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what does thesis advisor mean

What does a Dissertation Advisor, Dissertation Chair, or Thesis Advisor do?

25th August 2022

what does thesis advisor mean

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I received a great service from Thesis Editor in proofreading and formatting for my master’s thesis. I personally like to thank Dr Judith Jackson-Pomeroy who was amazing in assisting me from the first call I made to thesis editor enquiring about the service they provide until the submission of my project. She took personal care in the service provided, it was professional and responded quickly to all my queries throughout, which gave me peace of mind and direction at such an intense moment of finalising my dissertation. The strict deadline with thesis editor got me working hard - around the clock, which was all worth it. I highly recommend thesis editor to anyone who is looking for proofreading and formatting service for their thesis - look no further!

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Faculty: Guide for Thesis Advisors

The following guidelines are provided for faculty who have been asked to serve as thesis advisors for candidates for the Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) degree.

This degree is conferred jointly by the David C. Frederick Honors College and the home school of the candidate (e.g., Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, College of General Studies, Swanson School of Engineering, College of Business Administration, School of Nursing, etc.). In most cases the degree title of "Bachelor of Philosophy" replaces the standard bachelor's degree a student would receive, but some schools (e.g., Swanson School of Engineering and School of Nursing) retain the standard degree title jointly conferred by that school and the Frederick Honors College. Specific questions about the degree title should be referred to David Hornyak in the Frederick Honors College.

All candidates for the BPhil degree must satisfy the general degree requirements (curricular requirements) and the special degree requirements (independent scholarship).

General degree requirements

Students must complete the degree requirements of their home school and complete a program of study demonstrating that the student has not only met but also exceeded the requirements for a standard undergraduate departmental degree. This includes maintaining a 3.50 cumulative GPA (successful BPhil degree recipients in recent semesters have had an average GPA of 3.88).

In general, it is expected that the student’s curriculum will reflect significant breadth, depth, or focus around a coherent intellectual theme.

Special degree requirements

These requirements are to be met by the completion of a thesis. A student presents and defends his/her thesis before a faculty examining committee selected in conjunction with the thesis advisor. It is the expectation that the thesis advisor provides the student with the same research/scholarship experience as graduate students at the master's level in the thesis advisor's academic discipline and that the final thesis document be of the same caliber as a master's thesis in the discipline.

The Frederick Honors College divides the progress of a thesis into the following three rough stages:

Development of the project; Research and writing of the thesis; and Presentation and examination of the completed thesis.

Development of the project

During this stage, the thesis advisor should work closely with the student in developing a research topic and a plan for investigating it. Since the thesis will in many cases be the first substantial piece of independent scholarship the student has produced, the thesis advisor may need to provide the student with general assistance in research methods and strategies; in particular, the advisor should help the student to frame a question of reasonable scope. Moreover, the advisor will be invaluable in assuring that the work the student seeks to undertake is truly independent and of similar caliber to that of a graduate student at the master's level within the thesis advisor's academic discipline.

The advisor and student should develop a reasonable chronology, setting a number of short- and long-term deadlines for the completion of various stages of the project. This is an especially important role for the advisor since novice researchers may lack reliable intuitions as to the length of time that any particular part of the project is likely to require.

The advisor should take time to review the courses the student has yet to complete and to recommend other courses (within or outside the advisor’s department) that could be of benefit to the student. The advisor should also recommend other faculty with whom the student might consult as the details of the project become clearer. Once the project plan is in place, the student should submit an application to be admitted into BPhil degree candidacy to the Frederick Honors College.

Research and writing of the thesis

The advisor should be available to meet regularly with the student to evaluate the progress of his or her research, to discuss the problems that inevitably arise, and to provide whatever encouragement or direction proves necessary. These meetings should naturally evolve into regular meetings to review the student’s progress in writing the thesis. At this stage, too, the advisor may suggest that the student pursue additional formal course work in areas where further thought or expertise would be helpful.

