Graduate Student Advising Statement
I am providing you with this statement of advising philosophy to enhance communication and transparency in our working relationship. It is intended to supplement our ongoing interactions and informal discussions and not to stand as a set of rigid requirements. I recognize that there is individual variability among my students in their backgrounds, aspirations, talents, progress, and accomplishments. My goal is to work with you to maximize your individual strengths and to help you develop the skills to succeed in your career. I am happy to discuss with you any or all of the items in the list below. This is a working document, and will be updated through feedback and accumulated experiences.Note: This document was originally developed and shared by Dr. Moin Syed, Dept of Psychology, University of Minnesota, and her colleagues at UM. I have revised it to reflect my own positions, philosophies, policies, & procedures. This document is continuously updated, and the version you see here will always be the most up to date.
Guiding Philosophy and Career Paths
My job as an advisor is to help my advisees to be successful in their chosen career. I can’t do that if I don’t know what career is desired. I want my advisees to let me know the range of career paths in which they are interested at the earliest possible date. I also recognize that career paths change through graduate school. My default advising model is to ensure you are getting experiences in all aspects of training (research, teaching, service/advocacy, as appropriate) so that you have the background to pursue different options when the time comes. This approach includes doing things that you may not be enthusiastic about at the time, but may come to see as a viable career path years down the road (e.g., teaching). Discussions about your career plans will be included as part of the annual review process, but advisees should feel welcome to bring up the issue whenever they are compelled to do so (and I will do likewise).
Although our training program is clearly designed to prepare you for an academic career (and our lab prepares you for becoming an interdisciplinary, team-based researcher), I am very well aware that not all of you will go that route. I will support you in whatever career path you choose, whether it is academic or not. I will do my best to help my advisees obtain the experiences and skills needed to succeed in those various careers.
Students who I work with represent vast diversity with respect to race/ethnicity, SES, gender, sexuality, immigrant generation status, nationality, religion, and worldview, among other dimensions of diversity. A major aspect of our research pertains to how these dimensions of diversity are related to (or not related to) psychological phenomena. Continuously reflecting on how our positionality, and how it may influence our perspectives on the research that we do, is a required aspect of such work. As an advisor, I strive to understand and respect your position and perspectives and how they inform your work. At the same time, I strive to push you to recognize your own biases and the role that they play (for better or for worse) in your work.
I expect my advisees to have a personal life outside the lab, and to take breaks from working when applicable (e.g., during winter break). People who spend all their time on work activities generally tend to be less productive over the long term, less creative in their work, and frankly less fun as colleagues. People with a partner, and especially those with children, become severely stressed if they do not put sufficient effort and time into their personal lives. I highly recommend creating a schedule. Mine is as follows: my general working hours are weekdays 7am-3pm and about 7-9pm. I am not working during all of these hours, but those are the general hours that I am available by email and engaged in work-related tasks. I generally do not work on the weekends. This allows me to spend time with my family without feeling guilty about not working. This is very important!
Open Science. We are currently in the process of revising lab policies and procedures to ensure greater transparency in our research. This includes spending time creating proper data files, making data open for other researchers unless doing so is not feasible (e.g., sensitive data, qualitative data), conducting all analyses using syntax (even when using SPSS) that is saved to the project folder on the shared drive, pre-registering all studies (even when exploratory), and explicitly rejecting questionable research practices (e.g., selective reporting of variables, removal of cases, inclusion of unjustified control variables, etc.). All students are expected to conduct their research according to these principles (see companion ETC Lab Manual for more details).
Time Management. This document makes it clear that I expect a lot of my advisees. The less time efficient a person is, the more hours/week it will take to meet those expectations. Therefore, I expect my advisees to learn and to practice good time management. I am happy to discuss strategies for time management including methods for prioritizing tasks.
Relationships with other advisees. My advisees learn the most from other students and/or postdocs (when available). Therefore, I expect my advisees to develop a strong professional relationship with other people in my lab and in the graduate program generally. This relationship should be supportive, not competitive. Early career students should seek out the advice of late career students and postdocs. In turn, late career students and postdocs should be generous in providing advice.
