Students get evaluated through the SPR yearly, but is there a process that evaluates our advisors?

Date: January 2021

Question

Hi!

We get evaluated in the Student Progress Review (SPR) every year but is there a process that evaluates our advisors? Many grads suffer from lack of advising or unprofessional advising and are not sure how to handle it or are afraid of retaliation if they speak up. Poor advising affects not only our professional careers but also impacts heavily our mental health. 

Thank you,

Grad looking for mentorship


Response

Dear Grad Looking for Mentorship,

Happy New Year! I hope that you had a restorative break. Thank you so much for submitting your question to our Ask a Dean column; I am sure other students will be interested as well. 

You are correct that faculty-student advising relationships are important for a graduate student’s successful academic progress, career development, and lifelong mentorship skills. A major advisor has enormous impact on a graduate student; however, no single person can meet all of a student’s mentoring needs. There is much effort (and wisdom) to making sure that you develop a broad network of faculty mentors who can advise you while you are a graduate student and beyond. You will see this underscored in the Graduate School Advising Guide for Research Students.

When there is a poor advising relationship, I offer that it becomes incredibly important to have this expanded mentorship pool to draw on. While graduate student advising only requires a committee and a student, limiting your mentors to this group can place an enormous strain on these relationships. Students with a network of faculty advisors are often in the best position to secure the support needed for academic progress, while supporting professional goals and their own mental health. Many workshops and sessions on mentoring are available through the Graduate School’s Pathways to Success. I encourage you to participate in these.

The support of others becomes even more critical if a faculty advising relationship is poor and that is why a student should have a robust network of peers (both inside and outside of the academy). Many graduate students seek support through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, call 607-255-5155) as they have found it a safe place to talk about their experiences and practice key communication skills for working through challenges. I always recommend CAPS to students who experience a difficult advisor relationship.

In addition to our Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. Jan Allen (jan.allen@cornell.edu), I am available to speak with students about their options as it relates to working within a difficult mentoring relationship. In addition to trying different communication strategies, we can discuss strategies like moving to a different research group, what it means to enlist support from the DGS, how to gain other faculty support, and perhaps what taking a break could look like. A conversation like this with me is confidential, and I am happy to chat.

As a member of the Cornell community, graduate students can report behaviors related to bias, discrimination, harassment, and sexual and related misconduct through Policy 6.4. Also, the Graduate School has a developed grievance policy, allowing for formal, third party support in resolving a conflict with a faculty member.

Finally, to address your question specifically, the Graduate School is in the early stages of developing a university-wide approach to help clarify and express expectations between faculty advisors and graduate students, which was a recommendation from the university’s Mental Health Review and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA). We hope to have more by the end of this semester and will keep the community posted via Announcements.

I hope this addresses your questions and, again, welcome continued conversation about this.

All the best,

Janna Lamey
Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life