It is the advisor’s responsibility to approve the student’s final draft of the thesis as complete prior to review by the examining committee. As previously noted, the thesis should be of similar caliber to that of a graduate thesis (master's level) within the faculty member's academic discipline. If the thesis advisor believes the student will not be able to defend the thesis successfully, the thesis advisor should stop the process at this point and not send a final draft of the thesis document to the examination committee.

Presentation and examination of the completed thesis

Before the student completes the thesis document, the student and advisor should begin to choose an examining committee. The thesis advisor has final authority over the composition of the examining committee. The committee will consist of four faculty members with relevant expertise: the thesis advisor, two University of Pittsburgh examiners, and an additional examiner from another institution within the United States (the external examiner must also be a US citizen). The thesis advisor assumes the role of the committee chair and is responsible for arranging the logistics of the examination.

The Frederick Honors College provides for the travel expenses and lodging of the outside examiner and provides an honorarium. The outside examiner, as a distinguished visitor to the University, should be available to present a lecture to the appropriate department.

(NOTE: For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, external examiners are not permitted to travel to campus for BPhil defenses; external examiners must participate in the defense remotely.)

The format for the presentation and examination is similar to that of a master’s or doctoral defense. The student presents an overview of his or her work in a speech open to the public in addition to the examining committee. Following a brief period during which the public may ask questions, the committee examines the candidate privately. The chair of the committee is responsible for dismissing the public and for convening and ending the examination. The chair also has charge of the ETD Approval Form and must secure the signatures of the committee.

Additional information

Thesis advisors may also find useful information on the this webpage:

Thesis Defense and Graduation Procedures

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Choosing a Thesis Advisor: A Complete Guide

One of the most important choices that you will make about your dissertation or thesis happens before you write a single word. Choosing a thesis advisor or dissertation advisor (often referred to as a dissertation chair) will have a significant impact on your entire dissertation writing experience, and for many years to come. For many doctoral students, their thesis advisor is their single greatest influence in graduate school. 

Selecting a thesis advisor is a big decision with far-reaching implications. The stakes are very high, and it is imperative to choose your thesis advisor wisely. There are many factors to consider when choosing a thesis advisor, from expertise to personality, and it pays to think carefully and weigh your options before approaching a faculty member to chair your dissertation committee . While there are subtle differences between a dissertation chair and a thesis advisor, we’ll focus on the commonalities in this article.

These are commonly asked questions about selecting a thesis advisor: 

  • What does a thesis advisor do? 
  • How should I choose my thesis advisor?
  • What makes a faculty member a good thesis advisor? 
  • What if it doesn’t work out with my thesis advisor? 

college professor explaining stuff to his student on a laptop

Thesis Advisor Responsibilities

While writing a dissertation is a largely solitary pursuit, a good thesis advisor will be with you every step of the way. While you are very much in the driver’s seat, it is your thesis advisor’s job to keep you off the guardrails. And deploy the airbag, if necessary. There are a few purposes that your thesis advisor will serve during your time together. 

Guidance . While the dissertation process is new to you, your thesis advisor will know it very well. She will help you navigate the obstacles and pitfalls that have derailed many projects–department politics, university regulations, funding, research opportunities, etc. Your thesis advisor will also serve as a sounding board as you distill the nebulous concept of your research project into a fully-formed idea that you can move forward with. 

Organization . A good thesis advisor will run a tight ship and keep your dissertation project moving like clockwork. As a researcher, it’s very easy to get lost in the minutiae of the literature, and it’s not difficult to find yourself trapped down a rabbit hole of scholarship. Regular milestones set by your thesis advisor are a great way to stay on track and maintain forward momentum. 

Mentorship. While an effective thesis advisor will ensure that you see your project to fruition, a great one will be with you for decades. Though I graduated with my Ph.D. in 2012 and I’m now an associate professor myself, my thesis advisor remains a guiding light in my career. Your thesis advisor can be a cornerstone of your professional network. 

red haired student explaining stuff in a classroom with her professor looking at her

Choosing a Thesis Advisor

So, how do you select a faculty member to chair your dissertation committee? With extreme care. Once you have set your sights on a dissertation chair or thesis advisor, the next step is the Big Ask. I remember being very nervous to approach the faculty member who became my chair– it seemed like such an imposition, but, as a grad student in her department, I was already on her radar. Keep in mind, your faculty members are expecting to be asked to chair dissertation committees, and they may even be a little flattered that you chose them. 

