Grad panel tackles mentor problem

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By Zach Dolgin

Despite having mixed advice, the GRADTalks panel that spoke in the Sears Atrium about successful student-advisor relationships said you have to “fit” with your advisor. The event took place on Oct. 27.

An overarching theme throughout the panel was the idea of finding an ideal graduate advisor.

“I selected my supervisor based on his research, teaching and work in the area of applied marketing, so I chose the university based on the supervisor which ended up being a great decision and a very good fit…If there is a secret to the success of the relationship I think it is about the fit and we find that fit in different ways,” said Kelly MacKay, associate dean of graduate studies at the Ted Rogers School of Management, of her own time as a student.

Each panel member seemed to have their own approach to finding the best advisor. Janet Lum, an associate dean with the faculty of arts, said, “you think the supervisor has to be a total expert, no. Not necessarily so. Pick somebody who is going to be part time cheerleader, part time therapist and a risk taker.”

Lum stressed that for graduate students, having someone who will coach you through your eventual meltdowns and attempts at quitting is imperative.

MacKay came at it from a different direction. She says finding an advisor is about “looking for somebody who will challenge you. And you don’t necessarily want a person who will just move you through, and I know that making progress is important but also challenging yourself and your ideas and having somebody that will push you is also important.”

The conversation then moved to the role of the advisor and how the relationship between them and the student should be.

 “It’s important as a graduate student to get the big picture of the outcome. And to me, the role of the graduate advisor is more like the GPS in the sense that it is the advisor’s responsibility to give direction to their student,” said Sri Krishnan, associate dean of research and development for the faculty of engineering.

After the panel spoke, the audience got to ask questions. Wendy Suh, a masters student specializing in early childhood studies, asked: “What if you have a prof you’re really passionate about, and then you approach them and they’re dismissive or flat out reject you? Where do you go from there?”

The panel’s answer is best summed up by Lum’s response. “I would find the next person. When I met my supervisor, it’s not that the person was the most brilliant person in the whole wide world. You have to look at all of the metrics. You have to say okay, this person I would work really well with, he’s a nice guy.”

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