The Ph.D. adviser is one of the most important figures in an academic’s career. The relationship typically begins when students reach out to prospective advisers before submitting their Ph.D. applications, and it continues long after they receive their degrees. Advisers are the people primarily responsible for helping students through the program, providing regular feedback and advice, imparting the skills and knowledge necessary to do top-notch research in their chosen subfields, writing recommendation letters, and guiding them through the academic job market and their post-graduate careers.
It’s no wonder, then, that the adviser-advisee relationship can also be a source of stress, particularly in the first few years of the program when students and faculty are still getting to know each other. Students are often anxious to prove themselves, and faculty need time to figure out students’ personalities, interests, and skills. Building a positive relationship takes patience and hard work on both sides. If that process doesn’t go smoothly because of personality conflicts, confusion about expectations, differences of opinion, or some other reason, the fallout can be especially painful for the student.
The ultimate goal of a Ph.D. program is turning students into colleagues. The EALL faculty want nothing more than for our students to develop their own ideas and research agendas, to push the boundaries of our fields, and to show us the way forward. In the meantime, the challenge for students and teachers alike is transforming an inherently asymmetrical relationship into a more equal one. To quote the 2020 Report of the MLA Task Force on Ethical Conduct in Graduate Education,
- The relationship between faculty and graduate students is a special one. Ideally, it is intellectually stimulating, long-lasting, and reciprocally rewarding. Within that relationship, however, faculty hold considerable power over the graduate students they teach and advise. Faculty give or withhold not only professional licensure in the forms of grades and approvals, but also their time (including whether they serve as a dissertation adviser or committee member). They also grant or withhold various forms of patronage, including collaboration and recommendations for coveted fellowships or teaching opportunities. Graduate students depend in myriad ways on the good will and professionalism of the faculty with whom they work. Faculty must understand their principled care of graduate students as an ethical obligation central to their professional life, and not abuse the considerable power they hold.
The EALL faculty wholeheartedly accept this obligation.
This document was drafted by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) in East Asian Languages & Literatures (Mick Hunter) in collaboration with EALL faculty and graduate students in order to clarify advising expectations and foster healthy and productive teacher-student relationships. It includes information and advice about:
- advising structures and resources;
- navigating adviser-advisee relationships;
- the responsibilities of graduate students and faculty
Additional information about advising can be found in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS) Guide to Advising Processes for Faculty and Students.
The drafting of these guidelines also coincided with the release of the “Report of Humanities Doctoral Education Working Group” (2/1/21), which on pages 22–24 makes a number of recommendations regarding departmental advising. These include:
- “flexibility, collaboration, and accountability in graduate student advising”
- “less hierarchical, co- and team-based advising” “transparent” advising structures
- “allow[ing] doctoral students to advise and support one another”
- “mandatory advising meetings at key moments in each student’s graduate career”
Any and all suggestions for improving this document can be forwarded to the DGS.
The process of choosing an adviser begins before students submit their applications to the GSAS. Perhaps students hear about our program from an adviser at another institution, or maybe they come across our website in the course of researching East Asian Studies programs. Prospective applicants should read through the EALL faculty pages to identify professors whose research interests most closely align with their own, at which point they are encouraged to contact potential advisers well in advance of the application deadline. Introductory emails should include a brief description of one’s research interests, background, and reasons for working with that professor in particular. We do our best in EALL to let prospective students know if they should proceed with their application. If a student hopes to study something we don’t teach, if a professor isn’t currently accepting students for personal or professional reasons, or if we think that a student requires additional training (for instance, by enrolling in the Council on East Asian Studies M.A. program) before embarking on a Ph.D., we will be sure to say so.
On the faculty side, the process of selecting advisees begins in earnest at the application review stage. Applications are divided by field and likely adviser(s), who then share their personal lists of plausible applicants with their colleagues. The final step is when the entire department meets to discuss all shortlisted applications and finalize the list of admitted students (which must be approved by a GSAS dean).