While chairing and serving on dissertation committees is a requirement for the tenured and senior faculty members in your department, it’s a lot of work. Make no mistake: accepting the role of your dissertation chair makes them nervous, too. As a faculty member, I can say with absolute certainty that a good dissertation chair will be almost as invested in your dissertation as you are. 

What Makes a Strong Thesis Advisor?

There exists a gulf between what many students desire in a dissertation chair or thesis advisor and what they actually need. While there may be a temptation to approach one of your department’s superstar faculty members to chair your committee, this may not serve you in the long term. Faculty members who have made a name for themselves through an abundance of publications, grants, awards, and conference appearances typically have jam-packed schedules, and it may be difficult for them to make you and your dissertation a priority. 

Dissertation Committee Member Mentoring Student

A safer bet that is likely to have a more rewarding outcome is to work with a faculty member who has already shown enthusiasm for your work. Select a thesis advisor who makes time for you, and one who always responds to your emails. This is the person you want in your corner during the sometimes stressful journey of researching and writing a dissertation. Also, it never hurts to spend some time talking to potential dissertation chairs or dissertation advisors. Get all of your questions answered, and then make a decision. 

What If It Doesn’t Work Out?

The possibility that your thesis advisor is a bad fit for your project or is incompatible for some other reason is a worst-case scenario that lurks in the furthest reaches of every graduate student’s mind. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this is not a good situation to be in, and it can derail dissertations. The soundest strategy for dealing with an internecine conflict with your thesis advisor is prevention. 

This is why it is vital to do your homework and put a lot of thought into choosing your thesis advisor. Find someone you are compatible with and make sure you’re on the same page. Check in with them regularly, and keep them updated. Clear communication is a great way to ensure a solid partnership with your dissertation chair. Don’t forget, your dissertation chair should also be making your success a priority. You should be comfortable enough to ask questions and let them know what’s on your mind. 

The good news is that a bad fit isn’t likely to happen. Most grad students have a completely workable relationship with their dissertation chairs, and for many it turns into a long friendship built on mutual respect and admiration. Personally, every time I serve on a doctoral student’s dissertation committee, I feel a tremendous amount of pride and satisfaction when they take their place in the academic world. It’s truly an honor to help them achieve such a major milestone in their academic career, and I’m delighted to be part of it. 

Related posts:

close up of taking notes in front of laptop

Courtney Watson, Ph.D.

Courtney Watson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Radford University Carilion, in Roanoke, Virginia. Her areas of expertise include undergraduate and graduate curriculum development for writing courses in the health sciences and American literature with a focus on literary travel, tourism, and heritage economies. Her writing and academic scholarship has been widely published in places that include  Studies in American Culture ,  Dialogue , and  The Virginia Quarterly Review . Her research on the integration of humanities into STEM education will be published by Routledge in an upcoming collection. Dr. Watson has also been nominated by the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Award, and she is a past winner of the National Society of Arts & Letters Regional Short Story Prize, as well as institutional awards for scholarly research and excellence in teaching. Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Watson has served in faculty governance and administration as a frequent committee chair and program chair. As a higher education consultant, she has served as a subject matter expert, an evaluator, and a contributor to white papers exploring program development, enrollment research, and educational mergers and acquisitions.

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Student and Advisor Responsibilities


what does thesis advisor mean

A thesis is required for all programs leading to a Plan A master’s degree, and a dissertation is required for the doctor of philosophy degree. This manual was written by the Graduate School to help you and your committee members to prepare theses and dissertations. Its purpose is to define uniform format standards. The word “thesis” refers to both the thesis and the dissertation unless otherwise noted.

