Responsibilities of Primary Graduate Advisors

Historians who advise graduate students rely on a variety of approaches to advising and often adopt different approaches with different students or different approaches with the same student at various moments in their career. Any list of principles concerning the relationship between faculty advisors and graduate students must provide substantial leeway for this spectrum of advising styles, as well as for the tenets of academic freedom. At the same time, because training graduate students is among the most important functions that our faculty performs, the department wishes to articulate several basic principles about the respective responsibilities of faculty and graduate students. This is so that the individuals on each side of this very special pedagogical relationship clearly understand their roles and obligations.

NOTE: All obligations of a primary graduate advisor remain in force during sabbaticals or other leaves.

Basic Principles

  • Members of the graduate faculty should know the basic rules of the program, especially concerning numbers and kinds of courses, the parameters for fields and language exams, the mechanics of preliminary certification, and of the dissertation defense.
  • Primary advisors of graduate students commit themselves to regular communication with their advisees, to discuss not only ongoing courses, research, and written work, but also the full range of issues relating to the course of study and broader professional development. Those issues will differ from student to student, but would likely include: course selection; preliminary examination fields; issues relating to teaching; other faculty members with whom the student should work; grant opportunities and proposal writing; potential dissertation topics and the shaping of a dissertation prospectus; and job market strategies. If both advisor and student are in residence, such meetings should occur at least four times a year. When faculty members or ABD students are not in residence, primary advisors should communicate regularly via email and/or telephone. Both student and advisor should understand that their relationship is professional rather than personal.
  • Primary advisors should provide prompt feedback on research and writing for coursework, including papers for research seminars, even when the primary advisor is not teaching a particular research seminar. During the dissertation phase of graduate students' careers, advisors should provide timely reading and feedback on dissertation drafts, as well as advice about strategies for publication.
  • In fostering the professional development of their advisees, primary advisors should take reasonable steps to pass along information about funding opportunities and conferences, and where appropriate, to connect their students to other relevant scholars, both inside the department and beyond Duke.
  • Graduate advisors should offer their students advice about how to develop and sustain an intellectual agenda, how to handle the job market, and how to build a career. Advisors should also expect to write letters of recommendation on behalf of their students for grants, fellowships, and employment opportunities.
  • At all times, graduate advisors owe their students candor about their performance and prospects, as well as respect in all communications, both verbal or written. All faculty members who work with graduate students need to take note of and abide by the university's policies on harassment and discrimination.
  • Where appropriate, advisors should act as a liaison between the department and/or DGS and their students. Whenever discussing a particular student's situation with other faculty or university staff, graduate advisors should demonstrate discretion and respect for the student's privacy.