Guidelines for
Advising and Mentoring Doctoral Students

The advising of doctoral students is one of the most important aspects of our work as teachers and scholars. This document is meant to establish some general guidelines or best practices for the advisor-doctoral student relationship as a set of mutual or shared responsibilities. “Guidelines for Advising and Mentoring Doctoral Students” was developed in conversations among members of the Doctoral Subcommittee (which includes doctoral student representatives) and more broadly with students in the program.

advising_quote_imageEntering doctoral students may request a specific advisor; customarily the faculty member indicated in the student's application based on the area of specialization is assigned. Doctoral students can and should request a change of advisor if the need arises, and all students are encouraged to work with as many faculty members in their field as possible. Occasionally students will have two co-advisors.

The primary responsibilities of the advisor are a) to counsel the student on how best to lay the foundations, through course work and seminars, for more independent work in the area of specialization; and b) to help ensure that these specialized studies are set within the general context of the study of religion. The faculty advisor participates in a student’s second year review, ordinarily chairs the examining committee for the general examinations, works with the student in formulating a prospectus, and directs the writing of the dissertation.

Academic Advising

Advisors meet with their doctoral students—especially those at the pre-dissertation stage—a minimum of three times per semester, for at least an hour each meeting: at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the semester. For students who are working elsewhere and easily accessible via phone and/or email, the same general guidelines for contact hours apply.

Advisors remain in contact with doctoral students as above during periods of leave.

In advising first- and second-year doctoral students, special attention is paid to the work of choosing classes. Coursework selections are meant to be general enough to provide context for the student’s special area(s) of interest and specific enough to guide the student toward both general examination fields and a workable dissertation topic. Advisors also help ensure that students meet their language requirements and their general course requirements in a timely fashion.

In advising third-year students, special attention is paid to helping the student assemble a committee for general examinations.

For students who are post-generals, advisors provide timely reading (within four weeks of submission) and substantial commenting on drafts of the dissertation prospectus and all subsequent chapters. Advisors also counsel students on seeking employment, from reading drafts of letters of application to commenting on writing samples and job talks to introducing students to scholars in the field at conferences and seminars.

Requests for recommendation letters are to be made by the student at least three weeks in advance of the deadline; recommendation letters are written and submitted by the advisor in a timely fashion.

Mentoring about Teaching

Mentoring doctoral students in teaching constitutes an extremely important part of the advisor’s (and other faculty members’) role. Faculty meet with all Teaching Fellows for at least one hour per week to discuss the course materials and provide instruction and feedback on matters pertaining to good pedagogy. Ideally such meetings are run as small seminars, allowing student-teachers to think through the intellectual issues raised by the course with the instructor, to read beyond the syllabus as necessary, and to reflect upon the best means of engaging students in class discussion of the material.

Currently, the CSR has a Departmental Teaching Fellow appointed jointly by the CSR and the Bok Center (see Resources).