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Thing You Need to Do Today to Prepare for Grad School: Find a Faculty Advisor

August 18, 2021

Pursuing higher education is a rewarding journey. It's also long and difficult, as you've probably already discovered. Simply filling out the paperwork involved in applying for schools, programs, financial aid, and other elements can be a major hurdle. From there, you have exams to study for, papers to write, fieldwork to participate in, and countless other aspects weighing on your shoulders.

Of course, once you receive your initial degree and move on to graduate school, yet another list of factors comes into play. Fortunately, graduate school doesn't have to be an overly trying experience. One of the best ways to help yourself succeed in a graduate program is to find the right faculty advisor.

Why Is Finding a Faculty Advisor Important?

You'll have several factors to consider as you make your way to and through grad school. Finding schools and graduate programs that are aligned with your career goals is certainly essential. After all, you can only go so far if you choose a school or program that isn't equipped to meet your needs and aspirations. Still, selecting the right advisor to work with can be even more critical. Your advisor will serve as your mentor and supervise many of your research and writing projects. He or she will also provide guidance and advice while making sure you're staying on track.You may even find yourself working alongside your advisor in labs and while conducting fieldwork. Because of all that, it's important to find the perfect advisor. Certain steps can make this process much simpler and eliminate a great deal of the uncertainty involved.

Determine Which Traits You're Looking for in an Advisor

As you embark on the quest for your Doctorate or Master’s degree, think about some of the traits you'd like a potential advisor to have and which strong suits you'd like him or her to be able to bring to the table. Do you want an advisor with established funding and labs or would you rather work with someone who's just starting out in his or her field? While the latter may have less experience, he or she could give you an opportunity to play a key role in developing the lab you're participating in. The former may have more financial assets to work with, but they already have set programs in place that you'd need to conform to.

Additionally, it's best to find an advisor whose career goals and research interests dovetail with your own. After all, your advisor should be able to understand what will be expected of you moving forward and which challenges you'll be up against, so he or she can offer solid advice and guidance to help you along the way. If you choose an advisor who is on the same path as you, he or she will be a few steps ahead of you and have a good idea of what your program entails.

Find out Which Advisors Might Meld with Your Expectations

Once you have a rough idea of what you're looking for in an advisor, it's time to figure out who some good candidates might be. Finding prospects who are working in similar fields as the one you're interested in is recommended. For example, if you're in a PhD program, look for advisors who are conducting research and labs in an academic field that would be relevant to the one you're pursuing. You'll want to work with an advisor who can offer research topics that will intrigue you and fall in line with your end goals. Your undergraduate advisor can also help you create a list of potential grad school advisors to consider.

Experts suggest that you participate in labs and research programs in undergraduate school to help get your foot in the door for programs in graduate school. In the event you don't have the chance to do so, you could take a year off between undergraduate and grad school to take part in research, an internship, or other opportunities that would give you more experience and direction.

Make First Contact

After you have a list of possible advisors, you'll need to find out if they're actually accepting new students. Some of the prospects on your list may already have a full roster, so it's best to determine which ones might have openings before proceeding with the next step. In your initial email to those advisors, introduce yourself, explain which fields you're interested in, and tell them why you'd like to work with them. You can also ask them questions of your own, like what types of research they're currently involved in. Be sure to include your personal statement as well. This will help advisors to learn more about you and your capabilities and interests. Use their responses to help you narrow down your list of prospects.

Meet with Potential Advisors

When you've narrowed down your list of potential advisors to the ones who have openings and continue to pique your interest, you can begin scheduling meetings with them. Talk with them in more detail about their interests and research projects as well as the topics you'd like to research. Find out what their lab requirements are. Some are more stringent than others, so your schedule and needs might not work well with all labs. 

You can also speak with other students to learn more about advisors from a perspective that's closer to your own. Simply speaking with other students who have had experiences with the advisors you're interested in can provide a great deal of insight about which ones might best suit your needs. Both of these measures will help you further narrow down your search to a select few that would be a good fit for you.

Helping Graduates Stay on Course

UC Merced Graduate Division is committed to serving its student body throughout their graduate school journeys. They work with students from start to finish to ensure all their needs are met. Their mission is to promote excellence in academia and research training for UC Merced students, and their vision is to prepare the rising generation of graduate students to become leaders in their fields.