When Faculty say “X” … Understanding Faculty Expectations, Unwritten Rules. Dinner Seminar, Fri. Oct. 10, 2014

Each year, PROMISE and the Graduate School at UMBC host a dinner seminar that allows graduate students to ask questions of faculty. This year, the  “When Faculty Say ‘X’ … ” seminar will be held on Friday, October 10, 2014 in BIO 120.

This is your chance to ask the faculty any questions about expectations, understanding requirements, how they say “no”, how they show their approval, etc.

We will also reflect upon and review past advice from faculty representing many departments in all colleges throughout UMBC.

Your feedback makes this annual session special. Do you have a question that you want a faculty member to answer? Post it in the comment section of this post at the bottom of this page. You may post anonymously.




The following UMBC faculty members will serve as discussants and will answer questions that are posted anonymously, or asked in-person:

  • Dr. Susan McDonough – Department of History
  • Dr. Kimberly R. Moffitt – Department of American Studies
  • Dr. Claudia Galindo – LLC
  • Dr. Marie-Christine Daniel-Onuta, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Dr. Brian Cullum, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Dr. Tim Oates, Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering


UMBC’s graduate students should RSVP here: http://my.umbc.edu/groups/promise/events/26555.

Published by Renetta Garrison Tull

Dr. Renetta Garrison Tull is the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at the University of California Davis. She previously served as Associate Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives at The Graduate School at UMBC, and was Professor of the Practice in the College of Engineering & IT. She was Special Assistant to the Sr. Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs & Director of Graduate and Professional Pipeline Development for the University System of Maryland (12 institutions). She is the Founding Director of PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) – http://www.umbc.edu/promise, and Co-PI for the USM LSAMP. Her research on global diversity in STEM continues, and she is an international speaker, covering nearly all continents, for groups and conferences such as the World Engineering Education Forum, the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies, and the Pacific Sciences Congress. Her personal website is: http://renettatull.wordpress.com. Connect with her on Twitter: @Renetta_Tull; https://twitter.com/Renetta_Tull

46 thoughts on “When Faculty say “X” … Understanding Faculty Expectations, Unwritten Rules. Dinner Seminar, Fri. Oct. 10, 2014

  1. Since faculty members are usually much more qualified than grad students, it happens many times that the faculty assumes many things that might not be known to the students. Also in case of graduate students it happens more often since they are treated as grownups. What should a graduate student do in such case?


  2. When you meet daily with your PI for your project, is there a certain expectation that they expect when you walk into their office? At these meetings, do faculty usually guide the student along or do the faculty expect the graduate student to be independent and on their own?


  3. Frankly what does it mean when professor says “Good question!”? I always have this dilemma that whether the question was actually a good question or the professor did not have an accurate answer at that moment?


  4. Many faculty members are busy all the time; they have classes to teach, grants to write, and labs to supervise. What is the expectations from a faculty member on when to send them a part of my dissertation (for example, a chapter)? I don’t want to keep sending parts of my dissertation because sometimes, I feel the faculty will consider me a nuisance or troublesome. What is the expected timeline (how often and how many pages of text) that professors expect for their students to send them portions of their dissertation?


  5. Two questions for faculty: 1) I struggle with writing and get anxious sometimes with writing when I know others will read it. I’ve told my advisor about my issues and she told me to just “give her what I have” for our meetings. But when I do, sometimes she says that she won’t accept it until it’s complete! How do I know what she really wants?? 2) Do busy faculty REALLY want students to come to their office hours? I feel like I’m wasting my advisor’s and other professors’ time.


  6. 1) How do they overcome writers block when writing a grant? and 2) I know sometimes a student can have an idea but it may not be the focus of that faculty research group, how can a student persuade her(him) that it would be worth to study? Also, how can you ask for “vacations” or some time off after working for a while?


  7. I am still trying to understand the tenure process, but I see that all of the faculty guests are Associate Professors. I’ve heard that it is not a good idea to have too many Assistant Professors on your dissertation committee. Can you explain the dynamics between the way that assistant professors and associate professors advise students? Will it take me longer to graduate if I work with an assistant professor?