Advisor’s Responsibility

Your advisor serves as a mentor both while you are doing the thesis work and while the results of that work are prepared for the thesis. Although you have primary responsibility for the content, quality, and format of the thesis, the advisor and the Graduate Advisory Committee must be consulted frequently. They approve the final document before it is submitted to the Graduate School. Advisors are particularly asked to insure that the abstract summarizes clearly and concisely the major points of the thesis.

Student’s Responsibility

Your are responsible for making all arrangements for the preparation and submission of the thesis as well as any additional copies required by the department. you should also consider the following:

1. Consult a style manual approved by your department for correct format for quotations, footnotes, and bibliographical items. 2. Refer to the Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Formatting Guide for guidelines regarding correct format for thesis presentation (including illustrative materials). 3. Edit draft for correct sentence structure, grammar, paragraphing, punctuation, and spelling. 4. Prepare tables in the form in which they are to be printed. 5. Furnish numbering and legends for all tables and illustrative materials. 6. Proofread final copy and check to see that corrections are made accurately. 7. Present a copy to the Graduate Advisory Committee for their review. 8. Submit the final committee approved version electronically.

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Thesis Advising

The MFA Thesis work is among the most important work that a student will undertake during their time in the MFA in Creative Writing & Poetics. This work is directed and encouraged by a Thesis Advisor, a Second Reader, and a Salon Culture. In the second year of the program, all MFA students are encouraged to participate in the MFA Salons during late fall, throughout the winter, and early spring quarters, both as a writer and as a listener / commentator. Students may present their work up to two different times.

Students need to be active and deliberate in developing their work, beginning once their first year of core courses is completed. In order to complete a thesis that represents the best work of which you are capable, students are encouraged to be mindful in their interactions; to seek out, evaluate and incorporate useful critiques; and to attend to thesis timelines and institutional expectations.

Thesis Advisor

The thesis advisor serves as a student’s primary advisor during their second year of study and chairs the student’s thesis committee. In this role, the thesis advisor supervises 15 credits of independent thesis work (BCWRIT 700 Creative Writing) over three quarters of the second year.

Students will have an opportunity to prioritize their selection of thesis advisors and are encouraged to be aware of thesis advisors’ areas of expertise and also of thesis advisor working styles. At the outset of the relationship thesis advisor and student should clarify a basic timeline and set of expectations with respect to the initiation and completion of thesis work.

Overarching responsibilities on the part of the thesis advisor in the direction of the thesis should include:

  • A set of recommended source texts as well as questions that the student should consult
  • Advice on the focus on the thesis work, although the direction of the thesis remains with the student him or herself
  • Timely commentary on a student’s work according to a mutually agreed on timetable set out at the beginning by the advisor and student. While this timetable may change over time, students can expect timely feedback only when they themselves keep to and / or deliberately modify the timetable through conversation with their advisor.

Second Reader

Second readers serve on the student’s thesis committee, and in this role, will be one of the two signed approvals required of your thesis when it is complete and ready for final review. Second Readers may have a more or less active involvement in development and direction of any one student’s thesis, as determined by the needs and desires of the student and the Thesis Advisor. Their primary institutional responsibility is to make sure that your thesis meets minimal MFA requirements with respect to its standard of quality.

One of the many ways for you to interact with your thesis advisor is through the Salon Culture , where you might learn of useful directions for your thesis that you may wish to incorporate into your thesis. If in fact, you find that your Second Reader or other faculty in the Salon seem to be giving you rather different advice than your thesis advisor, you are responsible for addressing these discrepancies either through resolving them at a higher level in your own work or discussing them with your Thesis Advisor. Keep in mind that the Thesis Advisor is your main advisor, and Second Readers are there to be helpful to you, as their own often busy working schedules permit. In some instances, your Second Reader will only become active in your thesis at the conclusion of your project.

