I am deep into my proposal and my advisor is not communicating with me in a timely manner for changes. What can I do?

--Lacking Communication

Dear Lacking,

I understand not knowing what to do in these cases because you may not know if your advisor is one who fails to get back with students on a regular basis or if he or she rarely misses an email in a given day.This issue can be solved by taking a step back and approaching it with a new perspective. Put yourself in your advisor’s shoes and figure out the factors that may be delaying his or her responses.

For instance, if your advisor is absent from work for 2 weeks, there may have been an emergency at home that needed to be dealt with immediately. Another thing you’ll need to realize is that advisors have other projects and students to manage. You are not their only student, so understand that their time for you is limited. I’m not saying that your advisor has no time for you, but try to be more lenient towards his or her schedule.

I can see your issue with the clash between scheduling and financial aid. The first thing that you’ll want to do is research your graduate program to find out the credit hour requirements that you need to meet to be a full time student. You’ll also want to double check the requirements of your financial aid office to question if part time students are able to receive any financial aid.

Review your graduate student handbook to find out the amount of time that your graduate advisor is allowed before having to give you their comments. After examining the situation and deciding if your advisor has had a reasonable amount of time to respond to you even in a hectic schedule, you might try emailing him or her a friendly reminder. The wording in your email should follow this tone:

Hello [Mr., Mrs., Dr. ________],

I hope all is well. I understand that you have a lot of projects and other work that you are addressing as it comes. In regards to my [dissertation, thesis, etc.], I just wanted to touch base with you and ask how the reviews are coming along. I appreciate all of your help in this process and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thank you, and have a great day,


Just in case your project has gone to the bottom of your advisor’s list, this short email will jog his or her memory, but it isn’t invasive or annoying. Remember this tone in your future emails and other communications with your committee members, and always remember that they’re there to help you with your project. They wouldn’t have agreed to be on your committee if they were not genuinely interested in it.

Be cautious of running to authorities before doing your homework. Review your graduate student handbook before taking measures such as visiting with your dean, complaining to other faculty members, etc. There are appropriate situations to involve your dean, and typically it means exhausting your other professional solutions first.

Good luck in approaching your advisor, and remember that patience is a virtue.

They provide great tips about how to conduct a meeting and how to stay on track the whole time. Make sure you take time to prepare far in advance and think about each meeting from your advisor’s point of view. Good luck with your future meetings!

--René Paulson, PhD

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