Ethics. My advisees should familiarize themselves with, and abide by, the University of Illinois’ Code of Conduct.
Human subjects. My advisees must abide by all University requirements for working with human subjects. We will also aim to exceed the university standards and continue our education by seeking certifications outlining best practices in research code of conduct as it relates to clinical trials and behavioral medicine. As a research lab that is supported by federal funding agencies (e.g. National Institutes of Health), we are also expected to comply with all current guidelines. Information about the implementation of these procedures in our lab is available from our ETC Lab Manual and from me. It is essential for all members of the lab to be respectful of our research subjects and to comply with all of the principles of informed consent.
Resolving conflicts. Communication is key to minimizing conflicts. For example, this document is an effort to clearly communicate my expectations to reduce the possibility of misunderstandings between my advisees and me. If you have concerns about your interaction with me or with anyone else, please don’t hesitate to come talk with me. If you are uncomfortable speaking with me, you might consider reaching out to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), Department Chair, or the Office of Student Conflict Resolution. If you wish a conversation to remain anonymous, be sure to indicate that at the start of the conversation.
Meetings and Consultation
Full Lab Administrative Meetings (FLAM). I expect my advisees to attend weekly lab group meetings that we jointly schedule unless they are traveling or have some other unavoidable conflict. Lab meetings in the summer change from year to year. I generally see summer as a time of independence, but it also happens to be the best time (as it has been reported to me) for graduate students to focus on outstanding data analyses and writing projects. It’s also a great time to reflect, set and refine goals.
All But Sean (ABS) Meetings. I expect my advisees to attend weekly student-only meetings, as a group, without any perceived pressure from me. ABS is intended to be structured for team-based lab projects. Without ABS, you will not have a strong core of understanding of your unique and shared roles. As a lab director, I recognize the unavoidable power differential in our working relationship, and graduate students should always have a space to vent and speak freely. I encourage you to do this, though I would hope you refrain from gossip in lab space. In fact, please keep in mind that gossip can be a form of verbal harassment.
Exercise Psych Interdisciplinary Collab (EPIC) Workshops. In addition to the weekly advisee meeting, all advisees are expected to attend periodically scheduled EPIC workshops. These workshops are open to any other interested students. The purpose of the workshop is to a) provide a venue for students to present their work, b) learn how to receive constructive feedback on their work, and c) learn how to provide constructive feedback.
Individual Meetings. I expect my advisees to schedule individual 30 minute weekly meetings with me and to schedule additional ad-hoc meetings as necessary. There is no specific agenda required for these meetings, rather they serve as a mutual check-in about progress though the program, on shared projects, and life in general. If students want to discuss specific materials (e.g., drafts of papers, applications for funding) then they should submit them to me at least 24 hours prior to the meeting so that I have time for review.
Communication. I am available by email or face-to-face in my office. The phone is not a reliable way to reach me. Additionally, my email response time may be slow because of competing demands on my time. I will aim to always respond to your email within 24 hours. If there is a matter of urgency (personal or lab crisis, deadline for a letter, etc,) please let me know immediately. Given the way the world currently operates, I do like to exchange mobile phone numbers for the purposes of text messaging. Text messages are to be used sparingly and only in matters of urgency or in other cases where immediate communication is necessary.
For research purposes, we will be using the Remind app. The Remind app will be used for group communications between interventionists and participants, and direct communication as needed (e.g. emergency mental first aid). This is not a messaging app for interpersonal communications with your advisor. Advantages include reducing inappropriate use, as personal identifiers are not shared with each other. The app is compliant with privacy laws including U.S. Children’s Online Policy Protection Act (COPPA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
When I submit a letter of reference or other documents on behalf of my advisees, I will typically notify you by email when the task is completed. Advisees should email me a few days prior to a deadline as a reminder.
Although we will have several points of contact during the week, I expect my advisees to work without daily input or guidance from me. My general approach is for you to “figure it out” on your own, but contact me for support if you are stuck. Indeed, I am available for consultation, but you are expected to use your own good judgment. If an advisee needs input from me in order to move forward, it is their responsibility to seek me out or schedule a meeting. I am happy to initially provide more regular guidance to advisees who are not accustomed to working independently but by the time they leave the university I expect them to be able to function as independent researchers and teachers.
Working in Other Labs and Switching Advisors
You are certainly welcome to work in other research labs, paid or unpaid, during your time in graduate school. In fact, I encourage it, as working in other labs helps you diversify your research experience, exposes you to different mentoring styles and lab operations, and allows you to build relationships with other faculty who might serve on your committees and write you letters of recommendation. Note: If you are already “maxed out” with a .50 FTE or .67 FTE, as a student with international or domestic status, respectively, you may need to check with the Business Office to ensure you do not violate any university policies.
Sometimes faculty will have assistantships available that they may advertise, but generally the best way to get involved in another lab is to contact the PI directly to express your interest. Be clear upfront whether you are only looking for a paid position, are willing to volunteer your time, or are just interested in “sitting in” on lab meetings. Finally, although you are encouraged to acquire diverse research experience, such as sitting in with other labs, if you are funded to work on a specific project (by me or someone else) that work must be your priority.
Although we adopt a one-on-one mentorship model and students are slotted to work with a specific faculty member, it is also the case that students are technically admitted to the Kinesiology and Community Health Department as a whole. This means that changing advisors is permitted for personal or professional reasons. However, such a change must be mutually agreeable to all parties: student, original advisor, and new advisor. Ideally, a change would occur relatively early in a student’s graduate career (first or second year), but this need not be the case. Additionally, students have the option of adding a secondary advisor at any point. Doing this could make a lot of sense if a student’s interests wind up aligning with another faculty member’s expertise, but the student does not wish to make a full change of advisors.
Publications and Authorship
Publishing is essential for most career paths followed by my advisees. I expect my advisees to work on manuscripts for publication continuously from the beginning of their graduate school career. By the time they graduate I expect my advisees to have multiple publications in the pipeline (published, in press, in review, in preparation). Ideally, you would have one first-authored paper for each year of your program plus a few additional co-authored papers. This is aspirational, and not often achieved, but doing so would make you competitive for whatever job you were interested in (assuming the papers are high quality, which is expected).
I am constantly involved in writing several manuscripts at a time, many of which involve colleagues at other universities. Many of these papers will not involve student advisees. My general approach is to invite students to work on such papers when it is clearly related to their expressed interests and I have a sense that they can contribute to the paper. In this regard, it is very important that you communicate your interests to me, those that are both ongoing and emerging. It is difficult for me to direct papers your way when I don’t know your interests!
Authorship. Resolving authorship arrangements early is essential if we are to maintain positive relationships with our colleagues. If I have had significant involvement in a research project (acquiring funding, developing the original idea, supervising and/or assisting with assessments and/or delivery of data collection, analyzing data, and/or writing a portion of the manuscript or editing the manuscript), then I expect to be listed as an author (typically last, as “senior” author). Ideas that were generated within our lab are meant to be published by our lab. I prefer to decide roles and authorship early in the collaboration on the project. This decision can be altered by mutual agreement at a later date if roles have changed. Usually, the first author has played the lead role in the project execution and will take the lead in writing the manuscript and overseeing the revision process.
Sometimes, I will invite students to be the first author for papers where I have played a substantial (first author-like) role. This is a learning environment, and you cannot learn to lead without opportunity to lead. Should students lose interest in a paper or choose to abandon it entirely, for whatever reason, they will retain credit for the work they did (see attribution of credit taxonomy below). Keep in mind that authorship order may change as a function of changing roles. For example, abandoned papers require new leads. The same general procedure applies to authorship for conference presentations as well.
New students with little to no experience with existing datasets will be given opportunities to lead on conference abstracts in their first year. This is a courtesy and funded conference travel is a privilege. This does not automatically mean students will retain first authorship associated with all conference abstracts, as the single report may represent just one part of a larger paper (planned before your arrival). It may also take on a life of its own, requiring expertise that exceeds your own. Study conceptualization and design, data analysis, and a majority of the manuscript writing will likely be undertaken by more senior students or me, until you find your footing.
A useful taxonomy for understanding, attributing and tracking credit in the creation and dissemination of science: https://casrai.org/credit/
- Conceptualization – Ideas; formulation or evolution of overarching research goals and aims.
