PhD Advising

Overview and definitions

Ph.D. students in the Department of Mathematics receive academic advice and guidance from faculty members, postdocs and fellow students. However, official advising is done primarily by the following individuals:

  • The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)
  • The Assistant to the DGS (DGSA)
  • The Faculty Mentor
  • One or more Thesis Advisors
  • Preliminary Examination and Thesis Defense committee members.

The DGS and DSGA are the liaisons between the graduate students, the department and the graduate school.  The Faculty Mentor provides advice and support during the student’s first one or two years, before a Thesis Advisor has been identified. A Thesis Advisor serves as the primary advisor, mentor and supervisor of the student’s dissertation research, and typically is the chair of the student’s Preliminary Examination Committees and Thesis Defense Committees. Other members of the Preliminary Examination and Thesis Defense committees are faculty who are familiar with the student’s research and academic progress.

A student may also receive mentoring and academic advice from an RA supervisor, who may or may not be the Thesis Advisor. Employment responsibilities of the RA to the RA supervisor, and vice-versa, are similar to those between a TA and a TA supervisor: An RA is expected to perform the duties as outlined in the terms of employment. Formally, students do not owe advisors any work outside the formal paid roles of RA or TA. However, students should recognize that, beyond work specific to the RA position, collaborative work with the Thesis Advisor towards the Ph.D. dissertation is being done by the advisor for the benefit of the student, and that lack of collaborative effort could result in termination of the advisor-advisee relationship.

Obtaining and changing advisors

  • The DGS appoints a Faculty Mentor to each student the summer before the start of their first year. The Faculty Mentor provides general advice about the program and acts as a liaison between the student, the department and DGS in the time before the student obtains a Thesis Advisor.
  • During the first and second years, students should engage (via course work, or reading projects) with a range of faculty members to identify one or more potential Thesis Advisors. Students should be aware that no faculty member is required to take on any particular graduate student, and that faculty members differ in their research interests and mentoring styles.
  • Students who wish to work with more than one Thesis Advisor should ensure that each potential Thesis Advisor is agreeable to being a co-Thesis Advisor, and that an agreement has been reached regarding research efforts on various projects.
  • Students who wish to change Thesis Advisors should first discuss any anticipated changes with the DGS, Associate Chair, or Chair, and also ensure that a faculty member is willing to take on the role of Thesis Advisor before ending their relationship with their current Advisor.  Additional information on changing advisors is available.  (This links to a department intranet page and requires a department account access.)


Student responsibilities

  1. Knowledge of the Mathematics Ph.D. Program Requirements.
  2. Knowledge of the Duke Graduate Student Handbook.
  3. Regular contact with the Faculty Mentor
  4. Selection of a Thesis Advisor, as described above.
  5. Regular contact with the Thesis Advisor according to a mutually agreed upon schedule (typically weekly or biweekly), including providing the Thesis Advisor with regular progress reports and notice of any emerging difficulties.
  6. Obtain written/electronic confirmation from the DGS of any agreement or arrangement that deviates from the ordinary departmental rules.
  7. Regular check-in with DGSA (usually once/twice a semester).

DGS responsibilities

  1. Assigns Faculty Mentors to incoming students.
  2. Communicates and clarifies degree requirements to the students.
  3. Acts as a liaison between the graduate students, the faculty and the Graduate School.

DGSA responsibilities

  1. Acts as a liaison between the graduate students, the Graduate School and Visa Services.
  2. Knowledge of program requirements, timeline and deadlines, and administrative procedures.
  3. Assists students with administrative requirements/documentation.

Faculty Mentor responsibilities

  1. Introduces the student to the academic culture of the department.
  2. Acts as a liaison between the student, the DGS and the department.
  3. Advise the student on course selection, the student's plan to complete the Qualifying Requirement, and summer plans.

Thesis Advisor responsibilities

  1. Knowledge of the Mathematics Ph.D. Program Requirements.
  2. Knowledge of basic graduate school policies regarding academic milestones.
  3. Provides regular and predictable communication and contact with the student, typically including weekly or biweekly meetings.
  4. Provides prompt feedback on draft research articles and presentations.
  5. Writes letters of recommendation for post-graduation positions.
  6. Acts as a liaison between the student, the DGS and the department.

Departmental Guidelines for Effective Advising

 Additional information on departmental procedures and norms around PhD advising.  (This links to a department intranet page and requires a department account to access.)  Topics include:

  • characteristics of effective advisors and advisees
  • changing primary advisors
  • what to do when an advisor or advisee is not meeting responsibilities or the advising relationship is not functioning effectively
  • policies and procedures in cases of harassment or related misconduct.