Best Practices

Standards for Faculty/Graduate Student Relationships


The purpose of this document is to specify our field standards of behavior for faculty and graduate student relationships. We recognize such relationships are only one facet of field climate, but in many ways they are fundamental to a healthy graduate program. We focus on four main types of faculty-graduate student relationships: 1) the relationship between advisors and their advisees; 2) the relationship between seminar instructors and course participants; 3) the relationship between course directors and teaching assistants; and 4) the relationship between faculty and graduate student researchers. For each type of relationship, we describe overarching goals of the relationship, norms of behavior for participants in the relationships, and situations that may signal a problem.

This document is intended to serve several functions. First, it is designed to clarify, reinforce, and promote healthy values and norms among current faculty and graduate students in the Graduate Field of Communication. Second, the document should be used to communicate our values and norms to new and visiting faculty, scholars and graduate students. Finally, this document is designed to serve as a vehicle for promoting continuing dialogue about faculty/graduate student relationships.

Value Statement

The Graduate Field of Communication seeks to promote the welfare and intellectual pursuits of faculty and graduate students. Toward this goal, we acknowledge that faculty and graduate students are both responsible for contributing to a supportive climate. We believe that faculty-student relationships should be characterized by the following:

  • an appreciation of diverse values, goals, and perspectives
  • consideration of one another’s welfare and interests
  • negotiated expectations and decision-making
  • honoring and upholding the boundaries of privacy
  • mutual respect and trust

Meet to Discuss

Each faculty member should meet with his or her advisees and carefully go over the expectations put forth in this document. For new graduate students, this meeting should occur within a few weeks of arrival and, if the student switches advisors, within one month of the switch a meeting should occur to go over this document with the new advisor. It is recommended that this document be included in graduate course syllabi, discussed with teaching assistants, and included in the training of research assistants.

Courses of Action

Should any student or faculty member feel that the expectations set out in this document have been violated, the first course of action should be to discuss the problem openly. When this is not possible, the Director of Graduate Studies or the Chair of the Special Committee should be contacted. If issues cannot be resolved there, or if either party does not feel comfortable discussing the problem with these individuals, the Chair of the Department should be informed. Of course, for certain problems, formal grievance procedures should be followed. These procedures can be found on the Graduate School website.

The Relationship between Advisors/Mentors and their Advisees

The heart of our graduate education and training and research work is a healthy relationship between advisors and advisees. We see this ideally as a mentorship process with mutual obligations.

  • Professional academic training
  • Socialization to the academic enterprise
  • Pursuit of excellence in mutual projects
  • Open dialogue regarding expectations of the relationship
  • Support and compassion in the relationship
  • Confidentiality and trust
  • Recognition of each other's needs, goals, and time constraints

Advisors should:

  • discuss the objectives and expectations of the relationship
  • support student efforts to become involved in research projects immediately
  • recognize that they are role models for students
  • guide students rather than control them
  • be an advocate for their students
  • recognize students' particular goals and needs
  • have regular meetings every semester with students
  • give students regular and timely feedback on their work
  • monitor and assist students in making progress toward the degree
  • encourage students to express themselves in the relationship
  • be sensitive to the power differential in the relationship

Advisees should:

  • discuss the objectives and expectations of the relationship
  • keep adviser up to date about their own progress
  • be motivated to become involved in research early and seek out opportunities pro-actively
  • recognize that adviser has many other professional commitments
  • seek mentoring and support from other faculty in addition to the adviser
  • recognize that academic commitment and hard work are fundamental to a positive advising relationship
  • feel comfortable changing advisors at any time
  • review advising options at the time of major benchmarks in the program (e.g. after A-exams)
  • Participants perceiving that academic freedom and personal choice are limited in the advising relationship
  • Participants experiencing retaliation in the advising relationship
  • Participants feeling their privacy is invaded in the advising relationship
  • Participants feeling frightened or threatened in the advising relationship
  • Participants feeling like they are being taken advantage of in the advising relationship
  • Participants having difficulty contacting and/or meeting with each other
  • Participants allowing personal lives to overlap into and jeopardize professional relationship
  • Advisors involving advisees in departmental conflicts
  • Advisors using the allocation of resources to control advisees

The Relationship between Seminar Instructors and Course Participants

Graduate classes and seminars offer an opportunity for constructive interaction between graduate students and instructors (faculty). We view graduate coursework as a valuable occasion for a mutual exchange and learning.