  8. I have sent emails to one of my professors multiple times regarding an issue previously..and they would never respond…what is a good way to politely get a professor’s attention without being rude or annoying for an urgent issue when they have already not responded to attempts to contact them?


  9. What if my department requires that I pass my comprehensive exams but I cant, still I would like to work in a given field that dose not require the subject of the exam, can I find another way around it, I know that some department dont reuire thes exams.


  10. Are there standard practices or policies regarding curving of graduate student grades, or is it done on a case by case basis depending on the professor?


  11. What does it mean when your research advisor asks, “What do you think?” Additionally, is there a standard for curriculum in most fields? Finally, if a student is feeling like their advisor or another faculty member is being demeaning or emotionally abusive – how should they handle that situation to avoid reprisals?


  12. Why do graduate students have to re-take undergraduate level courses, even when they have a grade of A or B on their transcript? Wouldn’t letting the graduate students start in more advanced courses be a more efficient use of their time and tuition money?


  13. To Chemistry Faculty: For PhD students, is it actually against the rules to have a part-time job outside of school? It is not addressed in the Graduate Student Handbook, but it is a sort-of “unwritten law” most graduate students are aware of. If so, why? If your PI is satisfied with your time spent in lab and your progress, why should we not be allowed to have enough money to live comfortably without thousands in loans per semester? It is unreasonable to believe a 22-30 year old can live in Baltimore on ~18k/year after taxes….


  14. What are some suggestions for opening the lines of communication between a student and a mentor without being a nuisance? If an advisor is very busy, is it ever appropriate to ask them to carve out time on a regular basis for meetings with you? I see many P.I.s in my department that seem to do this, but I know everyone has a different teaching/mentoring style and some are busier than others. Thanks!


  15. How can a student put themself in a position to publish papers if their advisor is a perfectionist and doesn’t seem to ever allow their students to submit their work for publication?


  16. What are some ways that professors can use to support distance learning and other “non-traditional” learning styles for grad students who are working full-time. All of the classes in the program take place in the evening, so it is expected that we work during the day but some teachers still design coursework around the assumption that students are available during the day (group projects, take home assignments etc.)


  17. If you’re within the last year of your PhD program and you haven’t talked with your committee much, how do you go about approaching them for their support and guidance for that final home stretch?


  18. My advisor recently told me that it is okay if I want to switch advisors. How should I interpret this? I never suggested that I wanted to switch advisors. I started talking to another professor to explore a potential collaboration. My advisor was aware that I was going to speak to the other professor and was okay with it.


  19. What if an advisor never gives you positive feedback? it’s frustrating not to know if your advisor is happy with the way you work because you always receive the negative feedback. what are the signs of an advisor being happy with the way you work even if she/he doesn’t say it in words.


  20. If the opportunity arises to assist with additional research projects that have the potential for additional publications should I invest time in doing so even though it would take away from completing work towards my thesis project?


  21. What do you do if your advisory is not well liked by other faculty members who I hope to one day have on my dissertation committee? I have a good relationship with everyone in my department and tend to stay out of politics.


  22. What do you do if your advisor is not well liked by other faculty members who I hope to one day have on my dissertation committee? I have a good relationship with everyone in my department and tend to stay out of politics.


  23. This event taught me many things, but the main thing was how strong a tool communication is. Luckily my advisor has explained things very well to me so overall there wasn’t much that I learned that I haven’t heard before. I did learn some things about budgeting and timeline wise, but overall this meeting helped clarify the thoughts I already had, and made me more confident that I was on the right path. Like I said before one very important tool I learned that I need to use is communication. The professors that spoke talked about how there should be question marks along your journey, but the important thing is that we erase those by talking to our advisors because it is important in order to move forward. I learned a lot about the professor mindset, but the most important thing I learned is that they do care about the students, and its not all about money.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I think the overarching theme of this seminar was graduate student initiative. All of the professors at some point or another mentioned the differences between undergraduate and graduate, and this seemed to be the main point. Faculty expect you to do extra and do above and beyond what they requested as an assignment from you. I frequently do extra in preparing for meetings with my advisor anyway, but I think from this point forward to facilitate success, I will set aside extra time to put something extra in every assignment/meeting preparation I do. Overall, I believe the mindset of a professor can vary and among the panel members, they did not seem all similar. Some seemed to care more about the actual student’s personal lives, and not only academics, others seemed more laid back, and others had strict rules about communication tactics with them. Always consult your advisor about everything!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. a) What did you learn that is different from what you’ve heard before?

