handle on what LPL faculty are like as advisors. Some will meet weekly with you; others leave it to you to set up your own meetings. Some will hand you a project; others prefer you to think of your own ideas. Some set deadlines for you, some abide by your deadlines, and some ignore deadlines altogether. If you need emotional support, outside pressure, or motivation, some advisors provide more than others. Beyond these style issues, it is important to find an advisor who believes in you and your work. They should be willing to promote your work to colleagues, encourage you to attend meetings, and help you through the LPL/UA system. They should also provide or help you find the resources you need, both technical (computers, lab equipment, etc.) and financial. If you feel that these or other issues are important to you, be sure to discuss them with prospective advisors.

When you do choose an advisor, make sure they know what you want/need from them. Good communication is vital! Your advisor may hear "I'd like to work with you" as "Please give me some narrowly specified project to work on" or "I've got stuff I'd like to do and I want you to sign off on it when I'm done" or as something else altogether. Don't let bad communication get you into the position of spinning your wheels for a year when you wanted close direction or laboring under a topic that isn't the thing you had your heart set on.

In an ideal world, science would be important for its own sake, and any good research could get money. However, funding is a very real issue. You may have the best idea in the world or see a faculty member doing the most interesting work, but if there's no money in it for you, you may have to look elsewhere. It is possible to work for the Department for a while as a TA, but eventually you will be expected to pull your own weight. Find out if your potential advisor has the money to support you or if they could write you into a grant proposal. If they have no money for you, try looking for someone in a related field who might.

Once you've chosen an advisor, even keeping all this in mind, things may not go blissfully as planned. Your research direction may shift, or you may find that you lose focus without regular contact. Your advisor may become disinterested, want too much control over your ideas, or give you only negative feedback. Any number of issues could be grounds for needing a different advisor. LPL does not discourage you from switching advisors if you need to, but keep in mind it is a serious decision. You may lose several years of work if you leave a project. Try talking to your advisor openly about how you feel and how your needs could better met. Or try forming an outside network of mentors (LPL faculty, faculty from other departments, even other grad students) for support, guidance, and additional ideas. If your problems are still unsolved, see the Head/Director, Mike Drake, to discuss switching advisors.