If notified that their applications have been successful, students will have a few months to decide whether to accept the offer of admission. Students are encouraged to visit campus to participate in events for admitted students so that they can talk to EALL faculty and students about the program and Yale in general. Students who have never studied in North America before are especially encouraged to learn and ask questions about American academic culture. The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) has a number useful resources about adjusting to life at Yale and its academic culture.
Per GSAS regulations, EALL students do not have to choose a primary adviser until after they have been accepted to candidacy. Until then, the adviser of record for institutional purposes is the DGS. Delaying the official adviser decision gives students and faculty an opportunity to get to know each other before formalizing the advising relationship. In practice, however, the EALL department is not large enough to give students many options when it comes to choosing a primary adviser. Students pre-candidacy should think of the DGS and the primary adviser as the core members of their advising team, both of whom should be consulted about course selection, degree progress, research plans, etc.
The department also strongly advises students in years 1–3 to take seminars with several faculty within and outside of EALL in order to build the strongest team of mentors going forward (see “Other advising roles” below). The intellectual payoff of diversifying one’s academic portfolio is self-evident. On a personal and professional level, the more people who are invested in you, the more support you’ll have going forward.
As outlined in the Calendar of Progress, students should set up a meeting with their advising team in the middle of each spring term to discuss their progress and plans for the coming year(s). This meeting should take place each year until the term in which the student takes his or her qualifying exam. The faculty will also devote at least one meeting at the end of each spring term to discussing first- and second-year students’ progress in the program, the results of which will be communicated to students by the advising team.
Students falling under the broad Disabled umbrella (including neurodivergent students and students with mental health conditions) can find information about available resources and accommodations here.
Students officially choose a primary adviser after the dissertation prospectus is accepted by the department, which marks their entry into Ph.D. candidacy. At that point, the DGS together with the adviser and student will determine the composition of the dissertation committee. That three-to-five person team will meet with Ph.D. candidates every semester to discuss their progress and to read and provide feedback on chapter drafts.
As previously noted, for most EALL students the choice of primary adviser will be a foregone conclusion. Even so, that person should be someone with whom the student (1) has a good working relationship and (2) is in agreement regarding research and career plans. Below is a sample of the sorts of questions students might ask their prospective advisers before making their official decision:
- What is the best way to communicate (e.g. email, phone calls, video chats, in person, texts, etc.)?
- What are the expectations for my weekly work schedule?
- Am I expected to be a teaching fellow for my adviser? If so, when?
- What are the expectations regarding my attendance at conferences, lectures, and other academic events?
- Am I expected to publish any articles prior to graduation?
- What professional development programs (writing, teaching, outreach, etc.) should I participate in?
- Which career paths can the adviser offer support for, and when should I seek career support elsewhere?
Of course, the choice of primary adviser isn’t entirely up to students. If members of the faculty don’t feel comfortable in that role, perhaps because they don’t feel qualified to supervise a particular dissertation topic or because of personal differences (see “Troubleshooting advising relationships” below), they might decline the request. In such cases, the DGS will work together with the student to make alternate arrangements.
Students who wish to change their academic adviser should reach out to the DGS as soon as possible to discuss their new advising arrangement.
Like the EALL Ph.D. program itself, these advising guidelines mostly assume that students are pursuing a Ph.D. with the goal of becoming professors. As of the writing of this document, however, there is growing momentum at Yale and in North American academia more broadly to rethink the traditional, dissertation-centric structure of doctoral programs in order to prepare Ph.D. recipients for a wider range of careers. (The 2021 Report of Humanities Doctoral Education Working Group makes this very recommendation.) EALL faculty are enthusiastic participants in those efforts and will do everything possible to accommodate students with non-traditional career goals.
Time will tell what the doctoral programs of the future will look like. In the meantime, students planning to pursue non-academic careers should let their advising team know of their plans as soon as possible so that they can shape their programs accordingly.
- Complete academic requirements by the given deadlines (see the Calendar of Progress). These include:
- Submitting a paper for the 2nd-year review
- Qualifying exam lists
- Dissertation prospectus
- Dissertation Progress Reports (DPRs)
- Dissertation drafts
- Pre-submission Defense
- Dissertation submission
- Consider career goals and discuss them with your adviser and DGS by the beginning of your admission to candidacy.
