I wanted it. So bad. For so long. I was so close. I was past the coursework, comprehensive examinations, proposal defense, and data collection. I was knee deep into my analysis, but something was not right about my process to be a #SADoc. My instincts let me know I was going down the wrong path. I had been embedded in the research long enough to know. It was one of the most important pieces of the puzzle that was out of place: my connection to my advisor.
As an undergraduate Ronald E. McNair Scholar, I recall my doctoral mentor telling me the most important relationship on the highly pressurized dissertation journey is not your partner, work supervisor, or your children, but your dissertation advisor. They were right. Your advisor holds the key to the two or four other most important people in your life during this time: Your Committee. I had to make a change deep into the process and I learned quickly the importance of an advisor based on my experience.
My analysis was not yielding the results I knew were embedded in my data. My advisor’s chosen methodology for analysis was not working. It was the defining ownership moment of my process. Making the change was not easy, but it was doable and most importantly, necessary in my case. I envisioned my research serving the field in a certain way and needed take control of the situation sooner than later.
The Advisor Swap was my most important #SADoc decision I made in the process, knowing I was adding on significant time to completion. I learned a few lessons to consider when making the critical decision:
1. Pay attention to your advisor’s work life. If there is a consistent expressed or visible level of unhappiness in their work, do not ignore it. Set an appointment and ask the hard questions about their future with the institution and if they are planning to leave. In the dissertation world you have to consider what that would mean for your progress.
2. Identify and confirm a new advisor. If there is no one else within your department, you must find a way to make it work. It is possible although not ideal to stick it out. There is another worthy blog post to be written about resiliency when things are not working. In my situation, I had multiple conversations with faculty about my work, their belief in my potential and my research. If there is a possibility for a change, the assistance of your new advisor in the process speaks volumes to where they can assist in the change and the advisor/advisee relationship moving forward.
3. Make a list of pros and cons to stay with your faculty advisor. The age old tool never fails. It works wonders in this situation where there is a real power dynamic at play. This list will guide your discussion and explain your decision if you move forward. It will reduce awkwardness, and help keep professionalism in communicating your reasons to your advisor and potentially others in the department.
4. Remember the end of the advisor relationship does not have to be the end of professional relationship. As awkward as it was to have the conversation and make the switch, I handled it in a professional way leaving the door open for potential collaborations later on in my career.
5. Have a trusted friend (or two) read over your rationale prior to sending it. Be frank and thorough in your write up and have an objective confidante review it. If you get to this point, there is usually invested time to consider and emotions to control. Be professional and vet your communication through your mentors and sponsors.
This is a big decision, and many do not consider it because of potential consequences. Owning your process is possible. These steps helped me create the experience I desired. Being a #SADoc is the start of many hard decisions about your research, publications, and professional positions. Finding yourself in this position along the journey is not comfortable, but it is manageable.
This post is part of our #SAdoc series, which aims to show that the journey for a doctorate in Student Affairs is about more than just a piece of paper. A variety of SA pros working towards, or who have obtained, their #SAdoc will share their stories of the hustle and struggle of the process; the ups and downs. For more information, please see Kevin Wright’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Darcy Kemp on Advising Student Groups