At a Dissertation Roundtable given at The University of Texas at Austin’s English Department on Wednesday, several faculty members gave advice to graduate students.
Doctor Frank Whigham told us that faculty often complain about graduate students who suddenly contact them every six months to ask a huge favor (comments on a long draft, letter of recommendation) and then do not thank them. While we all know faculty members with zero social skills, I thought it was a good reminder 1) to not sink to the level of rudeness you perceive from faculty members–partly because they are in a position to help you, and partially so you don’t turn into a socially incompetent doctor yourself. And 2) promoting good will among colleagues is always a good thing, even if you perceive that you aren’t a major priority in their lives.
Yet some professors feel just the opposite of Doctor Whigham–they feel too busy, and only want to communicate over important work to be done. They don’t want to socialize. As Doctor Trish Roberts-Miller explained, that’s exactly why you do want to get to know your advisors as much as possible, and why you want to ask them direct questions about how often / under what circumstances they prefer to be contacted. Some advisors like to have weekly check-in meetings, others could go for months without contact without feeling slighted. Some advisors will hug you when they see you, others will get instantly uncomfortable if you ask them about their families.
I’m not suggesting that you work to anticipate your advisor’s every whim, but it never hurts to cultivate one’s social sensitivity.