    Your research mentor should be your advocate. The mentor should works towards not exposing their graduate student to the politics of the department.

    b) What will you use to facilitate your success?

    Workshops. I should maximize the amount of opportunities I have to understand who my professors are in and out of class.

    c) What did you learn about the mindset of a professor?

    Professors are humans. As a student, I should I have an open line of communication with all my professors. Build professional relationships with my professors that shows that I am a reliable and trustworthy student.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. From this discussion panel, I gained greater insight into what professors want from their students. I also learned how professors want to treat their graduate students not as students but as future colleagues. Building off that, I will increase my direct communication with Professor’s to improve my effectiveness in regards to research and academics. After all, the professors here at UMBC really want to see their students succeed. That is why they want to see their students not just do well but show passion and enjoyment in what they are doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. a) What did you learn that is different from what you’ve heard before?
    Expect there to be days when you try things that don’t work. Don’t be defeated by this. Build good relationships with the people around you and find something that fulfills you. Keep the end goal(phd) in sight the entire way. Ask for help when you need it. Stay out of the politics of the department and focus on your long term goal of getting your PhD. Politics can limit your ability to get out of school in a reasonable amount of time. I also learned that I should never worry about a professor’s tenure status when deciding who to work with. Instead, I should be focusing on the project and what it means to me.

    b) What will you use to facilitate your success?

    When receiving feedback on my writing, I shouldn’t take criticism personally. Instead I should be happy that you are getting feedback. I I feel like a professor is being rough, it is because whatever you submit needs to be of high quality. Your work is a reflection of them. If I truly believe that my advisor is being unnecessarily unreasonable, it is OK to push back, a little, otherwise, the problem won’t get solved.

    I will also take the advice about getting a professor’s attention. This includes going to office hours, and sending professional emails that are designed to draw their attention.

    Also. When submitting drafts, I will make sure that I am at least on my third revision.

    c) What did you learn about the mindset of a professor?

    I learned that when meeting with professors, they like to see that you are able to come up with your own questions and connect what you are working on in your class with your educational program. Professors . Don’t come expecting all of the answers to your problems but instead, be able to show what you worked on and where you got stuck. Faculty are interested in having interesting and productive conversations with their students and they will be more likely to want to talk to you on a regular basis if you are able to bring this to the table. I also learned that professors expect the student to be responsible for driving a research project.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. As a new graduate student, I found the session to be informative, productive, and full of great advice. One of the main takeaways from the session was to keep an open line of communication with your advisor. Since every advisor is different, having constant interaction with your advisor will answer a lot of the questions that were asked. Some of the comments that hit close to home for me was:

    1) Meet as much as I can with my advisor.

    Any healthy relationship requires good communication, so why would the graduate student/advisor relationship be any different?

    2) During a meeting, do what you were asked, but also go beyond that.

    This was probably my favorite piece of advice. During a meeting I need to do more than just what my advisor is expecting me to bring. I’m planning on implementing this during my weekly meeting this week.

    3) The department wants to see you succeed. They have a vested interest in you. It’s not just about you and your advisor.

    It makes me feel better when I think of the department as being on my side, wanting me to succeed. It’s more productive when we’re all in it together rather than competing with each other.


