Best Practices

Best Practices for Creating and Maintaining Productive and Respectful Relationships Among Faculty and Graduate Students


The relationships among faculty and graduate students include academic advising and mentorship, instruction in graduate courses, supervising teaching assistants, and training and mentorship in research projects. These relationships are among the most vital of a graduate student’s experience in working towards their PhD. We recognize such relationships are only one facet of field climate, but in many ways, they are fundamental to a healthy graduate program.

This Best Practices guide focuses 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 instructors and teaching assistants; and 4) the relationship between faculty and graduate student researchers. For each type of relationship, we describe below the overarching goals of the relationship, norms of behavior for participants in the relationship, and situations that may signal a problem.

This document is designed to promote healthy values and norms among current faculty and graduate students in the Graduate Field of Communication. The document should be used to communicate our values and norms to new and visiting faculty, scholars, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students. Further, this document is designed to serve as a vehicle for promoting continuing dialogue about faculty/graduate student relationships.

Students are encouraged to seek out additional support and advice beyond their relationship with their advisor. Departmental staff, other faculty, the Graduate School, the Center for Teaching Innovation, and Cornell Health all offer invaluable resources to help sustain students through their PhD program.

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 all responsible for contributing to a supportive climate. We believe that faculty/graduate student relationships should be characterized by the following:

  • Appreciation of diverse values, goals, and perspectives
  • Consideration of one another’s welfare and interests
  • Negotiation of expectations and decision-making
  • Honoring of privacy
  • Mutual respect and trust
Meet to Discuss

Each faculty member should meet with their 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 to go over this document with the new advisor.

Sexual or Romantic Relationships

In accordance with Cornell’s Policy 6.3, no faculty member with any academic or professional authority over a student may engage in a sexual or romantic relationship with them. 

Courses of Action

Should any graduate 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 Graduate Field Coordinator, Director of Graduate Studies, and/or the Chair of the Special Committee should be contacted. If issues cannot be resolved there, or if either party feels uncomfortable discussing the problem with these individuals, the Chair of the Department should be informed. For certain problems, formal grievance procedures should be followed. These procedures can be found on the Graduate School’s 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. In order to clarify goals and expectations, we recommend that advisors adopt a mentorship agreement to suit their style of advising. Students are encouraged to create a mentorship network beyond their relationship with their advisor. This may include other members of their special committee; other faculty in the department, at Cornell, and in the professional field; and graduate student peers.

  • 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 their advisor up to date about their own progress
  • Be motivated to become involved in research early and seek out opportunities proactively
  • Recognize that their advisor has many other professional commitments
  • Seek mentoring and support from other faculty in addition to the advisor
  • Recognize that academic commitment and hard work are fundamental to a positive advising relationship
  • Feel comfortable changing advisors if the need arises
  • Review advising options at the time of major benchmarks in the program (e.g. after A exam)
  • Participants perceive that academic freedom and personal choice are limited
  • Participants experience retaliation
  • Participants feel their privacy is invaded
  • Participants feel frightened or threatened
  • Participants feel like they are being taken advantage of in the advising relationship
  • Participants have difficulty contacting and/or meeting with each other
  • Participants allow personal lives to overlap and jeopardize the 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 seminars offer an opportunity for constructive interaction between graduate students and instructors (faculty). We view graduate coursework as a valuable occasion for 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
  • Make themselves available outside of the classroom for support
  • Provide all students 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 support when needed
  • Provide and be willing to receive explicit and constructive feedback
  • Participants are personally attacked for the expression of their ideas
  • Participants engage in behaviors (e.g., yelling, belittling, intimidating, etc.) that discourage others from participating in discussions
  • Participants take advantage of personal relationships to unfairly influence course-related outcomes

The Relationship between Instructors 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. Instructors and teaching assistants (TAs) are required to complete the TA Expectations form prior to the start of the course, and TAs must also complete the Center for Teaching Innovation’s Teaching Assistant Online Orientation prior to their first teaching assistantship.

  • TAs receive valuable experience in both developing and teaching courses for undergraduate students
  • Both instructors and TAs contribute to a quality teaching team that successfully delivers course materials to undergraduate students
  • The instructor and TAs should share information at the beginning of the appointment to begin the course prepared in their respective duties
  • Team members should hold regular course meetings
  • Instructors should give TAs regular supportive feedback designed to enhance course performance, self-esteem, and professional development
  • TAs should keep instructors informed if mistakes occur or problems arise with students or discussion sections
  • Team members should maintain professional standards of timeliness, preparation, organization, and accessibility to undergraduate students
  • All team members should be open to constructive feedback
  • Instructors will adhere to Policy 1.3 and ensure that assistantship duties average 15 hours a week and never exceed 20 hours per week
  • Team members’ relationships with undergraduate students should be professional at all times, both in class and outside of class
  • As stated in Policy 6.3, under no circumstances may an instructor or TA engage in an intimate, romantic, or sexual relationship with an undergraduate student
  • In cases where TAs are assigned to discussion sections, observation 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 of 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 in the TA Expectations form
  • 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 in the 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 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. We recommend that principal investigators formalize their expectations of graduate student researchers in a mutually agreed document.

  • Quality research through an open exchange of ideas
  • Supportive research training and mentoring
  • Recognition of differing needs among the research team
  • Equitable recognition of contributions
  • Scholarship that enhances the understanding of human communication
  • The research team should solicit each other's ideas
  • Teams should schedule regular research meetings to facilitate the project
  • Team members should be willing to discuss ideas contrary to their own
  • Teams should openly discuss the allocation and recognition of work (for example, authorship and author order)
  • Principal investigators should provide instruction in the conduct and techniques of research
  • RAs should communicate the extent of their knowledge and experience
  • Project expectations should be negotiated in advance
  • Project expectations should be explicitly renegotiated as needed
  • Team members should meet negotiated deadlines
  • Research practices should meet or exceed Cornell’s ethical standards
  • If a graduate student is completing research on an assistantship, the principal investigators will adhere to Policy 1.3 and ensure that assistantship duties average 15 hours a week and never exceed 20 hours per week
  • Team members feel forced to do more work than they previously agreed
  • Team members feel like they are not getting the recognition they deserve
  • Team members fail to meet deadlines