Thursday, August 10
I know someone slightly who, after being turned down for tenure at the first job she had after grad school, found some comments her dissertation advisor had given her on a chapter during grad school. She was a shy person who had fallen out of touch with her advisor almost immediately after finishing, and upon finding these comments really regretted it. She liked him, and she knew he could have been helpful to her in the tenure process. (Interestingly, I also know him - and he would have been helpful to her, as he thinks highly of her work and mentions it with some regularity.)

Someone else I know started off keeping in touch with her advisors, but then got embarrassed that she hadn't accomplished more since finishing, and stopped contacting them. Now, she has taken a job and not told them about it, and doesn't know how to tell them without awkwardness.

Then I know someone who worries that if she contacts her advisors, it will seem like she's needy, or wants too much help from them.

For me, having trouble keeping in touch with my advisors is nothing new - I spent so much of grad school hiding from them, only emerging when I had something completed to show. But I don't want to find myself in several years really regretting that I gave up on those relationships.

I'm not yet in a position to know what I, as someone's former advisor, would want them to do as far as continuing our relationship. What have your experiences been from either side of this relationship?


Turquoise Stuff said...

I would love for my advisees to stay in touch with me. I like it when undergraduate students stay in touch as well. That is, among them, only those I worked with would, otherwise it wouldn't be that interesting, I guess.

If someone were to fall out of touch, but then get in touch again, I think I'd be happy to hear from them unless I really didn't like them for some reason, but it doesn't sound like that was an issue in any of these cases. And even in that case it wouldn't be a big deal negatively, I just wouldn't be that excited.

And yes, professionally it can be helpful unless the person relies on the advisor too much (e.g. continues to publish with them and nothing else). How helpful it would be toward tenure really depends on a bunch of specifics. Many places won't ask former advisors for a letter, but then again, some will. And of course there are other ways to be helpful.

I'd stay in touch. Of course, that still leaves the question of how and with what regularity. It could be done in some simple manner, like sending them an email about a relevant piece you have come across that you think they may find of interest. Or sending them a note about a recent publication or some other professional accomplishment (or even personal one if that was the sort of thing you ever discussed).

Clear said...

My advisor is someone who loves giving advice about as much as anything in this world--and also seems to thrive on consultation in the face of others' adversity--making it easy to keep in touch.

Poppy Red said...

Since I'm still ABD, I don't know for sure what my relationship with my current advisor will be when I'm done. However, I will say that I stay in touch with two of my professors from my M.A. (which, granted, was at a less high-stakes kind of school), and that relationship has yielded not only wonderful friendships, but also on the professional end, a lot of important insider advice, a possible conference collaboration (still in the works) and two very much needed adjunct jobs for me.

Even when I applied for my MA and was nervous (having been out of undergrad for quite a few years before returning) about contacting my undergrad profs for recs, I was surprised at the warmth of their responses and their willingness to write good recommendations for someone who hadn't even contacted them in a long time.

I am a shy person as well, and I never do the other shmoozy things we're supposed to do (i.e. introduce myself to people at conferences, colloquia, etc), but I do think staying in touch with advisors is a good idea. I know it's hard because it's a reminder of what we haven't done, but I feel like they aren't usually judging us when they get an email or postcard (ok, some probably are, but hopefully they are in the minority). The best thing, it seems to me, is to keep in touch occasionally, so that you're not just contacting them when you need something, but even if you only contact them when you need something, I think that's ok. After all, we're supposed to be becoming professors because we want to teach, guide, and mentor others, so why should we think our advisors don't want to teach, guide, or mentor us? Plus it's in the best interests of a university to have former students who have good jobs, tenure, books, etc.

I agree with turquoise stuff -- just send an email, or a clipping you thought was interesting, anything. It doesn't have to be big, and one doesn't have to be honest about wallowing in depression and guilt over not having a job/publication/whatever.

Mahogany said...

Stay in touch! Write with every little piece of good news you can find, and try not to ask for anything. Just share your joy. That'll provide both content and inspiration for the letter you need later. I know that, being so busy and enshrouded in self-doubt, it's hard to find the time or confidence for horn-tooting chit chat with old friends, but, do it anyway! It will make you feel better!

kodachrome said...

Ditto. Staying in touch is important, and if you do it, it's easy and pleasant for everyone involved. If, as Mahogany said, people write with notes that don't constitute work, then my heart won't fill with dread to see their name appear in my mailbox. That's such a good thing!

and I suppose I should admit that not staying in contact with my advisors was almost my undoing at several stages in my career. I'm better at the chatting thing now that I'm older. Don't know why. Maybe it comes from being on the other side.

Salmon Ella said...

One of my former advisors once threw my thesis at me, literally, and eight years later we're still in touch with each other. I'm big on maintaining relationships with people because you never know when you might need them (and also, I just like to keep in touch, so it's not as if I'm being totally selfish). To me, it's easier to ask someone like a former advisor for a favor when we've been in touch regularly over the years.

With the aforementioned advisor, I keep in touch by sending her a Christmas card every year. I also have a professor I did research for as an undergraduate a decade ago with whom I still make an effort to keep in touch. I'm in a totally different field now, but I keep in touch just because. Usually this is in the form of a short e-mail anytime I hear him on NPR or read him quoted somewhere.

twilight blue said...

My experience has been that advisors are pretty clear in their signals re: staying in touch (and, in some cases, about how often, regarding what sorts of things, etc.). If the signal isn't there, then ask! Many mentors have been doing this for some time and are able to articulate their preferences.

I stay in close touch with two of my former mentors and in occasional touch with two others. They all are amazing people and I feel lucky to continue my relationships with them.

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