The Graduate Advisor Handbook: Take Its Advice

Shore, Bruce M. 2014. The Graduate Advisor Handbook : A Student-centered Approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

I’m a big fan of the University of Chicago Press’s series on academic life (disclosure: this may be because I went there for graduate school). Their series on writing, editing, and publishing  features several of my favorite titles, and their younger series on ‘the academic life’ has also gotten off to a good start. So I was optimistic about Bruce Shore’s The Graduate Advisor Handbook: A Student-Centered Approach. Having read it (disclosure: I received a free review copy), I don’t feel like it’s the Final Statement In Human History About Advising Graduate Students. But I do strongly recommend that you read it, especially if you are new faculty or a new graduate student trying to get a grasp of what good advising looks like.

Shore’s book is short (less than 150 pages of body text), and clearly and informally written, so it’s quite easy to get through. It’s broken up into six chapters covering topics across the lifespan of a graduate student, beginning with their first year and ending with letters of reference and other post-graduation support. Shore has spent time advising students and being the kind of administrator who deals with advising nightmares, and he comes across as a credible and authoritative narrator — I’d definitely want to be his advisee.

Shore has a Ph.D. in educational psychology, but never gives in to the schematic and scientistic excesses that crop up occasionally in the sort of education books published by Jossey-Bass. He freely draws on (anonymized) stories of advising successes and failures, so the book has a nice ethnographic feel and evidentiary base that anthropologists will appreciate.

Most of what Shore has to say is common sense and requires a simple sense of decency and integrity. And yet sometimes decency and integrity seems in short supply in the world today. This, combined with the fact that behavioral standards are rarely explicitly taught, means that it is worthwhile for Shore to remind us what even-handed, professional behavior looks like. You know Tolstoy’s line in War and Peace about all happy families being alike and all unhappy families being unhappy in their own way? Shore is trying to grow the size of the happy family of people who have their heads screwed on straight.

At times, I find Shore’s emphasis on appropriate behavior a little overdone. For instance, he suggests making sure that you not have a hotel room on the same floor as your graduate students at a conference, lest it appear you are sleeping with them. This seems to me to be overdoing it a little (elevators, anyone?). But having been The Dean For Sorting Things Out I’m sure he’s seen far more than I have, and has been knee deep in the sort of dysfunction that professors only glimpse, and graduate students only hear about. So take it for what you will — even if in the end you decide Shore’s advice can be too straight-laced, its still valuable to use it as a measure of your own conduct.

I said earlier that graduate students should read this book, and I meant it. Its important to understand what good advising is, whether you’re getting it, and how to change things if you aren’t. If you aspire to an academic career, its never too early to develop your professional skills. Once you’re on the job market, start reading books about how to be a good department chair. Think of them as ethnographies.

Finally, its worth noting that Chicago has priced this book right. Well, its not open access, so the price is technically wrong. But fifteen bucks for paper and under ten dollars for digital the price is easy to like, even given how short the book is.

The world is drowning in mediocre books on educational psychology and short volumes on mentoring that were written by and for the obviously clueless. Shore’s book is a refreshing change. I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to get on the right track when it comes to advising or being advised.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org