Failure to Thrive: Graduate Advising in Tough Times

Kecia Ali is an Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University and Co-Chair of the AAR’s Study of Islam Section. Her research focuses on Islamic law, gender, and biography. Her most recent book is Imam Shafi’i: Scholar and Saint (Oneworld Publication, 2011).

Like most everyone who came through graduate school, I had amazing professors who gave generously of their time and energy to shepherd me through difficult portions of my coursework, research, and writing. I also had professors who savaged my papers, didn’t respond to my increasingly panicky e-mails for weeks on end, and ignored my pleas for substantive guidance. They were sometimes the same people.

A decade later, I teach, advise, and mentor graduate students and confront some of these issues from the other side. I see the past differently now that I am not consumed with delusional worry that my advisors were ignoring me on purpose — sending me the message that I was doomed to flunk out of graduate school or languish forever in ABD purgatory. Now, myself required to balance teaching, faculty meetings, and “administrivia” of various sorts, I understand how a week or two could elapse without a reply to a proposed reading list or draft prospectus — my advisors were busy people doing their best by me while maintaining their own professional, not to mention personal, lives. Graduate students can be assured their professors are almost certainly not consciously snubbing them. But professors must remember that they loom much larger in their graduate students’ consciousness than vice-versa….Please click here to be redirected to the entire content of the article.

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