- Data curation – Management activities to annotate (produce metadata), scrub data and maintain research data (including software code, where it is necessary for interpreting the data itself) for initial use and later re-use.
- Formal analysis – Application of statistical, mathematical, computational, or other formal techniques to analyze or synthesize study data.
- Funding acquisition – Acquisition of the financial support for the project leading to this publication.
- Investigation – Conducting a research and investigation process, specifically performing the experiments, or data/evidence collection.
- Methodology – Development or design of methodology; creation of models.
- Project administration – Management and coordination responsibility for the research activity planning and execution.
- Resources – Provision of study materials, reagents, materials, patients, laboratory samples, animals, instrumentation, computing resources, or other analysis tools.
- Software – Programming, software development; designing computer programs; implementation of the computer code and supporting algorithms; testing of existing code components.
- Supervision – Oversight and leadership responsibility for the research activity planning and execution, including mentorship external to the core team.
- Validation – Verification, whether as a part of the activity or separate, of the overall replication/reproducibility of results/experiments and other research outputs.
- Visualization – Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically visualization/data presentation.
- Writing – original draft – Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically writing the initial draft (including substantive translation).
- Writing – review & editing – Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work by those from the original research group, specifically critical review, commentary or revision – including pre- or post-publication stages.
Professional Meetings. Developing a professional network is essential, regardless of career path. Therefore, I expect all my advisees to attend national and international meetings and to report on their research at those meetings. Ideally, you would attend two conferences per year, pending available funds, but minimally you should attend one per year (there are typically sufficient department funds available to support this). I am happy to chat with you about how to strategize your conference attendance.
Graduate Student Stipends. The Kinesiology and Community Health Department has several options for funding. If you entered with funding, the department guarantees funding for the life of your program (you will retain that level). The nature of that funding (TA, RA, Fellowship) is often unpredictable but there will be funding. Nevertheless, I expect my advisees to write and submit fellowship proposals whenever possible. Writing such proposals is excellent experience and receiving such fellowships increases a student’s competitiveness for future fellowships and jobs.
Research Funding. Funding the research of my advisees is a joint responsibility between them and me. I will work with my advisees to find the necessary funding. Often, this funding comes from research grants from the department, college, or some external source.
Grant Proposal Writing. Grant proposal writing is a critically important skill regardless of career path pursued. Therefore, I expect all my advisees to be active in writing proposals for both university and external funding opportunities (fellowships, research grants, travel grants, etc). They are also expected to assist in the preparation of federal grants (NIH, NSF) or grant reports that fund my lab. By the time my advisees graduate I expect them to be capable of preparing their own research grants. I also teach a course in Grant Writing, and it is expected that you take the course for credit or audit the course.
Summer Funding. There are resources for summer funding both within and outside the department. All of these require relatively brief applications, but they are competitive and you should act early. Students are expected to take the initiative to apply for these funds, if not already covered (and wish to receive funding). Students should always discuss their summer funding situation with their advisor, typically in March or April, which is when they should seriously begin looking for opportunities. Summer stipends are often available that are associated with specific grants. When I do not have summer stipends available, it is also an excellent time to work in a different lab, as faculty often have stipends available.
Thesis and Dissertation
The dissertation is your final project prior to receiving the Ph.D. Rather than conceiving of it as a discrete and monumental experience, you should think of it as the next stage of your developing program of research. That is, from entry to the program you will be working towards developing a coherent program of research of your own. You are not expected to know what this is or what it will look like right from the beginning of graduate school! Rather, it is an evolving process that takes shape over time. Generally speaking, I expect students to be reasonably clear about their research focus by the end of the second year in the program. Students should anticipate proposing their dissertations to their committee by the end of the fourth year (or earlier) in the program and hold their final defense within 1 to 1.5 years thereafter. Incoming doctoral students with a relevant masters degree may have a more expedited program of study (see the Kinesiology Graduate Student Handbook for more details), but the order of operations and preparatory steps remain the same for all students.
The dissertation itself should be a well-designed study or set of studies that clearly addresses gaps in the existing research base. It should be written up as a journal article (or set of articles) so that it will be ready to submit for publication shortly after the final defense. The topic of the dissertation will be determined by the student, in consultation with me as advisor (Dissertation Chair).
