There are online a good amount of tests aimed to assess "compatibility" between two persons in a given life or work commitment situation; for instance, between coworkers, roommates, lovers, dungeons'n'dragons players.

Basically, the idea is asking questions to which there is no true correct answer, but different possible viewpoints based on personality, opinions and general attitude. Two people can check easily if they are on the same page on a number of controversial points, and early discussion helps identifying possible reasons for disagreement.

It would be interesting to come up with similar questions for the phd student/advisor relationship. For example,

A good advisor should:

a. provide detailed guidance and tell their student what to investigate in great detail, even on a day-by-day basis.

b. leave their student free to choose their work agenda, but arrange regular meetings to check on their status and make sure they don't go astray.

c. give their student a problem and tell them to come back when they have an interesting result, even if it is months later.

I would like to gather several specific questions of this kind as answers to a community wiki question.

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    Interesting question, but all your examples are situations of approximate parity or equity between people, which quite often is not the case with student-advisor relationships. Especially if the two are of two different generations, even the connotations of words (e.g., in poll questions) could be significantly different... Not that this scuttles the poll, but it complicates it, I think. Jul 10, 2015 at 17:56
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    Continuing @paul's line of thought: the premise here is that both parties know in advance what they are looking for out of the relationship and have ideas about how it should be run. Even from the advisor's perspective I can say (unfortunately) that this is not always the case. Most students really don't have a clue, and most expectations they may have are accidental or random. Jul 10, 2015 at 18:04
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    Maybe an accurate comparison of extreme asymmetry would be to a prospective employee who's never had any job at all (and has no friends who have, either), or someone who's never had a boyfriend/girlfriend/room-mate, or someone who's never X, but/and is asked to commit in advance to attitudes about it... versus person who's been doing the thing for 10-20+ years. The experienced person may still be a jerk, or incompetent, or have not been paying attention, but... The best thing that happened to me in grad school was that most of my assumptions about how it would work flew out the window... Jul 10, 2015 at 18:59
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    My university actually has an expections test like this prepared by the graduate research school (who administer overall all research post-grads). Its not compulsory, and indeed i've felt too aqward to give it to mine, since I had already been working with him for over a year. Jul 11, 2015 at 7:57
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    Page 13 of this document: postgraduate.uwa.edu.au/students/resources/workshops/?a=518068 Credit to Michael Azariadis (or possibly Krystyna Haq (or others, internal pedigree is unclear)) of the University of Western Australia. Who apparently adapted it quote; "from work of from a version developed by Margaret Kiley and Kate Cadman, from an original scale developed by Ingrid Moses, Centre for Learning and Teaching, University of Sydney ." Looks like it is 3rd generation. Its most-likely worth tracking down that original source. before putting it in an answer. (Feel free to do so) Jul 11, 2015 at 8:07

1 Answer 1


Let me continue along the lines of @paul and @pete in a shortened quest for an answer.

I have been a teacher, although at this time I simply "work for" University of Richmond in a staff position. Lately I have been musing over a similar question involving the interaction between MDs and their patients. As patients we can forget that there is a sense in which we are hiring the doctors, and that the doctors are doing work /for/ us. While it is an asymmetric relationship, it is possible to bring it into balance.

The interview is likely to be short from the {doctor|advisor} side: A cardiologist is unlikely to be of much use for my orthopaedic problems, and an advisor is likely to be able to cut short the interview rather quickly if the subject matter is ill suited. So, let's suppose the question is really "How do I as a {patient|student} select a {doctor|advisor}?" It is a search for compatibility, yes?

  1. "How did you get into this line of work?" I always ask this. I want my doctor to have gone into medicine for the same reasons I got into computer science.

  2. "What has kept you in this line of work?" I really want the answer to match my own reasons for having worked with computers and software every day for the past four decades: I cannot imagine doing anything else.

  3. I know what success/victory conditions are for myself. So I ask "In my case, what does success look like for you?"

You are likely to spot failure/incompatibility in five minutes; which allows you to move on to the next candidate. If you can talk at ease for 15 minutes, you likely have found someone with whom you are compatible. Remember: the match need not be perfect to be successful.

So in your case, you are looking for answers involving a continued desire to have substantive interactions with students (rather than just "problems"), and someone who likes to frame and revise the problem, but allow the student to work alone as evidence of success.

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