I have been working on my dissertation very diligently, and I have turned in several drafts to my advisor. She has had multiple drafts for many weeks now, and I have yet to see any comments and she is not responding to my emails. What do I do?
Dear Silent Service,
Before you start to stress out about not receiving a draft, remember that advisors have a lot going on, including managing a lab (sometimes with multiple graduate students), teaching multiple classes (sometimes with hundreds of students), and performing administrative duties (which can often be more time-consuming than any other task).
Most of the time, advisors should be given two weeks to read a draft. This should give them enough time to offer thoughtful feedback.
If they are taking considerably longer, and you have tried e-mailing them, do not be afraid to (politely) ask them in person if they have had a chance to read your draft. When an advisor reads an e-mail, they have the option of thinking that they will respond later. When in person, they do not have this option, and many times they will work to schedule a meeting with you at that moment. Once an advisor has a meeting scheduled, this gives them a concrete deadline to meet, and will put your draft on their radar.
Remember, the best way for an advisor to spend time on your drafts is to show that you are spending just as much time (if not more) helping them run their lab. When you spend time on them, they will act reciprocally. In fact, I have even heard advisors explicitly state that they do not want to read students’ papers when the students are gone (on vacation) or are not contributing to the lab.
The other key ingredient to ensuring that your advisor will read your drafts is to make sure that you are making their lives as easy as possible. This means sending both an electronic copy and giving a hard copy in person if your advisor prefers editing a paper version. It also means turning in a quality draft (e.g., no grammatical errors, well-organized, well-written). When your advisor realizes that your drafts are one of the easier things on their to-do list, they will be much more inclined to mark it off! In order to ensure that this is the case, I would also recommend submitting drafts that are in a complete form. If you are sending updated drafts to your advisor too often, they may become overwhelmed with the multiple versions, and may choose to wait until they receive a more complete version of the draft. Submitting a version that is as complete and polished as possible will also ensure that the draft is high quality and will increase the chances that the draft will be well-received by your advisor.
We’ve had a few questions regarding communication with advisors, so remember that it is common not to hear back from an advisor immediately. However, if it has been an extended amount of time, do not be afraid to speak with them kindly, as I mentioned above. Hang in there, and good luck with your dissertation!
--René Paulson, PhD