You Know You Have a Bad Advisor When

Last Updated on July 21, 2020 by Ayla Myrick

Your advisor has been returning every effort you submit with dozens of critical remarks and requested changes, but never once offers a word of support or encouragement.

Your advisor makes such extensive changes to the way you express yourself that it no longer sounds like something you wrote. Instead, it sounds like something he or she wrote.

Your advisor finds one small typo or style error in your submission and pretends that all the rest of your work must be littered with the same mistake.

Your advisor never reads your submission. Instead, he or she uses an automated punctuation, spelling, and grammar checker that produces results in the right margin that look similar to Track Changes – and then pretends to have read your submission and rejected it because of all the errors, none of which he or she found.

Your advisor makes many changes over several months, and then goes back and changes the changes, in effect starting over with the critique every time you submit.

Your advisor or a member demands changes in the first three chapters after the results and discussion chapters are written that alter details of the methodology approved by the Institutional Review Board.

Your advisor says he or she needs weeks or takes months to read your submission when it could be read through by a seventh grader in less than an hour.

Your advisor takes the side of a committee member when the committee member demands a change. Your advisor is supposed be your co-defendant, not an adversary.

Your advisor approves everything you do and waits for the committee members to find something wrong, then takes their side.

Your advisor asks you to exaggerate the importance of your findings. This advisor is looking for a personal benefit from your study and will list your thesis or dissertation on their resume before the ink dries on your diploma.

Your advisor publishes an article using your findings before the abstract of your research is filed with Dissertation Abstracts International.

Your advisor engages in sexual innuendo or demands for sex in return for an easy pass.


The classic model. To understand when advisement goes wrong, one needs to understand the model, which is based on participating in a ritual of admission to a community of scholars that originated in the Middle Ages. Traditional universities term the mentor a “Chair,” online universities term the mentor an “Advisor.”

The student and his or her mentor enter a relationship wherein the mentor introduces the student to the culture of the community of scholars while preparing him or her to present a body of work to the community as evidence of superior scholarship and knowledge. The mentor and the student are co-defendants of the dissertation research project. The motivation of the mentor, once a student has been admitted to the university, is twofold.

First, the mentor finds pride in introducing a worthy candidate to the community. Second, the mentor reaps personal benefits from the successful completion of a student’s work. This, in traditional universities, translates into benefits such as promotion in rank, assignments to important committees, recognition at professional meetings, status in a department, peer approval, nicer offices or laboratories, grants for research, and other tangible and intangible benefits.

It is common for the student to drop by the office of the mentor at random times during the week to chat, to argue a point, to make decisions about the research under way, or just to visit. It is common for the mentor to take the student home to meet the family, take the student to professional meetings and introduce him or her to colleagues, or ask the student to conduct a class. It is common for a close bond to develop between the mentor and the student that may last many years.

The online university model. Online universities fail to provide mentor/student relationships resembling this model, regardless of their claims. Because the mentors are isolated from a community of scholars, the students are also isolated. They are not exposed to the culture of the community of scholars in any sense of the word.

In addition, online universities market their faculty as having practical experience in the world of work to convince students that they will be well prepared to take a job upon graduation. The mentors may have obtained a doctor’s degree from an online university, may have little or no concept of the model, and in any case have no way to follow the model because their only contact with the student is through electronic media.

As a result, a high number of bad advisors are associated with online universities, and the completion rate of those pursuing a doctor’s degree is approximately twenty percent. Online universities tout a high completion rate, but when the details of the statistics are examined, they are referring to the completion rate of the classwork, not the completion of the dissertation and subsequent graduation.

Wrong motivation. The classic model is subverted, whether at a traditional university or online, when the motivation of the mentor in dealing with the student is focused on feelings of empowerment, fear of appearing inadequate among peers, or a quest for personal benefits from the relationship.

Wrong behaviors. The mentor’s name is on the first few pages of a dissertation. Obviously, they want the dissertation to represent them as well. Peer approval of their value to the department and the university is evidenced by the quality of the dissertation under their names. Dissertations are listed on the resumes of advisors as part of their achievements.

Ayla Myrick