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IV. Selection of Thesis/Dissertation Advisor

The choice of the major professor, who will mentor a student and help guide his or her research, is one of the most important decisions that a graduate student will make. The process behind this choice, as well as its timing, depends on many factors and varies among the departments that participate in the EEBB Program. Many students begin graduate school already knowing who they intend to work with, whereas in some departments students are admitted at large and then undertake a series of rotations in their first year to experience different research projects and potential advisors. Owing to these differences, prospective and current graduate students in EEBB are urged to consult the handbook for their home department, and to discuss this issue with the graduate director for their home department.

For any EEBB graduate students who have not yet chosen a major professor, their home departments are responsible for providing appropriate advising, supervision, and mentoring. A student’s home department is also responsible for approving the choice of major professor. Guidelines for Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Relationships can be found on the Graduate School website at http://grad.msu.edu/all/ris04relations.pdf. Each department may also establish additional guidelines and expectations for successful advising and mentoring that are specifically relevant to the disciplines represented in the department. EEBB students are encouraged to consult all these materials and discuss them with their major professor.

Regardless of the student’s home department, there are some general issues to consider in choosing a major professor. These include identifying a faculty member with similar research interests to the student. Also, the student should consider the facilities that the professor has to support the research, including equipment, laboratory space, and the like. Another important factor for some students is whether the major professor can provide financial support in the form of research assistantships, or whether the student is expected to serve as a teaching assistant, or even provide his or her own financial support during the graduate program. Even when the professor offers a research assistantship, students should be aware that research funding to the professor has a limited time frame, and so the duration of any assistantship should be discussed, as well as the expectations of the professor for the student and his or her research activities. Finally, a graduate student should consider his or her personal compatibility with the potential major professor. An understanding between the student and the major professor about their individual and mutual expectations will help to promote the development of the student’s academic and scientific potential.

Most graduate students have the same major professor throughout their degree program, but students should also understand that it is sometimes possible to change to another major professor. Such a shift might be desirable, for example, if the student determines that his or her research interests are much more closely aligned with another faculty member than with those of the current major professor. A change may sometimes also be appropriate if a student and faculty member find that their styles of discussion and mentoring are not mutually compatible. Any such change must involve discussions with the graduate director in the student’s home department, and a change should be pursued as early as possible in the graduate student’s training program.

A professional relationship is expected between the graduate student and his or her major professor, as well as other members of the student’s guidance committee. If irresolvable disagreements arise between the student, professor, and/or guidance committee, the initial task of conflict resolution rests with the home department of the student and major professor. If the parties involved are from different departments, then the grievance procedures of the College of Natural Sciences will be followed since it serves as the lead college for the EEBB Program. In some cases, the student and faculty member may be advised to seek further assistance from the Office of the Ombudsman, the MSU Counseling Center, or the Dean of the Graduate School.

MSU policies on Graduate Students Rights and Responsibilities, including procedures for adjudication of cases involving these rights and responsibilities, are available at www.vps.msu.edu/SpLife/default.pdf. The Office of the Ombudsman has a web site at www.msu.edu/unit/ombud/.