First-Year Advisor

During the summer before starting the PhD program, each student is assigned a faculty advisor. These assignments take into account mutual areas of scholarly interest; however, they are primarily seen as a “starting point”  for consultation on procedural matters and questions, facilitating contact with other faculty, and so forth.

Students should meet and get to know their advisors as soon as possible after they arrive at the University. Generally a few meetings with the advisor are held during each quarter of the first year (monthly is appropriate). Additional meetings are recommended if needed for purposes of reviewing academic progress, curriculum planning, and the like.  When the student and advisor are working together on a tutorial course or a collaboration on some project of mutual interest, the meetings should be weekly.

During the first year, students need to seek out faculty who share their scholarly interests. The student/advisor relationship is vital to the student's overall experience in the program. Advisors variously assist students to clarify and further define their substantive interest, identify appropriate courses and instructors, gain information about and linkages with community resources, and develop an awareness of the culture of the PhD Program and the academic community. Because the PhD Program has individualized components, the advice and counsel of the advisor is extremely important to students in helping them consider curriculum options, anticipate requirements, and plan effective use of their time.

The Graduate School requires annual evaluations of each doctoral student. To that end, annual end-of-the-year written summaries must be completed by the advisor and student together.

First-Year Spring Advising Meeting

In spring quarter of the first year, each student will meet with her/his primary advisor, one member of the PhD Steering Committee faculty, and one additional Social Welfare faculty member (invited by the student's Advisor) whose area of research is congruent with that of the student.  At this meeting the group will discuss the first year coursework and experiences overall, complete the First Year Advising Checklist, and undertake preliminary discussions for developing the ILP.  These meetings should be about one hour long, in person, and take place before the end of spring quarter. After the meeting the student or Advisor uploads the completed Advising Checklist to the student's Catalyst ShareSpace.

Annual Advising Meetings

After the First-Year Spring Advising Meeting, the student works with the advisor to develop the student's program of study document (Individualized Learning Plan), which must be submitted to the Program Director by the end of autumn quarter of the second year. (Instituted May 2005 by the PhD Steering Committee.)

In subsequent years, the student and current primary mentor meet to update the advising checklist with information from the year just completed (by downloading the prior year's file from the Share Space, adding pertinent information, and then re-uploading the file. These year-end advising sessions are intended to foster planning discussions that help the student's program development in addition to resolving concerns or problems that may have arisen during the year.

If for any reason the student or advisor should decide that another advisory arrangement is indicated during the first year, reassignments can be made. The person initiating the request contacts all parties affected and discusses with them the reasons for the change. The student or advisor then informs the PhD Program Director and Assistant Director via a memo or email. Once a student selects a Supervisory Committee chair (see section on “Selection of Supervisory Committee”), the Chair assumes academic advisory responsibilities.

If concerns arise during the first year, the PhD Program Director will contact the student or advisor or both to initiate discussion. If and when significant difficulties are observed, the Director will meet with the advisor and student to formulate a response plan.

Peer Advisor

Each year the incoming cohort (first-year students) are also matched up with peer advisors who are volunteer students in later years of the program. These peer-advisors are available for phone and email conversations during the summer before students enter the program and to help with transitions during the first year.

First-Year Instructors

The PhD Program Steering Committee convenes a meeting of first-year instructors at the end of the spring quarter or early in the following autumn quarter to discuss their collective impressions of first-year students, classroom experiences, and the coordination of the first-year courses. The goal is to help identify any special needs that may have been overlooked in individual courses. The focus is not as much on specific course content as on meta-skills—e.g., conceptualization and writing skills and analytic reasoning and critical thinking skills—and the continuing match of student interests with faculty resources.

The first-year instructors coordinate content of courses and are responsible for conducting the written  year-one Comprehensive Examinations.

Research and Dissertation Mentoring

There is overlap among the functions of advising, monitoring, and mentoring. However, because we see mentoring as crucial to a smooth, coherent training experience, to socialization, and to the development of independent researchers who are insightful and confident as well as skilled, we pay explicit attention to mentoring functions. Any researcher serving as a supervisor can have a mentoring relationship with students; these are often the same faculty members who comprise the Supervisory Committee. However, mentors may functionally include additional researchers in instances where project or committee teams are important to how the student’s research is structured. In all instances, however, it is essential that the primary identified mentor remain pivotal and actively engaged with the student, coordinating and supervising her or his research training experience.

Successful mentoring is not an automatic outcome of close work with experienced researchers. The research mentoring role overlaps other roles such as academic advisor, instructor, committee member, and collaborator. (See faculty mentoring website for resources.)

When a Supervisory Committee is established, typically early in the second year, the Chair of this committee becomes the student’s primary advisor/mentor or in some cases co-mentor. (See section on Supervisory Committee for details.)

Dissertation: While the Supervisory Committee chair usually serves as the primary mentor during the dissertation research and writing, all members of the supervisory committee approve the dissertation proposal, play some role in supervision of the dissertation research, and conduct the final dissertation defense examination.

Mentoring Resources

It's Not a Crapshoot: Constructing Mentoring Relationships by Carole Srole (

Graduate School Mentoring Resources for Students and Faculty

SSW PhD Mentoring Resources section