This Statement is geared for graduate students who are (considering serving as) my MA or PhD students, research assistants, or interns. 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 statement was adapted from a statement of adviser philosophy distributed by Scott Lanyon, Dean of the Graduate School, and then adapted by Gordon Legge, Psychology DGS, and Moin Sayed, Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota. Scott and Gordon invited faculty to edit and use their text in their own statements of adviser philosophy. Anyone is free to borrow from this document as they wish, so long as they provide similar attribution to me, Scott, Gordon, and Moin.
My role 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 paths are 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 throughout graduate school. My default advising model is to ensure you are getting experiences in all aspects of training (research, teaching, service/advocacy, and policy work, 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. 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). I also expect a certain amount of personal initiative from my advisees when it comes to career mapping.
Although most graduate programs are clearly designed to prepare you for an academic career, 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. After all, my own career path has been a windy one. I will do my best to help my advisees obtain the experiences and skills needed to succeed in those various careers. (You may also want to consult this great volume, Work Your Career.)
Students who I work with represent vast diversity with respect to Indigeneity, race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, 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) political 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 classroom and office, and to take breaks from working when applicable (e.g., weekends and reading breaks). 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, those with family pursuits and responsibilities, and those with non-professional passions 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: I work on weekdays 7:45am to 4:30pm plus an hour or two in the evenings (to a maximum of three nights per week). 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! Just ask Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza.
What do you call me? Students often struggle with how to address their academic advisors. For a host of reasons, I prefer advisees refer to me as “Dr. Wesley” or “Professor Wesley” when we are working in our advisor-advisee capacities. This includes all correspondence and meetings, around everything from RA and TA work, to collaborative research projects, to coursework, to your thesis or dissertation. Outside of this relationship - if we see each other at the store or work with each other on a volunteer initiative - Jared is just fine. (My wife, a nurse, will correct you if you call me “Dr. Wesley” in her presence. She mistakenly insists that the title is reserved for physicians.)
I take our professional relationship seriously, as well as the power dynamics involved. I hold responsibility over a large portion of your performance assessment, which can have real implications for your academic program and career. While collegiality is crucial, personal friendships, in this authority-driven context, are inappropriate. A handy reference point: while I’m happy to connect with my advisees on Twitter or LinkedIn, it is not appropriate for us to have a friendship on Facebook (at least until our professional relationship has concluded, or Facebook is defunct, whichever comes first).
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 and “chunking” one’s time.
Relationships with other advisees. My advisees learn the most from other students and/or postdocs. Therefore, I expect my advisees to develop strong professional relationships with other people in the department, university, and broader community. These relationships 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 Alberta's "Code of Student Behaviour". My advisees must abide by all University requirements for working with human subjects. It is essential for all advisees to be respectful of our research subjects and to comply with all of the principles of informed consent.
Individual Meetings. I expect my advisees to schedule individual 30 minute weekly meetings with me and to schedule additional ad-hoc meetings as necessary. It is my advisees’ responsibility to schedule these meetings.
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. If there is a matter of urgency (personal or work 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.
Resolving conflicts. My fifteen years of experience academic advising and public sector management has taught me that 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 allow these concerns to fester, they will foster resentment and more problems down the road. This is why, if I have a concern with you or your performance, I am accountable for raising it as soon as possible; if I don’t, then I own the consequences for my silence. If you are uncomfortable speaking with me, the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies and the Department Chair are there to support you.
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.
You are certainly welcome to work with other faculty members (e.g., as an RA or TA), paid or unpaid, during your time in graduate school. In fact, I encourage it, as working with other faculty helps you diversify your research experience, exposes you to different mentoring styles and research approaches, and allows you to build relationships with other faculty who might serve on your committees and write you letters of recommendation. Sometimes faculty will have assistantships available that they may advertise, but generally the best way to get involved in another faculty member’s research is to contact him or her 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 classes. Finally, although you are encouraged to work with other faculty, 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 Political Science 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 the student, the new advisor, and the Associate Chair, Graduate Studies. Ideally, a change would occur relatively early in a student’s graduate career (first or second year), but this need not be the case.
