Statement of Expectations for Graduate Student Mentoring

We want to ensure that graduate students realize the best versions of themselves during their years with us. Students should expect, and generally receive, a high level of mentoring and advising throughout the various phases of the program. All faculty members understand that serving in the capacity of faculty mentor and academic advisor is an integral part of service to the Department.

The Faculty Mentor

New students are assigned a faculty mentor before the beginning of their first year (usually June). This match is formed by considering interactions between faculty and students during the recruitment process (for example, during the campus visit, as explained below). The student remains assigned to this faculty mentor during the first two years in the program. The names of the faculty mentors are communicated to mentees prior to their arrival to UMD.

Faculty mentors are assigned by the Graduate Committee (GC). Whenever possible, the mentor-mentee match is formed by considering: (a) the research interests indicated by the student at the time of the application to our program, and (b) the interaction with specific faculty members during the campus visit (when prospective students are invited to visit the Department, usually in April of the year when the graduate program starts).

Faculty mentors are asked by the GC to contact their mentees: (a) after the match is formed in June, and (b) before the start of first-year classes. The mentor arranges an initial meeting and invites the student to initiate meetings throughout the first two years in the program. These meetings are not mandatory and may not happen on a regular basis. Mentees are responsible for scheduling these meetings depending on specific needs and unexpected difficulties during the academic year.

Most students do not engage in continuous research until the second year in the program. Our students take a set of mandatory courses on the fundamentals of economics in the first year and several (elective) field courses during their second year. The coursework is very demanding. Thus, faculty mentors are not expected to be the student’s academic advisor. The primary role of the faculty mentor is:

  • To be a point of contact for the student in case of any unforeseen (academic and non-academic) problems.
  • To monitor the student's academic progress, particularly during the first year.
  • To consult with the GC in case of any difficulties or specific learning needs. To this end faculty should understand the program requirements, have a basic knowledge of the resources available at UMD (such as university counselling services), and direct students to these resources when necessary.
  • To facilitate research connections and longer-term collaborations among graduate students and other faculty members at the Department.

In the fall of the second year, students start informal advising relationships with faculty members teaching field courses. Most often these relationships lay the groundwork for choosing the qualifying paper advisor (as explained below) and, eventually, the formal advisor of the Ph.D. dissertation. The GC, and the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), review the list of elective courses chosen by the student before the beginning of the second year, and may suggest to the student alternative options tailored to the student’s learning needs and/or research interests. Faculty mentors are expected to contribute to this discussion in their meetings with mentees.

The Qualifying Paper Advisor

A salient feature of our program is that students must pass a qualifying paper requirement during their third year in the program. This paper should contain sole authored research demonstrating that the student is ready to begin dissertation work. Students start working on their qualifying paper in the spring of their second year, and the paper is intended to become part of their Ph.D. dissertation. The student selects a qualifying paper advisor in consultation with the Qualifying Paper Committee (QPC).

Thereafter, students are expected to report to and interact frequently with this advisor until the qualifying paper is fully developed. The number of hours of work expected can vary depending on several factors, like the contents of the qualifying paper and the individual student's goals and work habits. Students are responsible for scheduling meetings with their qualifying paper advisor depending on the specific needs.

The qualifying paper advisor becomes the main point of contact for the student at this point, taking over the role of the faculty mentor assigned prior to joining the Ph.D. program.

Students are encouraged to seek advice or reactions from other faculty throughout the development of their qualifying paper, just as a faculty member might seek advice from a colleague. This combination of formal and informal advice and the interactions with multiple members of faculty lays the groundwork for the continuous engagement of students, a trusting relationship with faculty, and the creation of a healthy and welcoming learning environment at the Department.

The Department is committed to offering a series of structured opportunities to facilitate the student’s transition into a researcher and to create a research community in which we all share ideas via workshops and informal meetings with faculty. These opportunities aim to foster excellence and independence in terms of academic reasoning, a culture of technical rigor, and the feeling of being part of a broader peer group who can serve as a source of advice and feedback.

The following structured opportunities for career development are available to all students.

