Thursday, September 29, 2011

Advising for Money?

I should not be surprised that there are folks (at least one, anyway) that are selling advising services.  That is, this person is saying she makes money advising PhD students since their own formal advisers don't advise much:
I am teaching your Ph.D. students to do things like plan a publishing trajectory, tailor their dissertations for grant agencies, strategize recommendation letters, evaluate a journal's status, judge the relative merits of postdoctoral options, interpret a rejection, follow up on an acceptance, and—above all—get jobs. And business is so good I'm booked ahead for months.
I guess I am surprised--that Phd students have the cash to hire people like this.  But am I surprised that profs can be lousy advisers?  Um, no.  I know of some profs that don't even do the basics, like read the damned chapters within a month or two (one colleague lets them sit on his desk for a year, sometimes).  Doing more than that, to help a phd student find a job by reviewing the CV, read stuff to be submitted to journals, networking to help them find jobs--this all takes heaps of time.  But it is definitely part of the job.

Yes, it is part of the job, especially since we profs can do our work because our grad students are doing the grading, the coding, the book-chasing, and all the rest.  I consider it part of the implicit pact we make--the student needs to do the work (his/hers and mine), take feedback seriously, and so on and I will need to do the work to make sure they get started in this difficult business.  Indeed, I have often used the Harry Potterism of unbreakable vow--that advising is a lifelong (or career-long) deal.  I still chat up my adviser and rely on him from time to time and expect to do the same for my disciples students.

Indeed, this is not just an obligation, but one of the proudest parts of my work the past ten years or so.  Nearly every student for whom I have served as their primary supervisor has gotten a tenure track job after or as they finished their dissertation.  I do whine about the workload (I will be reading three or four completed dissertations next spring; and the staff strike is making recommendation letter processing more painful this fall), but I am mighty proud when these folks do well.

But again, I am not surprised that not everyone works hard for their graduate students.  Institutions often provide little incentives to do this part of the job well, and people who prove to be unreliable in this endeavor rarely face any consequences except perhaps having less work to do.  Burden-sharing in academic departments is not unlike that within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--wildly uneven.  The good news is: in my business, no one gets killed.  The bad news: some folks get lost.  If there is someone out there that will take some money to help those who find themselves with sucky advisers, I cannot blame them.

And there are rewards.  Just yesterday, a guy upon whose committee I sit dropped by to give me a big bottle of beer.

No comments: