Doctoral Advisor-Advisee Pairing in STEM Fields: Selection Criteria and Impact of Faculty, Student and Departmental Factors

Simy Joy, Xiang Fen Liang, Diana Bilimoria, Susan Perry
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 10  •  2015  •  pp. 343-363
Unlike the doctoral programs in places where students are paired with advisors at the time of admission itself, most US programs require the students to choose their advisors, and the advisors to formally accept the students as advisees. Little research has been done to understand how students and faculty approach this mutual selection and pairing process. This paper examines this process in STEM departments (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), with specific focus on factors influencing the decisions. Based on focus groups and interviews of doctoral students and faculty from STEM departments in an American university, we identify criteria applied by students and faculty in making their choices. Students were found to assess faculty on available funding, area of research, personality, ability to graduate students fast, and career prospects for students, and faculty to assess students on their qualifications/credentials and perceived ability to contribute to research. We also found that this mutual assessment was not objective, but influenced by perceptions associated with faculty gender and career stage, and student nationality. In the end, whether students and faculty were actually paired with persons of their choice depended on departmental factors including prevalent pairing practices, restrictions on student numbers per faculty, and reward structure. We discuss implications of the findings for research and practice.
Doctoral education, advisor/advisee selection, gender, nationality, career stage
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