  29. a) What did you learn that is different from what you’ve heard before?
    Feedback is good. An opportunity for growth.
    After we leave our mentors we are a reflection on them.
    If you are unclear about your professors instructions ask for clarification early.
    Share your writing with your peers and ask for their feedback

    b) What will you use to facilitate your success.
    Office hours are there for us to use.
    Be mindful about the language of your emails. Double check them.
    Low pay for graduate students is one of the facts of being a graduate student
    What you are doing during the PhD years is building your intellectual resources.
    Keep an eye on the long term view. The job after grad school will take better care of you financially.

    c) What did you learn about the mindset of a professor?
    Professors expect us to do the work, be professionals, and they are there for us to talk to if we are having problems.


  30. This is my second When Faculty say “X” seminar, and I love to hear different faculty’s answers to questions that students might have, this year as much as last year. The biggest answers to most questions where to come prepared when speaking with your advisor and don’t be afraid to asks questions. A lot of the question where based on lack of communication between student and advisors. Most professors are very busy, and they won’t be able to hold your hand throughout grad school. It’s the student’s duties to do their part and come prepared. One of the comments from a faculty that I will hold on to is that “if your struggle writing, write more”, not just on writing, but on any task. I felt because I’m very busy with my research, I let other importance to slack. Thank you PROMISE and the faculty for a great seminar.


  31. Summary on “When Professors Say ‘X’, They Really Mean ‘Y’ ”

    Each year, PROMISE and the Graduate School host the seminar entitled “When Professors Say ‘X’, They Really Mean ‘Y’ ”. At the meeting, they provide graduate students a safe haven (and dinner) to ask the UMBC faculty questions pertaining to anything from gaining your professor’s attention to understanding expectation and/or requirements. Below I will list general topics that were covered summarized each topic:

    Obtaining your PhD is not an easy task; therefore, do not get discouraged or feel defeated when you try and do not succeed. It is best to focus on building good relationships with the people around you and finding things that help fulfill you. Do not be afraid to ask for help and make sure to stay out of the politics of the department. The important thing to do is to focus on that long term goal: earning that PhD.

    The best way of getting your professors attention is to visit them during their office hours and sending emails. Remember that your professors are people as well and are interested in engaging in conversations on topics outside of classwork. Going to the office hours is a great way of getting to know your professor as well as them getting to know you. Also, UMBC is such an email intensive school. Hence, it would in your best interest to get in the habit keeping the communication high between your professor and yourself and one great way of doing that is sending (professional) emails.

    When writing papers that are to be submitted to your professor, it is best to send the third, not the first version of the paper. It shows the professor that you tried. Also remember that the work be submitting it not only a reflection of your ability but of the professor as well. Additionally, if your professor gives you feedback, instead of getting offensive, be happy that they were willing to do that for you. Try your best to not take any criticism personal; however, if you feel the professor is being a bit harsh, do not be afraid to push back a little.

    Graduate school is already stressful so you should never deal with crisis on your own. The proper protocol is to elevate any problems to the Dean if needed. If that does not make, make sure to make an appointment with Dr. Deluty.

    Lastly, the panelist talked about how tough it is to live off of the minimal stipend provided while in graduate school. Also, they stressed how important it is to budget your money because you do not want to add financial struggles to your list of stressors. Whether you can work or not while being a graduate assistant depends on the department. Again, it is important to keep that long term goal in mind. You are not here to make money. You are here to earn a degree and if money is your end goal, academia is not the place for you.

    All in all, none of the information was new. Yet, it is comforting to have this information reinforced by the professors. I would advise all graduate students to attend this seminar dinner at least once especially about handling crisis. I have to remember to try to seek out help whenever I can. This will keep me from feeling overwhelmed and/or defeated.


  32. I learned that even though you feel defeated in your journey to PhD, you should not give up. Most of the students that begin their quest don’t complete the degree because they feel they are not as competent as their peers. When looking for an advisor to work with, you should not let the “associate professor” status discourage you from working with them. Although his status might not be tenured, it does not make him less qualified and does not dictate his connection in his field.

    A suggestion from the faculty was students need to use the writing center to become a more proficient writer. I will be using the writing center more often to overcome future obstacles.