Coursework and Research Experience
I don’t have any standard course requirements beyond those of the Kinesiology & Community Health Department graduate program. Instead I expect my advisees to have, or to develop while at the university, a solid background in the concepts and skills that their research and career path require. This could be accomplished in the form of coursework but also workshops and informal arrangements with other individuals (students, postdocs, faculty or staff). I do, however, expect all students to be well versed in quantitative and mixed methods research designs, and they should take as many methods courses as their schedule allows (most of these will be in other departments). Students are also expected to develop excellent proficiency in SPSS for database management and analysis and at least one other program, preferably Mplus (which is what I use), and R. Additionally, proficiency in Nvivo for qualitative data management and analysis is highly recommended for any students with a research agenda that requires mixed-methods research.
Original Literature and World-View. Regardless of career path, a current knowledge of the literature is essential. Therefore, I expect my advisees to spend significant hours each week reading relevant literature that is both directly related to their research interests and of broad relevance to the field. For example, students with interests in physical activity-related identity should not limit their reading to that identity domain, but should engage with the broad scholarship on identity and personality. Students should begin by reading all of the articles on the ETC Lab Required Reading List. From there, they should do all of the following to stay abreast of current literature:
1) Sign up for journal article alerts. You will receive emails notifying you of new issues and new online articles for the journal. Please talk with me about appropriate journals for which to receive alerts.
2) Google Scholar alerts. You can input custom keywords to receive alerts (usually 2-3 times per week) of matching articles from all across the disciplinary spectrum. You can also set alerts for specific researchers who have a Scholar profile. Additionally, you should set up your own Scholar profile upon entry into the graduate program (even if there is not yet anything in it).
3) Blogs and Facebook groups. Journals are slow. Much of the newest developments take place on blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter. You should follow a reasonable set of these to stay up to date on the most cutting edge issues in the field.
World View. The World View (WV) is a customized manuscript that each doctoral student prepares as a lead-up to preliminary exams and dissertation. In short, the WV depicts a story accompanied by citations of the content areas in which you want to become an expert. This manuscript represents each student’s unique and reflective philosophy about her or his future goals and interests. It is also meant to reflect an exhaustive review of what books, chapters, and empirical articles the student has read and studied in preparation for prelims and dissertation topics, and the resources compiled to serve as a database for one’s future as an academic. Normally, about 3-4 months is needed to write a polished document that will serve as a guide for program committee members to write questions and for the student to outline several potential dissertation study ideas. In the WV, you will:
- develop the breadth and depth in the content areas you want to become an expert in
- address what we know about the areas that you have studied to become an expert in
- address what we need to know about the areas you have studied to become an expert in
- discuss what you want to do to advance the knowledge base and how you will get there.
The format and content of the WV is discussed in more detail in the ETC Lab Manual. I will also guide you in your selection of topics (typically 4-5). The WV does not entail a long narrative (8-10 pages). Rather, the substantial part of the WV is the reference database and it can be very lengthy (200+ references). I view this as a necessary part of the process that helps you settle on a solid dissertation topic. Fear not, you do not need to recreate the wheel! You may utilize any and all writing from your WV in your dissertation chapters.
The position of teaching in this document (last), is not representative of the value I place on the development of teaching attributes throughout your graduate program. Teaching is a tremendous way to learn to communicate complex concepts to a non-specialist audience. I expect all my advisees to be involved in teaching. I encourage graduate students to take opportunities to act as course instructors or section leaders, as well as TAs. Furthermore, any career path pursued by my advisees will require that they be able to balance multiple diverse responsibilities (such as teaching and research). Graduate school is a low-risk place to learn to balance such responsibilities.
I encourage students pursuing teaching careers to TA for multiple courses during their graduate career. This is more demanding of their time but this diversity of experience is excellent training for the heavier and more diverse course loads of faculty at primarily teaching colleges. I invite all my advisees to give a guest lecture in one of my courses (note: if I am teaching online or have a limited teaching load, please seek out similar experiences with my colleagues in the Exercise Psychology Area of Study).