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 (particularly for Masters students), 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. I subscribe to the ICMJE Guidelines for 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 (developing the original idea, collecting data, analyzing data, and/or writing a portion of the manuscript or editing the manuscript), then I expect to be listed as an author (typically first, as “lead” author). 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. I expect the first author to retain primary responsibility for the publication process even if he or she leaves our department to take a position elsewhere. The same general procedure applies to authorship for conference presentations as well.
Professional Meetings. Developing a professional network is essential, regardless of career path. Therefore, I expect all my advisees to attend local, regional, 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 and university funds available to support this). I am happy to chat with you about how to strategize your conference attendance.
The major paper, thesis, or dissertation is your final project prior to receiving your degree. 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 first year in the program (August), and to submit a draft research workplan (including milestones) to me for review.
I don't have any standard course requirements beyond those of the Political Science graduate program, although I strongly recommend my advisees take POLS 621 (Canadian Politics and Government). I am also strongly supportive of directed readings and practicum courses, particularly for MA students in the course-based stream.
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, staff, coaches, mentors). I do, however, expect all students to be well versed in quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research designs, and they should take as many methods courses and/or workshops as their schedule allows (most of these will be in other departments).
Original Literature. 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 specific/directly related to their research interests and of broad relevance to the field. For example, students with interests in federalism should not limit their reading to that identity domain, but should engage with the broad scholarship on multilevel governance and democracy. Students should begin by reading all of the works on the POL S 621 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, Twitter, 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.
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. For more on my own pedagogical approach, please review my Teaching Statement.
Financial stability is crucial to your success as a student, and to your success later in your career. I expect my advisees to seek out sources of funding to support their personal needs and pursuits, as well as their research.
Graduate Student Stipends. The Political Science Department guarantees funding for some graduate students for up to five years. The nature of that funding (TA, RA) is often unpredictable from term to term, but there will be funding. Some students may carry additional scholarships (from the University or outside sources) or fellowships. I also aim to employ my advisees as RAs and interns on my projects; this funding may or may not count against the Department’s guaranteed allotment.
Nevertheless, I expect my advisees to write and submit at least one major grant application throughout the course of their program. For most students, this will be a SSHRC, Vanier, Trudeau, or Killam Scholarship/Fellowship application. Writing such proposals is excellent experience and receiving such fellowships increases a student's competitiveness for future fellowships and jobs.
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 grants (Killam, SSHRC) or grant reports that fund my research. By the time my advisees graduate I expect them to be capable of preparing their own research grants.
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, university, or some external source.
Professional Development. Many people consider academic training, on one hand, and professional development, on the other, to be mutually exclusive. I don’t. The same sets of knowledge, skills, and competencies are crucial to your success in academic and non-academic jobs.
The University of Alberta Faculty of Graduate Studies has established minimum requirements for all graduate students in terms of professional development. I expect my advisees to exceed them, as our Department’s core courses (POLS 599 and 680) provide students with the necessary hours to fulfill their PD and ethics requirements.
Beyond this, I am here to support my advisees in establishing their Individual Development Plans (IDPs). In addition to mentoring advisees in political science methods, I teach a variety of community-based professional development courses, including those on political acumen, effective briefings, and collaborative negotiations; whenever possible, my advisees are admitted to these courses free of charge. I also provide advisees with access to over 1000 professional colleagues in my network, including those in the knowledge, public, private, and non-profit sectors. Many of these individuals are happy to connect with students through informational coffee chats, volunteer opportunities, practicum and internship placements, and coaching and mentorship.
I am also available to support advisees on applications for employment, internships, fellowships, scholarships, grants, graduate school admissions, post-docs, and other career opportunities. This includes writing letters of recommendation (when appropriate), providing constructive feedback on application packages, holding mock interviews, and so on.