Selecting and Changing Advisors

Selecting Advisors

We encourage prospective, incoming, and first-year students to communicate with potential advisors. Important issues you will want to ask them about should include:

  • The range of the advisor's intellectual interests.
  • The advisor's views on how closely they expect an advisee's interest to track their own.
  • The advisor's expectations about which courses the student should take and which language(s) they should a have a competency in.
  • The advisor's practices in offering feedback about written work, teaching, or other intellectual matters.
  • The advisor's particular style of advising. For example, does the advisor require regular meetings? Do they prefer to provide a sounding board when asked? Does the advisor prefer a formal or more casual advisor/advisee relationship?
  • The advisor's general expectations regarding dissertation topics and research methodologies. Some advisors may prefer to oversee topics that relate directly to their own research expertise while others are willing to advise more broadly.

By the end of the first year or the beginning of the second year, a student should have settled on a primary advisor whose research interests coincide with their expected major field of study. Most of the time, this selection will be fairly straightforward; the primary advisor will most likely be a faculty member who initially drew the graduate student to Duke or someone with whom the student has taken a course and discussed their research interests. In any instance, primary advisors must formally agree to supervise the student's work.

Changing Advisors

There are occasions which may dictate the desire or need to change advisors: a student's interests may shift during graduate school; a student and their advisor may fail to develop an effective working relationship; or an advisor may go on extended leave, move to another university, or retire.

Students have the option of changing their primary advisors, but within the limits set by the Graduate School (e.g. changing the membership of dissertation committees within three months of a scheduled exam is prohibited). Because such a change can have both short-term and long-term consequences, students should first discuss a possible change with the DGS before initiating a change. The DGS must approve any change of a student's primary advisor.

Students should also be aware that no faculty member has the obligation to take on a particular graduate student. Therefore, any student who wishes to change advisors should ensure that another faculty member is willing to assume the role of primary advisor before ending the relationship with their initial advisor. On the other end, before taking on a student who wishes to change advisors, faculty members have an obligation to acquaint themselves with the student's background and progress in the program, judging carefully whether the proposed fit is a sensible one.