- Maintain clear communication with your adviser and establish good practices for scheduling meetings.
- Be clear about limitations to your schedule, especially regarding religious observances or family obligations.
- Submit materials with enough time for faculty to review and respond, including:
- Dissertation chapters
- Material for discussion at regular meetings
- Requests for letters of recommendation
- Keep your adviser aware of upcoming deadlines, meetings, and other responsibilities.
- Be proactive in the advising relationship—for instance, by taking the initiative to arrange meetings, keeping your adviser informed of any circumstances that might affect your progress, coming prepared to advising meetings, consulting with your adviser about presenting or publishing work.
- Remain open to feedback and be willing to discuss difficult academic ideas and differences of opinion.
- Commit to regular attendance at departmental talks and events according to departmental and adviser expectations.
- Welcome prospective students and help them understand departmental practices and culture.
- Finalize membership of the dissertation committee with the help of your primary adviser.
- Discuss your funding structure with your adviser and understand when this structure may change.
- Talk with your adviser and/or the DGS about possible sources of funding outside the university.
- As you advance to candidacy, establish your expected timeline towards degree, and come to a consensus about these expectations with your adviser and dissertation committee.
- Make good progress toward completing your degree.
- Be aware of health and wellness resources offered by the university.
- Meet with the DGS (or program-designated mediator) and/or dissertation committee members if issues arise related to the adviser’s responsibilities.
- Establish expectations with each student for communication, including the preferred means (e.g. email, text, phone, etc.), the best contact times, and shared expectations around response times.
- Establish expectations with each student for how often you will meet to discuss the student’s work.
- Be cognizant of the challenges facing students coming to Yale from different academic cultures and who might not automatically intuit the way things are done at Yale.
- Develop guidelines for reasonable working hours, vacations, and other activities necessary for students’ mental and physical health.
- Be cognizant of limitations to the student’s schedule, including religious observance and family obligations.
- Understand the required department and GSAS milestones for students in your program.
- Help the student develop an individualized timeline for completing academic requirements and meeting professional goals.
- Discuss career goals and opportunities with the student early in their graduate career (by the beginning of admission to candidacy at the latest) and continue these discussions regularly. In particular, discuss opportunities to attend conferences and to submit publications to help advance students’ careers.
- Give clear, constructive, and timely feedback on students’ work. In particular, give feedback and approve the prospectus and the dissertation, complete Dissertation Progress Reports, and review all related written work by the appropriate deadlines.
- If the student is serving as a teaching fellow, give clear, constructive, and timely feedback on the student’s performance in the classroom.
- Consult the student when choosing other members of the Dissertation Committee.
- Discuss with each student their individual funding structure, making clear when they need to teach or fulfill other responsibilities outside their research to receive their stipends.
- Be familiar with mental health resources offered by the university (see below) so that you can suggest them if your student approaches you for help.
- Discuss with the DGS and dissertation committee members if issues arise related to your student’s responsibilities.
- Remain open to feedback and be willing to discuss difficult academic ideas and differences of opinion in order to facilitate all students’ success.
Director of Graduate Studies
- Be a member of every EALL student’s advising team.
- Meet with every EALL student on a regular basis, ideally once per semester.
- Respond in a timely fashion to students’ questions about their progress in the program, EALL and GSAS policies and expectations, their relationships with their advisers, etc.
- Help students locate available resources across the university, from funding opportunities to career guidance to mental health counseling.
- Serve as a mediator between students and advisers for any issues that may arise.
- Serve as a conduit between students and the GSAS for any issues that may arise.
The EALL faculty endorse the following recommendation from the 2020 Report of the MLA Task Force on Ethical Conduct in Graduate Education:
- Graduate students are not and should not be the private responsibility of a single adviser. Group advising at the thesis stage, in particular, can greatly enhance a graduate student’s intellectual experience and check the behavior of rogue faculty by increasing transparency…When students share their work with a range of faculty, rather than just a single adviser, they establish an expanded network from which to receive mentoring, advice, and references, and they reduce the chances of getting locked into an unproductive relationship with a single adviser. Group advising is particularly crucial when a student searches for jobs outside of academia.
