Advising Guidelines

Graduate students are formally advised by faculty as part of their research and in their roles as TFs, and informally in other ways throughout their time in the program and afterwards. This document lays out the expectations for both faculty and students. Graduate students also informally advise and mentor each other as they progress through the program. The purpose of this document is not to codify every single advising or mentoring interaction, but rather to provide a guide for some expectations and obligations that go along with being a member of the department and working in graduate education (whether as a faculty member or as a student).

Obligations and expectations

For students

Choosing Advisors

The DGS is assigned as the primary adviser at the start of the program. In the course of the first year or so, students should choose a faculty member with whom they expect to work long-term as their adviser. This decision is made in consultation with the faculty member. A number of considerations have to be taken into account, such as how well the faculty member’s research interests and expertise align with the student’s, the faculty member’s availability, which may depend on other professional obligations (advising obligations as well as service obligations) and any other factors that may bear on an effective adviser-advisee relationship. The choice of adviser is not binding and can be changed if the student’s research interests shift or for any other reason that makes the original choice less optimal.

As outlined in the Program Requirements, students write two Qualifying Papers, one in year 2 and one in year 3 of the program. The student forms a committee of at least two faculty members for each paper, with one or both of them serving as (co)-chair. The chairs for the two qualifying papers must not be the same. This gives students exposure to more than one mentoring style before they have to form a dissertation committee. The dissertation committee must meet Yale University criteria, which requires a minimum of three members on the committee with at least two of them being core members of the ladder faculty in Linguistics.

Below is a sample of the questions that students might consider when choosing a prospective dissertation adviser: 

  • How good a fit are the research interests of your adviser with your dissertation area?
  • What are each other’s expectations around frequency of meetings?
  • What is the best way to communicate? What professional development opportunities are there during the program (offered by the department or the adviser)?
  • How will the adviser assist in your preparation for your career path after graduation?
  • What are your expectations regarding attendance at conferences, workshops, and other academic events outside the department? How will the adviser support that happening?

Students who wish to change their academic adviser should reach out to the DGS as soon as possible to discuss their new advising arrangement.

Choosing a Committee

We have several types of committees that provide feedback on students’ work over the course of their degree.

  • QP committee: two faculty members in the department (the two members of the committee, one or both of them as (co-)advisers)
  • Dissertation committee: 3-5 faculty members, at least two of whom are members of our linguistics department. Usually our dissertation committees consist of 3 people; the third member is either from our department, another department at Yale, or from another university. Larger committees are used when specific input and expertise is needed.

The QP committee should be formed when the topic of the QP is decided. The dissertation committee is usually formed before the defense of the dissertation prospectus.


Here are some expectations that will help your time in the program go smoothly.

  • Maintain clear communication with your adviser and establish good practices for scheduling meetings and talking with each other.
  • Be clear about limitations to your schedule, especially regarding religious observances or family obligations. Schedule regular time away from work.
  • Consider career goals and discuss them with your adviser and DGS by the beginning of your admission to candidacy.
  • Submit materials with enough time for faculty to review and respond, including:
    • Dissertation chapters
    • Materials for discussion at regular advising meetings
    • Requests for letters of recommendation
  • Keep your adviser aware of upcoming deadlines, meetings, and other responsibilities.
  • Be proactive in the advising relationship—for instance, by taking the initiative to arrange meetings, keeping your adviser informed of any circumstances that might affect your progress, coming prepared to advising meetings, consulting with your adviser about presenting or publishing work. Translate your committee’s comments after a meeting in a to-do list. Send a memo to all committee members before the next meeting, explaining how your latest draft addresses their previous comments, and where the appropriate revisions may be found.
  • Remain open to feedback and be willing to discuss difficult academic ideas and differences of opinion.
  • Commit to regular attendance at departmental talks and events.
  • Welcome prospective and new students and help them understand departmental practices and culture.
  • Talk with your adviser and/or the DGS about possible sources of funding outside the university. These include NSF fellowships and grants.
  • As you advance to candidacy, establish your expected timeline towards degree, and come to a consensus about these expectations with your adviser and dissertation committee.
  • Make regular, good progress toward completing your degree.
  • Be aware of health and wellness resources offered by the university and use them as needed.
  • Meet with the DGS and/or dissertation committee members if issues arise related to the adviser’s responsibilities.

TF expectations

Graduate students also act as teaching fellows in years 3, 4, (and 6) of the program. The typical duties of TFs are as follows:

  • attend all lectures, do the readings, lead a weekly discussion section (if the course has sections)
  • meet weekly with the instructor(s) and any other TFs to discuss the course, grading, etc
  • grade and comment on assignments and exams in a timely manner
  • hold weekly office hours, answer queries from students

TFs may teach part of a lecture under the supervision of the instructor, but they should not lead a lecture by themselves. TFs should not be asked to write assignments or exams on their own. For their part, instructors are responsible for determining the content of the course, including all assignments and deadlines, teach all lectures, and mentor TFs, meeting with them on a weekly basis, and observing a section from each of the TFs, followed by a brainstorming session with suggestions for improvements. TFs may be involved in the preparation of exams and assignments consistent with the duties and guidelines discussed here and in information from GSAS.

The TF program also has a Part-time Acting Instructor (PTAI) role, which allows Graduate students to be more involved in course design. There are also options for summer teaching, offered by Yale Summer Session. Please note the process of applying to teach during the summer starts the previous Fall semester.

Students should reach out to the DGS or the Graduate School if they are being asked to work outside of their responsibilities, or if the responsibilities are taking more time than what is expected from their appointment (more than 20 hours per week for a TF20 or PTAI).