The Second Reader is responsible for providing timely feedback to the student and Thesis Advisor at the time of thesis completion (May 15). The Second Reader will minimally provide you with the message that you should proceed to complete your thesis with the Thesis Advisor or may in fact note minimal changes that need to be met in your thesis before completion of your degree. Often, Second Readers provide a paragraph or two providing holistic feedback on the work and / or a set of larger set of questions for future development of the student’s work.

Students enter into and assume responsibility for working agreements with both their thesis advisors and their second readers.

Minimally, students need to take responsibility for:

  • seeking out needed advising (see Graduate School’s Mentoring Memos )
  • committing to creative process and production
  • timely submission of work to thesis advisor and reader, as agreed, or as dictated by program deadlines

When deadlines agreed-upon with advisors and readers are not met, students may receive only minimal feedback. Failure to meet program and Graduate School deadlines for filing and submitting work (link to Graduate School page on ETD) will delay graduation.

Salon Culture

Salons are excellent opportunities for reading your work publicly and for informal commentary. Salons are not workshops—but rather a place where you can air your work and engage in conversations about the project you are undertaking. As part of your presentation, you should feel free to indicate what kind of feedback you are looking for, either at the beginning or at the conclusion of your reading. Salon Cultures will present you with a “real-life” opportunity to find out just how various commentaries and ideas regarding your work can be. It is your responsibility to evaluate this commentary. It is advised that in signing up for a Salon that you encourage both your Thesis Advisor and Second Reader to be in attendance. While this may not always be possible, if you are in doubt as to any critiques you may receive at a Salon always discuss these with your Thesis Advisor.

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PhD advisors – Insider information you need to know!

Choosing a PhD advisor that matches your preferred management style and will support you through your entire postgraduate qualification will make your PhD much nicer. It cannot be overstated – your PhD will be dictated by your PhD advisor. That is why you need to be incredibly careful when you choose who you work under.

PhD advisors should help you grow as an academic and help you overcome issues and hurdles with your PhD research. They will be responsible for ensuring that everything you do meets academic credibility expectations and increases your chances of a successful career.

Although this is the ideal definition of a great PhD advisor – the reality is really simple.

PhD advisors have huge pressures from the University to bring in money, graduate students, contribute to the administrative tasks of the department and university, and publish peer-reviewed papers in high-quality journals.

This article will help you make the best choice for your PhD advisor and, hopefully, answer some common questions that people have about PhD advisors and supervisors.

What does a PhD advisor do?

A PhD advisor is an experienced professor or researcher who provides guidance to students enrolled in a doctoral program.

There is no formal qualification for allowing a supervisor to take on students, however, quite often new professors co-supervise PhD students before they are allowed to supervise their own.

The advisor can also help students plan and complete their dissertation, take classes, and manage their time.

Importantly, they provide advice on:

  • research topics
  • research methodology
  • techniques, and methods that would be most beneficial for the student’s unique project
  • academic writing style
  • navigating the academic career path
  • submission to journals and peer-reviewed publications
  • preparation of conference materials
  • attending conferences
  • giving academic talks
  • and much more.

Additionally, advisors often help with writing assignments, editing drafts of manuscripts, and reviewing literature related to the research topic.

Depending on the relationship they have built with their students, they may also serve as a mentor or role model for the student throughout the duration of their PhD program.

My PhD supervisor relationships evolved dramatically over the time that I was a student and some got better and some got worse throughout the three year project. Nonetheless, each supervisor was able to help me in different ways and all of my relationships remained professional.

What do you call your PhD advisor/supervisor?

When referring to one’s PhD advisor, the most commonly accepted term is “supervisor”.

This title reflects the role of the advisor in providing guidance and support throughout the doctoral journey.

“Supervisor” can sometimes sound a little bit clinical given how closely you end up working with them.

Each supervisor/student relationship is unique and will require maintenance to ensure that it continues to provide value to both the supervisor and the student over the course of the entire project.

One of the most important things that they can do is provide invaluable feedback on drafts and papers before they are submitted for assessment. They shouldn’t allow you to submit your thesis unless it meets the fields criteria for quality and rigour.