  • Students receive continuous feedback about their research work and to improve their oral presentation skills. Three regular workshops (the Graduate Student Workshop, the Development and Applied Micro Tea, and the Energy and Environment Economics working group) provide venues for informal presentations and discussions of work in progress and continuous advice from faculty.
  • The Department sets aside time for students to meet with seminar speakers, to receive additional advice about their work, gather greater exposure to the economics profession and foster excellence in research.
  • The student’s progress is evaluated by the QPC and the advisor in the context of a paper-writing workshop at the end of the second year of coursework.
  • Students take a course, during the fall semester of their second or third year, which consists of more intensive mentoring for writing a dissertation and developing research ideas.

The student's qualifying paper must be submitted at the beginning of the third year. The QPC solicits a thorough review of the paper from independent reviewers selected from the faculty. These reviewers provide advice to the student along with very specific suggestions in the form of referee reports similar to peer-evaluation reviews for publication in an academic journal. If the qualifying paper needs more work, the students are given detailed advice on how to bring their papers up to passing status and continue to work with their advisors. The revised version of the qualifying paper must be submitted in the spring semester of the third year, when a similar evaluation process occurs. The QPC provides students with specific instructions regarding the duration of the review process and deadlines for submissions and resubmissions.

The Dissertation Advisor

The relationship with the qualifying paper advisor usually lays the groundwork for future dissertation advising and the qualifying paper advisor may become the academic advisor. Students formally choose their academic advisor midway through the third year, after completing the qualifying paper and attaining admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

In those rare cases when the students have difficulty in the relationship with a faculty mentor or advisor, they are encouraged to consult with the DGS who will assess the situation and help identify a path forward. If the outcome of this process is the change of faculty mentor or advisor, the DGS and the entire GC mediate between the parties to ensure that such change is not problematic or disruptive for the student.

The Placement Committee (PC) and the dissertation advisors work closely on the mentoring of students in their final year of the Ph.D. program, as the students prepare for the next stage of their career. The PC holds several group meetings on the job search process covering topics such as research writing skills, interview practice, tailoring applications to specific job types, an overview of relevant UMD resources, and the logistics of the search in the economics field. The PC additionally holds one or more individual meetings with each student to give them specific advice on their job search.

All students in the final part of their Ph.D. are offered coaching sessions, held by externally appointed professionals, to  further develop job market application and related skills and promote future professional  and career development.

Responsibilities of Faculty

Thriving in the program requires students to be outgoing, entrepreneurial, and open to feedback and advice. All faculty understand that not all students come from backgrounds in which these skills were taught or rewarded.

In addition to the roles and responsibilities described above, faculty mentors and advisors are committed to meet with any students who approach them, to seek out students and ensure their involvement rather than waiting, and to give students from all backgrounds an equal opportunity to flourish in the program. Faculty mentors and advisors are also committed to respect their students’ time, research interests, and professional goals.

Responsibilities of Students

The Department expects that students develop a healthy understanding and respect of the value of their mentor’s time. Students should approach the mentoring relationship as professionals and interact with faculty in a respectful manner. It is important for students to ask about and set expectations with their faculty mentors and advisors, arrive on time and prepared for meetings, and send items for discussion well ahead of the meeting time.

Students are expected to meet deadlines in important phases of the program like those marking the preparation of the qualifying paper and of the “job market” package. Students are also expected to discuss with their faculty mentors and make a plan for how to meet these deadlines. Students should communicate deadlines that require the input of their mentors and advisors (like the writing of reference letters) well in advance, and at least with a two week-notice.

As students advance in the graduate program, the onus is increasingly on them to maintain a working relationship with their mentors and advisors. Mentees should be proactive, inform their mentors and advisors promptly about any unexpected changes or difficulties, schedule meetings, and seek out the guidance necessary to succeed in the Ph.D. program. The number and frequency of meetings may vary in different phases of the program, for example depending on the nature of the research question and the student’s goals and work habits. Students are responsible for scheduling meetings with their mentors and advisors depending on the specific needs.

It is critical that students understand that mentors and advisors are there to offer constructive criticism to improve their work. Students should welcome such feedback with an open mind, and respond to feedback in a constructive manner.

Students should address any issues that arise with respect to the mentoring relationship as soon as possible with the primary mentor/advisor and/or with the DGS.