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I'm starting my Ph.D. this year. My first 2 years will only be coursework. So, I won't be able to do any serious independent research. My research will only be in the context of what's required for the specific courses, so nothing too serious.

I am aware that I should meet with my advisor regularly, but what should I talk about? Usually, graduate students will talk about their results, advancement of their thesis, etc. Should I be talking about my courses and such?

Thanks!

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Your first meeting(s) with your advisor should be...directed at answering this very question.

How should your meetings going forward be structured? What topics should you plan to discuss? What's your schedule for making progress toward degree requirements/prelim requirements? When can you start considering research directions? etc.

You might be used to interacting with professors as people who stand above you in some way, people who you only approach with deference and who are judging you at every step. A PhD advisor shouldn't be that person. They are training you to be their peer and colleague. It is expected that you will need some help along the way, and they should be there to help you, so you should feel free to have open conversations about what that advising relationship will look like between you. The earlier the better: often conflicts arise when there are mismatches of expectations. Set shared expectations to avoid conflict (including internal conflict: stress, anxiety, etc).

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This is a challenge that I know we face from our end as a graduate program: the supervisor will be extremely important for the student, but not until they actually start their dissertation process.

So yes, regular meetings are key. You should talk about:

  • your courses: progress making, anything interesting that you're working on as part of the coursework;
  • any TA/RA duties: your supervisor might be able to find funding for you (field and university dependent), but can often serve as a sounding board around issues like balancing teaching and coursework, etc.
  • comprehensive exams: if applicable, your supervisor will want to make sure you suceed in comprehensive exams.
  • yourself: this depends on the supervisor, but we often want to know who are students are. How are you doing? Especially during COVID, your supervisor will probably want to know how you're holding up. You can make a bit of small talk and get to know each other.

This is important for building that relationship, and also for your supervisor to get to know you. What's working well for you? What successes have you found in coursework? It may come time for scholarship rankings and opportunities, and you want a supervisor who can make the case for you if they happen to be at those tables or have other opportunities.

All supervisors are different: some will want regular meetings, some less so, but you'll need to discover the shape of what will hopefully be a long and productive relationship to come.

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  • Thanks for your answer! In my case, my advisor doesn't require weekly meetings, but has a calendar open for his students to take an appointment. Honestly, I'm concerned that if I take these appointments every week and only talk about my coursework (Can't be a TA/RA first year), he would judge this as a waste of his time. – juansalsa Aug 11 at 20:28

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