A good relationship between PhD student and supervisor will lead to a successful outcome for both parties.

How do I choose a PhD advisor? Find a supportive supervisor

When choosing a PhD advisor, it is important to consider their research interests and expertise and match them with your research interests. You can find this information on the department’s website or their staff page.

Also, it is important to look at their publication record as you need a supervisor that is publishing regularly in academic journals to help accelerate your career in the early stages.

It is also essential to find an advisor who will be willing to mentor you and who will be open to collaboration and feedback. Have a meeting with them and ask every question you need to ask without fear.

You need to rely on some initial “gut instincts” on whether or not you would be able to work well with this person.

Sometimes popular supervisors do not have the time to dedicate enough mentoring energy to all of their students – just because they are popular does not mean they will be the best fit for you.

You can check out my YouTube video below for how to choose a PhD supervisor and all of the secrets they won’t tell you.

It is important to choose an advisor with whom you have a good rapport and can communicate effectively with.

It is also essential to evaluate their track record of success in helping students complete their PhDs and how they approach supervision.

It is not necessary that they have graduated many students – or any at all. However, evidence that they will be a good supervisor is often found in the number of students they have been able to graduate within a typical PhD lifetime (3-5 years).

Obtaining Information on Potential PhD supervisors

As a potential PhD student, it is important to obtain information on potential advisors before committing to one.

Faculties in the graduate program are often busy and have many graduate students seeking their supervision.

One of the best strategies is to search for recent publications from the faculty member and get to know them through meetings or conversations.

what does thesis advisor mean

Supervisors love talking about their latest papers and research and it may be easier to say that you want to meet up to talk about their recent paper than trying to talk about potential PhD positions in the group.

Meeting a PhD advisor in person helps the student understand the faculty’s research interests better and allows them to gauge if they will be able to work with them effectively.

Another way of obtaining information about a potential advisor is by talking to other graduate students who already have them as supervisors; these students can provide valuable feedback on working with that particular professor or committee member.

It is important to get to know your potential supervisor before you commit, so you can make sure that the choice of advisor best suits your dissertation project and future plans.

What do PhD advisors look for in students?

When looking for a PhD student, advisors look for candidates that are motivated and passionate about the topic they are researching. They are also looking for someone who can help boost their career by publishing as many papers as possible.

You can actually boost your chances of being accepted into a PhD research group by expressing your desire to publish as many papers as possible

They want someone who is willing to put in the hard work and dedication required to complete a complex research project.

They also look for:

  • students who have strong analytical skills and can think critically.
  • someone with excellent writing abilities
  • the ability to effectively communicate their research findings.
  • good work ethic,
  • enthusiasm for learning, and
  • willingness to collaborate with other researchers.
  • someone who is organized
  • good time management skills so they can stay on track while working on their project.

An advisor looks for a student who can contribute to their field of study and research group in a meaningful way to progress their own career in academia.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about PhD advisors.

I have shed the insider secrets for finding your PhD advisor and what they really look for in a student.

No matter what you decide, a PhD will be hard work but selecting a fantastic advisor will make it much easier for you.

Do your research and don’t take this decision lightly.

what does thesis advisor mean

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

We are here to help you navigate Academia as painlessly as possible. We are supported by our readers and by visiting you are helping us earn a small amount through ads and affiliate revenue - Thank you!

what does thesis advisor mean

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what does thesis advisor mean


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  11. Student and Advisor Responsibilities

    Its purpose is to define uniform format standards. The word “thesis” refers to both the thesis and the dissertation unless otherwise noted. Advisor's

  12. Thesis Advisor Definition

    ... Thesis Advisor. The student is allowed to consult the Thesis Advisory Committee and/or Thesis Advisor for advice on how to address weaknesses identified in

  13. Thesis Advising

    Thesis Advisor · A set of recommended source texts as well as questions that the student should consult · Advice on the focus on the thesis work, although the

  14. PhD advisors

    A PhD advisor is an experienced professor or researcher who provides guidance to students enrolled in a doctoral program. There is no formal