The future of higher education

When I think about the future of higher education, there are a few key areas I would like to see change, but one that stands out the most.  The topic I chose to look into for the Scholarly Essay assigned in this class was the advisor-advisee relationship between doctoral students and their advisors.  I consider myself to be very lucky because I have an excellent advisor and our relationship is positive, supportive, and collaborative.  Many doctoral students, however, aren’t as lucky, and find themselves in dissatisfactory and unsuccessful relationships with their advisors, which can directly impact their thesis progress, professional development, and career opportunities moving forward.  For this reason, and many other reasons, it is reported that 50% of all doctoral students drop out of their programs of study before completing their PhD.  This is a huge number with huge implications, and one contributor to this statistic can be attributed to advisor-advisee relationships.  This contributor should be preventable in my mind, but nevertheless it still persists.  How can we address and ameliorate the negative relationships that evolve between doctoral students and their advisors?

One factor that contributes to unsuccessful advisor-advisee relationships in doctoral training is a mismatch between advising/mentoring style and the students’ expectations.  This is a very complicated area, but as a current advisee who foresees becoming an advisor one day, it is important to me to try to unpack this.  I think one critical change we could introduce into this system is a way to train advisors in a more standardized way so as to prepare faculty who may have minimal experience and to avoid the model of trial-and-error.  Some scholars have suggested creating a training program that can pair “seasoned” advisors with less experienced advisors before they start advising students.  To me this sounds like a positive opportunity to watch and learn from an experienced faculty member who has likely already encountered many challenges that lie ahead for newer faculty.  I think there are obvious pros and cons to this approach, but I would be interested to see it implemented and from there, refined based on feedback and outcomes.  I think advising students can easily be seen as a lower priority, and beyond that as an inherent or natural ability.  However, I think this is a major misconception that can be addressed in positive and encouraging ways.  And if this misconception is redressed, maybe we will see improved advisor-advisee relationships, and less doctorate program attrition.