In that spirit, this section lists various other figures who serve as mentors to EALL students.
Second-year review readers
Upon the submission of the second-year review paper in the fourth semester, the DGS will appoint two faculty members outside of the student’s subfield to read the paper and prepare a written evaluation. The readers will share their evaluations at the next department meeting, at which point the faculty will discuss the student’s progress to date in a more holistic way. After the meeting, the DGS will share the reader reports with the students and the academic adviser will follow up with additional feedback. Students are also strongly encouraged to reach out to their readers to discuss their papers in person.
The second-year review is an opportunity for students to receive feedback from faculty outside their areas of expertise. In addition to being an overall evaluation of one’s progress towards the Ph.D., it’s also a test of one’s ability to articulate research objectives beyond the scope of a particular subfield, which is a crucially important skill for the job market and beyond.
In consultation with the DGS and the primary adviser, students will determine their three qualifying examination fields and examiners no later than the beginning of the fifth semester. (The other two examiners need not be EALL faculty.) Ideally, students will have taken seminars with all three examiners by the end of their second year. Beginning in the fall term and continuing into the spring term of the third year, students will meet regularly with their examiners to finalize and work through their reading lists.
At the beginning of the third year, students should meet with their examiners to discuss their expectations for the examination. Important questions include:
- What is a reasonable work schedule? How much time should I spend per week on the reading list?
- How much time should I devote to each reading?
- What is the best way to read and take notes on each reading?
- What are the overarching questions and problems that should guide my studies?
- What is the best way to relate my exam fields to my dissertation topic?
Preparing for qualifying exams is an intensive process. Given that many students stop taking courses in their third year and thus may have fewer social interactions on a daily or weekly basis, this is an important time for figuring out one’s work/life balance and developing the habits (sleep, exercise, etc.) that will carry one through a dissertation project.
After the successful completion of the qualifying exam, the student together with the DGS and primary adviser will determine who will evaluate the prospectus. This group is usually the same as the qualifying examiners and dissertation committee.
The three-to-five members of your dissertation committee (including your adviser) are responsible for ushering you through the process of writing a dissertation. You should be in regular contact with your adviser but you should also contact the other dissertation committee members at least once per term in order to discuss your progress and review your drafts.
Prior to deciding your dissertation committee, you should meet with each prospective member to clarify their expectations for you. Questions to ask include:
- What is the preferred mode of communication (e.g. email, phone call, video chat, in person, text, etc.)?
- How quickly will messages be replied to?
- How should dissertation drafts be submitted? And how will feedback be delivered?
- Would you prefer to meet individually or with the entire dissertation committee?
As a general rule, the members of one’s dissertation committee are also in the best position to write recommendation letters for grants and job openings. Consequently, it is a good idea for students to keep all of their dissertation committee members apprised of their career goals, accomplishments, etc.
In consultation with their advisers and the DGS, students may ask to change the composition of their dissertation committees due to faculty availability or because their research takes them in an unanticipated direction.
At the beginning of their penultimate term, students will schedule an oral Pre-Submission Defense with their dissertation committee and submit at least 75% of the dissertation for review. About two weeks after submission, an oral defense will take place, during which the student will take questions and receive feedback on how to best complete the dissertation.
Dissertation readers are responsible for assessing whether your completed dissertation meets the standard for receiving a Ph.D. Following the submission of the readers’ reports to the DGS, the department holds a vote on the conferral of the Ph.D. degree.
Other EALL faculty
Don’t forget that EALL faculty besides the DGS and your primary adviser are also invested in your success. All EALL faculty read students’ applications to program, discuss their progress at faculty meetings, and vote on the conferral of the Ph.D. So if students are looking for another perspective on their research, or if they would just like to chat with someone else about their progress, they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to other EALL faculty.
EALL language instructors are an especially valuable resource for students looking to hone their teaching skills (see below). Language instructors spend far more time per week in the classroom than tenure-track faculty and are thus far more engaged with cutting-edge pedagogical practices.
Faculty for whom students serve as teaching fellows are another important advising resource. As assistants to the instructors of record, teaching fellows render an invaluable service to EALL and to the university as a whole. However, they are also teachers-in-training who deserve (1) opportunities to develop their own teaching skills and (2) timely and constructive feedback from the instructors of record. During the term of instruction, instructors and teaching fellows should establish weekly meeting times to discuss their teaching plans, especially when they are responsible for an entire class or discussion section.
An excellent way for students to get the most out of a teaching fellowship is to enroll in the Certificate of College Teaching Preparation program through the Poorvu Center and/or the Certificate in Second Language Acquisition through the Center for Language Study. Both programs will introduce students to best practices in the classroom, give them additional feedback on their teaching, and teach them how to prepare a teaching portfolio for the job market.
Making connections with faculty at other institutions (for example, by taking classes with them through the IvyPlus Exchange program is a crucially important part of an academic career. As soon as possible, you should start figuring out who the experts are in your subfield so that you can begin to work on building those relationships under the guidance of your adviser. If you identify a professor at another institution who (1) has expertise that you cannot find at Yale and (2) is willing to serve as a secondary adviser, with the permission of your adviser you may ask that person to take an active role in your dissertation project.
As a general rule, the DGS will only approve non-Yale faculty as dissertation readers and/or members of the dissertation committee. From a departmental perspective, it is important to certify that a student is up to the challenge of writing a dissertation before asking colleagues at other institutions to invest time and energy in a dissertation project. However, if a student can make a compelling argument for involving a non-Yale faculty member at an earlier stage (for instance, if the academic adviser leaves Yale for another institution), then the DGS will consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.
Professional development and job market advising
Given the diversity of fields and disciplines within EALL, the responsibility for professional development and job market advising falls primarily to the official adviser post-candidacy, and secondarily to the other members of the dissertation committee. This responsibility includes providing timely feedback on students’ application materials (cover letters, research statements, CVs, writing samples, and teaching portfolios, etc.). After the submission of their dissertation prospectus, students should sit down with their advisers to discuss their career goals and how to achieve them. Important topics include:
- publishing articles;
- networking with other scholars in the field;
- attending conferences;
- how to locate relevant job postings and develop a sense of the current job market;
- intel on appealing jobs that might open up in the next few years;
- how to present one’s dissertation as an exciting, cutting-edge project;
- how to address weaknesses in one’s overall academic portfolio.
The department also holds regular workshops for students entering the job market. In recent years, these have included a spring workshop by Prof. Gerow on publishing and navigating the job market and a fall workshop by Prof. Hunter on job talks and academic presentations in general.
Students exploring non-academic job opportunities should alert their adviser and the DGS as soon as possible for help in locating extra-departmental advising resources where necessary.
What happens when advisers and advisees struggle to establish a good rapport? The first person a student should turn to in this situation is the DGS, who can serve as mediator between EALL faculty and students and also between EALL students and the GSAS. (If the DGS is the adviser, then the student should contact the Chair or another trusted member of the department.) The DGS will schedule meetings with both parties to assess the situation and achieve a satisfactory resolution, often in consultation with the Chair and GSAS deans.
Helping underperforming students to thrive is one of the most important and challenging advising responsibilities. On the one hand, the EALL faculty are committed to helping our students achieve their career goals; on the other, we also owe it to the profession, to Yale, and to our respective fields to maintain the historically high standards of our Ph.D. program, which benefit faculty and students alike. Balancing these two responsibilities is not always easy.
For students, negative assessments are often stressful and discouraging. Earning a Ph.D. is an emotional and psychological slog. When the effort students put into a Ph.D. program isn’t rewarded with praise, the impact can be devastating.
There are only a few circumstances in which a poor showing results in a student’s dismissal from the program: failing to earn at least two “H” grades in each year pre-candidacy, failing the qualifying exam, or failing to submit a satisfactory prospectus. In all other cases, students will have the opportunity to improve in response to negative feedback. These might include:
- poor performance in seminars;
- submitting poorly argued, poorly written, incorrectly formatted, or poorly researched seminar papers;
- submitting a subpar second year review paper;
- not making reasonable progress towards a dissertation project;
- failing to submit dissertation chapters in a timely manner, as described in the Calendar of Progress;
- submitting a dissertation that doesn’t meet the standards of a Ph.D. degree;
- unwillingness or inability to improve as a teaching fellow;
- failing to conduct oneself in a collegial and professional manner.
