Student: Changing mentors or advisors

At some point in your graduate career, you might face the question of how to acquire a new mentor or advisor. The issues can be more complex if the same person fulfills both of these roles for you. Because of the relatively informal nature of mentoring, there is no formal policy for acquiring mentors as there is, in most departments, for acquiring or changing a research or dissertation advisor. It is important to know the differences between the two processes, and the basic guidelines applicable to each.

Changing mentors is not an issue if the relationship is an informal one (i.e., the person is not your thesis/dissertation advisor). Also, changing mentors does not necessarily imply any difficulties in your relationship. In fact, as you progress through various phases of your professional development, your priorities for mentoring will change, possibly making it beneficial to select a different mentor or combination of mentors. This change is more likely to be motivated by your personal and professional growth than by misunderstandings. A good mentor will support you in your search for others who can assist you.

Changing advisors is common in some fields of study and less so in others. It usually requires that you follow departmental procedures. It is easier to change advisors if your department encourages students to work with multiple faculty members, and making changes earlier in your career is generally easier than later. However, you will need to do extra thoughtful planning if you came to UNL to work with a specific faculty member and down the road find that your interests change or the relationship begins to suffer.

If you are changing an advisor, you can accomplish the task best if you adopt an attitude of respect for the person who has assisted you. The following are general guidelines, but first, always consult your department for the specific policies and procedures that apply to your case.

Guidelines for changing advisors

  • Begin by doing an objective analysis of the pros and cons of changing advisors.
  • Refer to the list of people who can help you with this assessment.
  • Try to work through any differences with your advisor before you make a final decision.
  • Seek advice from a trusted faculty member or peer to assess your needs and determine whether a different advisor would be good for you. This advice is especially important if you are attempting to change advisors toward the final phase of your graduate program.
  • Approach another faculty member about being an advisor for you. Frame your approach with positive information, such as new interests and new possibilities.
  • Be professional at all times. Focus discussions on your interests and goals and not on negative incidents or difficulties. Avoid doing or saying anything that could have negative ramifications for your future.
  • Practice diplomatic ways to express to your advisor or mentor, and to others, why you are considering a change.
  • Discuss and arrange a timeframe for completing any remaining work with your current advisor before the change takes place.
  • Complete or update any formal paperwork that contains information about your advisor (e.g., internship paperwork, thesis, general exam, or dissertation committee forms).