  • Free expression of ideas
  • Mutual dialogue regarding course expectations and objectives
  • Equal opportunity for learning
  • Responsible behavior toward completing course objectives
  • Objective evaluation of performance

Instructors should:

  • discuss the objectives and expectations they have regarding the course
  • provide a course syllabus at the start of the semester
  • clearly specify all course assignments
  • provide reading assignments at least a week before they are due
  • hold class sessions at their normally scheduled times
  • develop specific goals for each class
  • be prepared to lead discussions
  • return assignments in a timely manner that enables students to take advantage of feedback during the remainder of the course
  • return final assignments before the beginning of the next semester
  • make themselves available outside of the classroom for help and assistance
  • provide all advisees with the same opportunity to learn -- additional materials or Assistance provided to some should not be denied to others
  • provide and be willing to receive explicit and constructive feedback

Advisees should:

  • discuss the objectives and expectations they have regarding the course
  • attend and be prepared to contribute to all class discussions
  • complete all assignments on time
  • take responsibility for seeking additional help when needed
  • provide and be willing to receive explicit and constructive feedback
  • Participants being personally attacked for the expression of their ideas
  • Participants engaging in behaviors (e.g., yelling, belittling, intimidating, etc.) that discourage others from participating in discussions
  • Participants taking advantage of personal relationships to unfairly influence course related outcomes
  • Instructors requiring students to make-up canceled class sessions outside of the normally scheduled time period

The Relationship between Course Directors and Teaching Assistants


The Department of Communication depends on both its faculty and graduate students to accomplish its undergraduate teaching mission. We view graduate students and faculty as members of a quality team.

  • Teaching Assistants receive valuable experience in both teaching and course development courses to undergraduate students
  • Mutual feedback and adjustment of behaviors to benefit the course, undergraduate students, and the course team
  • Both Teaching Assistants and Course Directors contributing to a quality teaching team which successfully delivers course materials to undergraduate students
  • Organizational meetings should occur sufficiently in advance of the commencement of the course to allow team members to begin the course prepared in their respective duties
  • Team members for a course should plan consistent and regular course meetings
  • Specific dialogue should occur between the team members concerning mutual expectations for the course and the team relationships
  • Regular supportive feedback should be given among team members which is consistently designed to enhance course performance, self-esteem and professional development
  • Teaching assistants should keep course directors informed as mistakes occur or problems arise with students or in sections
  • There should be consistent maintenance of professional standards of timeliness, preparation, organization and accessibility to undergraduate students by all teaching team members
  • All team members should be open to constructive critique
  • All team members should contribute to the development and maintenance of an atmosphere which makes it apparent to undergraduate students that the team members respect and support one another
  • Course directors will respect the hourly time commitment of the teaching assistants, which should not regularly require more than 20 hours per week.
  • Team members’ relationships with undergraduate students should be professional at all times, both in class and outside of class
  • Observation of sections should not be intrusive, the timing of observations should be mutually negotiated, and the resulting feedback should be delivered in a supportive, constructive manner
  • An equal opportunity for learning and access to resources should be created across different sections for the same course
  • Frequent or regular lecturing by the Teaching Assistant in the place of the Course Director
  • Significant work added to the Teaching Assistant’s load which was not anticipated and discussed at the commencement of the course
  • Criticisms by teaching team members of each other, delivered to third persons before they are delivered to team members
  • Criticisms by teaching team members of one another to or in presence of undergraduate students
  • Unequal teaching loads for Teaching Assistants who are similarly situated
  • Unequal access to resources and opportunities for learning given to different undergraduate students in the same course
  • A feeling of fear on the part of any team member to perform or freely communicate in their professional capacity

The Relationship between Faculty and Graduate Student Researchers

The Department and Graduate Field of Communication are committed to research that advances our understanding and knowledge of the human communication processes. We view collaborative research between graduate students and faculty as a vital component of our research mission.

  • Quality research through an open exchange of ideas
  • Supportive research mentoring
  • Recognition of differing participant needs
  • Equitable recognition of contribution
  • Scholarship that enhances the understanding of human communication.
  • Participants should solicit each other’s' ideas
  • Participants should schedule regular research meetings to facilitate the project
  • Participants should be willing to discuss ideas contrary to one’s own
  • Participants should openly discuss the allocation of work
  • Recognition should be negotiated on the basis of work allocated
  • Faculty should provide instruction in the conduct and techniques of research
  • Students should communicate the extent of their knowledge and experience
  • Project expectations should be negotiated in advance
  • Project expectations should be explicitly renegotiated as warranted
  • Participants should follow through on negotiated deadlines
  • Participants’ practices should meet or exceed basic ethical standards of research
  • Participants feeling forced to do more work than they previously agreed
  • Participants feeling like they are not getting the recognition they deserve