5 Signs of a Bad Academic Advisor

Ginger Abbot

Jan 30, 2023

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It’s thrilling entering college and finding a mentor to guide you through some of the most challenging yet passionate times of your life. Choosing a major — or a few — is a soul-searching process to find what subjects you care about that you’re willing to spend years working toward being a specialist. Academic advisors are there to help bear the burden of that journey, but what happens when you’re not sure if they’re fostering your intellectual development? Here are some telltale signs of a bad academic advisor and how to recover from that relationship for academic success.

1. They Don’t Ask About Your Progress

One of the responsibilities of an academic advisor is they are there to check in with you throughout your degree. They may even be facilitating you through your doctoral thesis research. Regardless of their primary function, they must ask about your progress. 

They are responsible for knowing your workload and the variety of classes you take. Not only are they supposed to see if you’re on track to graduate with the correct credits, but they should also understand your progress in individual assignments, large projects and general acclimation to your study. They should want to dig deep into your relationship to your field — if they’re only asking surface-level questions, that’s a red flag.

Advisors should be the go-to person when a topic doesn’t make sense, or you’re worried about balancing prerequisites with required seminars. They aren’t asking you enough about your headway if they don’t know these details.

2. They Focus Too Much on Personal Lives

The most delicate relationship you’ll have in academia is with your academic advisor. They are simultaneously someone you must be authentic and comfortable with, but they are in a higher position. Though becoming friends or close acquaintances with your academic advisor is acceptable, if conversations only focus on personal lives, then the advisor relationship dissolves.

Listen for these signs during conversations with your advisor to recognize if the priority of discussion has shifted:

  • They ask you more — or only — questions about your personal life outside of school
  • They don’t ask any questions and only discuss their personal life, such as the research they’re currently pursuing
  • They cancel or reschedule meetings constantly due to personal reasons

These are signs they do not prioritize you or the work you’re striving to perfect. It’s essential for advisors to know the intimate details of your academic journey, especially if you’re second-guessing your choice in major because of potentially outside-of-school influences, like a breakup or the death of a loved one. 

However, don’t let personal life or outside goals interfere with your advisor meetings — just as every sentence in an essay should support a thesis, every conversation with your advisor must support your education.

3. They Don’t Balance Types of Criticism

Suppose you present your advisor with a midterm paper or project, and all they provide are negative comments about how they would improve it — this will not serve you. Look for balanced, constructive criticism that notifies you of what you’re doing well and makes helpful suggestions for improvement.

It’s important to remember the student and advisor are distinct people from different educational backgrounds. An advisor should know the best way for a student receives criticism. They should ask this instead of assuming how they received criticism in school is the correct method, or how they would prefer to accept criticism as the best kind of feedback.

4. They Don’t Stretch You Creatively

Though college is about pursuing a specific study area, advisors should encourage you to experiment. There is plenty of time to take electives or attend lectures and seminars to expand your mind. If they demonstrate elitism toward specific departments or subjects, it may be time to find an advisor who is more open-minded. This is especially true if you’re getting multiple degrees in polarizing departments, like art and science.

The advisor should also help you if you’re unsure what your passions are in the first place. It is the focal point of how to make it through college with as few issues as possible. This means brainstorming creative solutions to mental barriers and how to overcome obstacles in your academic journey.

5. They Blame You for Lack of Advancement

If they blame you for your lack of progress in any facet of your academic career, they are not in a position to mentor students. It may regard a specific assignment or a decision to change your major concentration. Whatever it is, they should not focus on if it will set you back, rendering all progress to this point useless. This is not the type of discourse that advisors should have. 

They should encourage thoughtful consideration of major academic decisions, weighing pros and cons equally to help you uncover reasons for your decision-making, so you aren’t being rash.

They also should assist you in finding resources for whatever you need — this includes helping you find fellowships for research or highlighting university resources if you’re going through a rough time affecting your studies. Both students and advisors have responsibilities to contribute. Advisors should be equally balanced as a listener and contributor to conversations instead of putting all the burden on you to figure everything out.

How to Deal With a Bad Academic Advisor

If any of these traits sound like your academic advisor, it’s time to switch. As a student, you have the right to talk to your dean and advisor about finding other mentors that are more productive for your academic development. 

Speaking up will not affect your grades or ability to move forward in a career — in fact, not speaking up will only cause stress and may hinder your studies. Remain confident and find someone who cares to nourish your knowledge because that instructive relationship is invaluable as a professional.

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