Advising and Mentoring
Advising and mentoring are two very important elements in a graduate student's career, and it is essential that appropriate advising, supervision and mentoring be provided to students as soon as they begin the program.
Graduate students typically receive guidance from two advisers with distinct roles, and in some cases the same faculty can serve in both capacities. The general adviser provides guidance on overall academic requirements, program and university policies and procedures, while the thesis or dissertation adviser serves more as a mentor providing guidance on research, professional guidance and socialization, as well as other areas of academic and professional interest. For information on how and when to acquire a program or dissertation adviser, please contact the program coordinator.
To ensure success in your graduate career take advantage of university resources such as research seminars, discussion groups, professional development workshops and social events. These events help you meet faculty and other students that will become your support net as you progress through the program.
Below is a timeline of suggestions to help you succeed in your academic career.
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- Attend all available graduate orientations, including university, program and international.
- Network with faculty and other students in the program.
- Participate in workshops and seminars, both in and outside of your discipline. Take a time management workshop and stress management workshop.
- Engage in research experiences early on – become familiar with university resources such as the library, laboratory research and the writing center.
- Become familiar with the research methodology in your discipline and review federal requirements of responsible conduct of research (RCR) and the use of human and animal subjects. You should learn about Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval of your research and appropriate attribution and credit of research in publications.
- If you are in a thesis or dissertation program, talk with faculty who have your research interests to explore possibilities for your thesis or dissertation topic.
- Read your student handbook and the Graduate Catalog and be sure of your degree requirements.
First Year, In Addition to the Above Activities
- Continue your conversations with interested faculty with regards to your research so that you select appropriate faculty mentors for your research. For example, you might ask questions like these:
- How will you be able to support me during my research?
- What is the average time to degree of the students who have graduated with you as their faculty adviser?
- Are you planning any sabbatical leaves in the near future or other times when you might not be available to work with me?
- Seek out former students who have worked with current faculty and talk with them about their experiences.
- Identify the research that you are interested in and align this with your faculty adviser; identify likely faculty committee members.
- Meet with your faculty adviser often to ensure the success of your research efforts. Have a conversation about expectations with your faculty adviser.
- Make sure a faculty adviser has been appointed to you before you begin your second year of study and that this person is a good fit for your academic and personal plans.
- Lay out your program of study including exam dates, research milestones, teaching and internship opportunities.
- Read the relevant literature in your discipline and discuss with others who are interested in this research.
- If you have a comprehensive exam to take, find out when it will be given, whether it is oral or written, who will grade it, what reading is required prior to it, how many times it may be taken, etc.
- Begin your thesis research, completing the literature review and purpose of research chapters. Master's students often do more applied research so be sure and discuss your project carefully to ensure that it can be done within a year.
- Start thinking of career options. Seek out the Career Resource Center, prepare your resume, and think about employers that you may be interested in. Prepare a portfolio to document your accomplishments—include teaching experiences, research experiences, presentations and awards as well as competencies that you have obtained.
- Prepare your report of your annual evaluation and take it to your adviser to review with you. Use this conversation to get meaningful feedback about your progress. Often, students have unrealistic expectations and this may cause discouragement, but an honest conversation with your adviser should help you see your progress in a more reality-based manner.
- Prepare for your qualifying exam by finding out when it is offered, the format, what is required and if it can be retaken.
- Find out if there is a requirement in your program to publish your research, and if so, how many publications are required and when.
- Consider your career options early and decide if you plan to pursue an academic or nonacademic appointment and explore appropriate resources. Be sure to meet visiting scholars, alums, and others who have nonacademic positions to find out what to expect.
Year 2 of master's program and years 2-4 of doctoral program
For students enrolled in a more applied, nonthesis master's program, the second year will consist of more coursework and possibly a project or a capstone course or comprehensive exams. Consistent time management is the best bet for finishing your degree requirements. Most master's students should finish their programs in two years if enrolled full-time, and 3-4 years if enrolled part-time.