The Job Market

Students should begin to discuss their career goals with their adviser as early as possible in the program. This should be an ongoing discussion. The graduate program prepares students well for positions in academia or in the non-academic sector. Within the academic sector, students may prefer to pursue careers in research universities or liberal arts colleges. They may also have geographical preferences. The department supports all career objectives. The student’s responsibility is to communicate their objectives and, whichever objective they wish to pursue, and to incorporate the committee’s feedback in producing the best possible dissertation and supplementary professional profile. Students should have a well-crafted professional website by the time they decide to go on the job market.

For faculty

Just as students have expectations and obligations when they enter the program, so too do advisers have expectations and obligations in their part of advising.

  • Return work to students in a timely fashion, providing constructive feedback (aiming for ten days for drafts under 15 pages, twenty days for a 15-50 page draft). When this is not possible, the adviser should inform the student at the earliest.
  • Guide the students in their academic and professional development
  • Encourage and model dedication to high quality teaching, advising, and research
  • Understand the academic rules that pertain to graduate students and provide accurate information; understand the required department and GSAS milestones for students in your program
  • Prepare students to be competitive for future employment (whatever their plans)
  • Maintain a high level of professionalism
  • Establish expectations with each student for communication, including the preferred means (e.g. email, text, phone, etc.), the best contact times, and shared expectations around response times.
  • Establish expectations with each student for how often you will meet to discuss the student’s work
  • Help students set up sustainable work-life balance
  • Discuss career goals and opportunities with the students early in their graduate career (by the beginning of admission to candidacy at the latest) and continue these discussions regularly. In particular, discuss opportunities to develop professional experience to help advance students’ careers.
  • If a student is serving as a teaching fellow, give clear, constructive, and timely feedback on their performance in the classroom.
  • Remain open to feedback and be willing to discuss difficult academic ideas and differences of opinion in order to facilitate all students’ success.

Faculty members also have a number of formal duties related to graduate students, including evaluation and feedback at the end of each year, and approval of dissertations:

  • All faculty review portfolio papers
  • Provide timely feedback and assessment for the QPs for which the faculty is adviser or reader
  • Complete dissertation progress reports
  • Complete dissertation readers’ report
  • As dissertation director, provide advice to other members of the committee (e.g. external members) about Yale policies

QP, Prospectus and Dissertation Advising

Every member of a QP, Prospectus or Dissertation committee is expected to assist students in developing their research by providing regular feedback. At each stage, the chair assists the student in setting a schedule of writing deadlines and determining the format and timeline for the committee’s feedback. The particular format and timeline depend on faculty and student preferences. Some faculty members organize group meetings with all their advisees. Different frequencies of meeting may be preferable for different students, or for the same student at different stages of their research project. While committee members may have diverging initial recommendations for the student, it is important for them to converge on a menu of possible next steps. The chair of the QP, Prospectus and Dissertation committee should inform the DGS of any unexpected delays or problems. After the student advances to candidacy, the chair is responsible for completing the annual Dissertation Progress Report for GSAS.

Faculty members are expected to offer their guidance on the job market process and expectations about job market outcomes. They should help students set up a sustainable work-life balance, especially in the stressful experience of the job market. They should be sensitive to the fact that there are always shifts in the job market, so they should not rely solely on their own experiences when they were in the same position. Faculty members are expected to submit recommendation letters in a timely fashion. They are encouraged to continue providing advice after the student’s graduation on publications, public engagements, career advancement and networking.

Resolving issues

Troubleshooting Advising Relationships

What happens when advisers and advisees struggle to establish a good rapport? The first person a student should turn to in this situation is the DGS, who can serve as mediator between faculty and students and also between students and the GSAS. (If the DGS is the adviser, then the student should contact the Chair or another trusted member of the department.) The DGS will schedule meetings with both parties to assess the situation and achieve a satisfactory resolution, often in consultation with the Chair and GSAS deans.

Academic and Other Problems

The faculty members in Linguistics are committed to helping their students achieve their career goals and to do their best work while in the program. We provide feedback to students throughout the program. First and second year students get grades for their coursework, and second and third year students get feedback on their QPs. In addition, every year the department sends a letter to each student with feedback about the student’s research, teaching, and department service.

While it is, of course, our hope and expectation that students in the program will thrive and be happy and productive throughout their time here, we recognize that this isn’t always the case, for a number of reasons. It is important to realize that students are almost never directly dismissed from the program (except in cases of severe misconduct). In some cases, students may be placed on academic probation. This provides a clear statement of the issue, the reason for the probation, and the requirements needed to remove the probation. Reasons for being placed on probation include poor grades in classwork, not completing or passing requirements such as the QPs or portfolio, or not advancing to candidacy in a timely manner.

Students are strongly encouraged to discuss any concerns about progress with their adviser and/or the DGS, and to do so early on. We have found that clear communication always helps. Students can feel reticent about bringing concerns about their progress to faculty members, but it is always better to discuss them than to avoid discussion in the hopes that the problem might go away. (Sometimes it will, but the worry about a non-problem or allowing an actual problem to intensify is never a good outcome.)

Not Completing the Program

Finally, we recognize that some students change their mind about pursuing a Ph.D. once they enter graduate study. If students decide upon receiving feedback that a Ph.D. program isn’t the best fit for them, they can use their second or third year in the program to complete the requirements of an M.A. or M.Phil. and plan their transition away from Yale.

Director of Graduate Studies

Any questions about the graduate program can be directed to the DGS, Jim Wood, at