    A misconception that I had was that advisors pushed students for personal benefit. From the panel, I learned that faculty pushes students because they see potential in you, and likes to see you succeed. Your success is directly proportional to their success and reputation. I am very grateful that PROMISE is giving students these resources to help us foresee future challenges.


  33. This seminar was very informative. First, the professors reiterated that it is very important to come to meetings prepared to show them that rather than just following the instructions they may have given at the previous meeting, you have taken your work one step beyond this. Additionally, one point that was emphasized was that professors not only want open communication from you, they actually expect it and it is an important factor affecting your success as a graduate student. This was something new that I hadn’t picked up on as clearly when I attended in previous years, and I will certainly make an effort to apply it as I move forward in my program.

    Regarding writing and feedback, the professors emphasized the idea that faculty will push you to do your best, and that you should not take it personally when they give you criticism- it is just to help you grow. Furthermore, whatever you put out will have their name on it and is therefore a reflection of them, so they expect work that is of quality. Additionally, when you send a faculty member a draft of something, it should not be a first draft- they are expecting that you have put in significant thought and effort into something before you send it to them and expect them to do the same.

    Finally, regarding the mindset of a professor, the most important lesson that I will take away from this seminar is that faculty are people too, as simple as it may sound. Thus, they expect and appreciate open communication, and you should not be intimidated about doing all that you can to meet this expectation, even if it means you have to reach out to them for extra help, meetings, etc. According to the professors, people generally don’t take on graduate students they don’t want to have a relationship with. So to get the answers to your questions, you have to ask them, and it’s their job to be honest with you in return.


  34. Faculty SAY “X”
    Getting into graduate school opens up a whole new world of opportunities — and hurdles. Don’t just survive graduate school. Instead, thrive in graduate school. Here are few tidbits to help you along the way.

    Graduate students should meet with professors. How well you get along with faculty will influence your success in graduate school and also your career afterward.Before coming to office hours show that you put some effort into solving the problem. Make sure to come with questions. If professors asks for a draft write several drafts

    It is important that you follow the basics of email etiquette when emailing faculty. Make sure to include subjects and write complete sentences. If the professor is not responding to emails go to his or her office hours. It

    Money is a major issue for graduate students, and good financial habits are essential to cutting costs, managing money, and making funds last. Keep in mind that graduate school isn’t about money it is about experience you gain. Try to keep the long term view in perspective.

    Assistants professors may have more energy than tenure professors. When looking for an adviser or mentor do not worry about the faulty tenure. Tenure does not matter what’s important is to work with someone who share similar research interests.


  35. Wow! These are great comments! I wrote a few notes, too:

    When faculty say…. they mean….
    They SAY: “Just give me what you have,” but then later say, “This isn’t enough; I’ll read it when it’s complete.”
    They MEAN: “You need to be writing a LOT more often so that you get better at writing. If you’re a crappy writer, write MORE. Get peer support for writing and join writing groups. Put your work out there and get out of your comfort zone.”

    They SAY: (on your paper) “Change this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this….” *Red ink EVERYWHERE*
    They MEAN: “I have a big ego. Your work has to be good enough to put my name on it, so I have to push you. One day I might write/publish with you, so I am investing in my own progress and professional reputation as well as yours. I believe that I’m a great scholar, so your being a great scholar one day will reinforce that. Plus, I believe in you. When I stop pushing you, then you’ll really be in trouble.”

    They SAY: “Busy busy busy. I’m soooo busy.”
    They MEAN: “I’m human and my life balance is just as unstable as yours is. Make it easy for me to help you and remember that’s why I’m here and not at some research organization where I wouldn’t have students. Show me that you’re putting in at least as much work to fix your problem as you expect me to put in.”

    They SAY: “I wish students knew…”
    They MEAN: “…that in general they should just talk to me as their advisor when they have concerns and not wait until after a catastrophe or a missed deadline.” “…that they should stay out of politics.”

    Overall, this was an excellent session and I am grateful for the faculty’s transparency and guidance for the participants!


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