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11/01/2023

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MileageMayVary

The first reader's quote is articulating the qualities of a mentor, not a dissertation supervisor. Often our mentors become our dissertation supervisors or perhaps vice versa. The second reader's quote underscores that these expectations are more about mentorship than they are the requirements of advising a dissertation.

Realistically, though, I think if your dissertation supervisor is not also mentoring you, something is amiss. While not everyone is a great mentor or has a desire to do it, a lot of the things OP articulates wanting are pretty basic aspects of mentorship and don't cost much time or attention. If your advisor is unwilling to introduce you to relevant colleagues when you're literally in the room at a conference with them, that strikes me as odd and a red flag. Sure, it's not incumbent on a dissertation advisor to care about their students and their work, but it certainly improves the quality of the collaboration (and end product IMO).

mentor

I think the obligations of a supervisor are not well articulated, but they are first and foremost, responsible to help you finish a PhD - and pass! Ideally, you will be at least eligible for a job, at least in principal. Of course many supervisors do more, and many less than that.
But mentors are a different matter. My supervisor was wonderful in many ways, but he was not a mentor. I first had a mentor only after a few years on the market. A mentor gives you guidance in the profession, and they are a role model. In my case, my mentor was a role model for how to do research in my sub-field philosophy of science. But it might be asking for too much to expect every supervisor to be a mentor to each of their stduents.

anon

I'm not sure there are any hard and fast standards about what a advisor should do qua supervisor (beyond of course the minimum of supervising the writing of the dissertation), but if OP wants to be mentored, and not merely advised, then they can encourage this in a number of ways.

First, be the kind of student that would benefit from mentoring. In other words, for your advisor to introduce you to peers, pass along publishing opportunities, etc., you need to demonstrate that you have good potential as a scholar and colleague. So, if you have trouble turning in dissertation chapters in timely manner, don't receive criticism well, etc., your advisor will be less likely to mentor you.

A LARGE caveat here, though: sometimes an advisor is unwilling to mentor even the most promising of grad students, for various reasons, so an advisor's lack of mentoring might reflect more about them than about the student. Sometimes things like sexism, apathy, lack of time, etc. can prevent an advisor from mentoring a student, so don't necessarily assume the problem is you if you're not being mentored.

Second, as a reader has already noted, be proactive. Let your advisor know you are looking for opportunities. Ask them if they're willing to look over other papers that aren't part of the dissertation yet fall within the advisor's wheelhouse (I did this to publish a paper in grad school adjacent to my dissertation; you will rarely be in a better position to receive in-depth feedback on your work, so make the most of it). Mine them for invaluable information about where to publish work, which conferences are worth going to, or even the "unofficial" ways that the university functions. These things are often quite opaque from the "outside" and difficult to discern for many graduate students.

Mike Titelbaum

The supervisor vs. mentor distinction is a good one. I just wanted to add that sometimes a supervisor isn't a good mentor not because they're not willing, but because of who they are and what they're capable of. All the concerns that come up on this blog—never having had a good mentor of one's own, not being comfortable networking, etc.—apply just as much to experienced faculty as they do to early-career folks. We should all make an effort to improve as mentors (because it's an important part of our role), but for folks on the receiving end, being proactive is as much about finding the best person to be your mentor as it is about helping that mentor help you.

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