In such cases, the advising team will provide feedback directly to the student. EALL faculty also routinely discuss the progress of underperforming students at faculty meetings in order to solicit advice from their colleagues. The instructor/adviser and the DGS will then work together with the student to implement a plan for improvement moving forward.
The second year review is a critical moment in the Ph.D. program. In addition to reviewing second year review papers, the faculty will have a comprehensive conversation about students’ performance to date and their prospects going forward. If the faculty determine that a student is failing to thrive or is otherwise unprepared for the rigors of a dissertation project, the DGS together with the primary adviser will communicate that assessment to the student by the end of the second year. These conversations are not meant to be punitive. Students deserve honest assessments of their performance so that they can make informed decisions about their prospects going forward. If students decide upon receiving that feedback that a Ph.D. program isn’t the best fit for them, they can use their third year in the program to complete the requirements of an M.A. or M.Phil. and plan their transition away from Yale. Alternatively, they can rededicate themselves to their studies in the hopes of passing their qualifying exams and entering candidacy.
STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH
Faculty and staff should notify Allegra di Bonaventura, Associate Dean for Academic Support, at 203-436-2628 whenever there is a concern about a student’s health or wellbeing. In such instances, you may also call the Director of Yale Mental Health & Counseling (YMH&C) at (203) 432-0290.
|IF YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT ANY OF THE FOLLOWING…
|…CONSIDER THESE INTERVENTIONS & RESOURCES
|A student who has socially withdrawn; who has diminished class attendance and performance; displays a noticeable change in appearance and/or hygiene; reports difficulty concentrating; and/or other members of the community are expressing concern about the student’s wellbeing.
• Talk to the student in private and offer your support, while listening openly and empathetically.
• Refer the student to a counselor at YMH&C. Students can set up an initial intake appointment by calling (203) 432-0290. The student may be seen by a counselor at YMH&C or be referred to an outside clinician via Magellan Health Services.
|A student struggling with severe anxiety, racing thoughts, acute agitation; increased use of drugs and/or alcohol; persistent sleep difficulties; feelings of being trapped or helpless; and/or preoccupation with death or suicide.
|Strongly encourage the student to seek YMH&C support by calling (203) 432-0290 or walk the student directly to YMH&C located on the 3rd floor of 55 Lock Street. Even if a student is reluctant to seek help immediately, provide the YMH&C contact information so the student may seek help later.
|A student making plans or seeking to harm self or others; and/or causing serious injury to themselves even if they deny the intent to commit suicide.
• Immediately call the 24/7 on-call therapist at YMH&C at (203) 432-0290 during office hours and (203) 432-0123 after hours.
• If harm to the student or to someone else seems imminent, call Yale Police Department at (203) 432-4400.
Confidentiality: EALL faculty maintain strict standards of confidentiality. Counselors at YMH&C cannot share any information about students’ mental health with the department.
Online Screenings: YMH&C offers free anonymous and confidential online screenings to all members of the Yale community. Visit screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/YALE.
Substance Abuse: Questions and concerns about substance abuse issues should be directed to Maury Steigman, Yale Health Substance Abuse Counselor, at (203) 432-7366.
Magellan Services: Students who are referred to an outside clinician via Magellan Health Services can contact Whitney Randall (email@example.com) with questions about coverage.
- Advising & Mentoring. Stanford University Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.
- Brown University resources for faculty advisers and mentors. Includes an “Advising Agreement” (or contract) between advisers and advisees that spells out expectations and responsibilities of each party.
- Cultivating a Culture of Mentoring. Duke University, The Graduate School.
- “Guidance on Appropriate Forms of Supervision of Research Degree Students.” University College London (September 2016).
- How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students. Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan (2011).
- How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty. Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan (2015).
- Best Practices in Graduate Student Advising. MIT Graduate Student Council & The Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (2015).