For master's thesis students and doctoral students, mid-program is usually the most troublesome time because the focus of the graduate experience shifts to research and producing a big, long-term work that describes applied (master's, primarily) or original (doctoral) research. Often this is the first big project that you may have engaged in and the first one that may span more than a single semester. Since this is new territory (unlike coursework, which is very familiar to you), this can be unsettling. Many times this is where students begin to procrastinate for fear of not being able to finish, for fear of failing, or for other reasons as simple as not being clear on what is required or how to make progress. It is really important to schedule yourself with as much detail as possible so that you have a small deliverable at regular intervals. In other words, break the big, overwhelming project down into more manageable pieces. Your faculty adviser can help you by developing an overall plan with you for success.
Another key element in success at this point is learning that you gain most of your information and knowledge from other students. Learning to work together with other students, learning to help and be helped by them is important to your eventual success. Learning comes from many sources and often the most important learning is that obtained from sharing with fellow graduate students.
It is important to work well with your fellow colleagues, to help each other and to support each other. It is imperative that you not become involved in any political games that may be taking place in your department, between faculty, between faculty and staff, between staff, and between fellow graduate students. Also, at this point, it is important to take good care of yourself. Take time for exercise, eat properly, and take time out to decompress and refresh. A positive attitude is important to success and will enable you to be flexible and solve problems as they arise.
Second to Fourth Years
- Begin presenting your research results at departmental seminars, conferences, including the UCF Graduate Research Forum at first and later on at national and international conferences.
- Continue to communicate often with your adviser to proactively address any academic issues that may arise.
- If you are conducting a research study (thesis or dissertation), you should meet regularly with your adviser. Each time you meet with your adviser (and others on your research team) you should have a written report that includes
- a summary of what you have accomplished and the status of all aspects of the research
- a statement of what is still to be done and what may arise in the future
- a list of key points that you want input on or want to discuss with others
- As you begin to progress in your field, pay attention to the questions that faculty ask. Learn how to ask the important and meaningful questions that will move your research along.
- Re-read the student handbook at key junctures to ensure that you are on track and not missing what needs to be done.
- Schedule a meeting with your Advisory Committee at major junctures to get their input and buy-in on your research plans.
If you are a master's student
- Pass your comprehensive exams, portfolio or other culminating experience.
- If you are in a thesis option, complete your thesis.
If you are a doctoral student
- Doctoral students should pass their qualifying exams by the end of the second year and their candidacy exams at the end of their third year, on average. If your program has other expectations, find out what they are and be sure to stay on schedule. A research prospectus is normally required to be written and reviewed by your advisory committee before you are advanced to candidacy. You can obtain a sample of this from your research adviser.
- Doctoral students should agree on a schedule for completion of their research including a detailed timeline of each component of the dissertation and an estimated completion date.
- Conduct the formal literature review for your research while preparing your research prospectus (your research plan for your dissertation).
- If you have a major breakthrough on your research, invite your adviser, research team, and committee members to discuss and update them on your progress.
- Create and maintain a portfolio to document your accomplishments throughout your academic career. Include your teaching evaluations, research reports, presentations and awards, etc.
- If you are interested in a teaching career, then you must gain teaching experience sometime during your graduate study, so ask your department about this. If you would like formal teaching guidance, inquire about the Preparing Future Faculty Program offered by the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning.
- Ask your adviser if you can help to review papers that he/she may be editing for a professional journal.
Fourth Year of a Doctoral Student
- Join a dissertation writing workgroup, offered by UCF formally and informally. Find others in your program that are at this stage and arrange get-togethers to talk through ideas for approaching and finishing the dissertation.
- Get out of the lab some! It is important to learn about other fields and other research – continue to attend workshops and seminars of interest to you.
- Talk to your adviser about publishing policies and copyright and other property issues associated with your original work. It is important that you understand whether your work should be disseminated widely and immediately or held for a period of time.
- Write your dissertation. The dissertation should be original research with a clear understanding of why the research is important and how the research can be used to further understanding in your discipline.
- Give yourself enough time in writing your dissertation, which will enable you to edit it appropriately.
- Refine your career options and start active job seeking. Consult faculty in your program as well as the Career Resource Center in your search. Also, consult faculty from other universities that you have met and interacted with as well as alums of your program, professionals that you have met, etc.
- Offer to give talks about your research to others at other universities, if this is possible. You are ready to give these talks when you have dissertation work completed to the extent that there is something to talk about.
Program of Study
Thesis and Dissertation