How can I get my advisor to advise me?

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You might expect this to occur naturally. You know, managers gotta manage and mentors gotta ment, right? You are adorable!! That kind of expectation is disregarding a pillar of humanity: most humans are lazy most of the time.

It’s also possible that your advisor isn’t really up to the task in addition to avoiding the task of helping you along your path. Any number of explanations may account for the behavior, and none of them are your puzzle to solve.

Here I will digress to tell you my worst college advisor story. Dr. Whatsit was a volatile guy and he was passionate about science and also about not listening to his students. He may have been frustrated that we were both caught in the cogs of a big grinding machine that did not care about our mental health or sense of greater purpose. He may have had family problems or money problems, but in any case he had big time mentor problems.

He tried to help me fix a schedule mistake, and when the person on the other end of the call didn’t have the answer he wanted, he threw the phone at the wall behind me. Back then pitching a phone was not an oh drat gesture, but more of a holy shit that almost knocked me unconscious gesture.

seven assorted colored rotary telephones
If this included a banana for scale, the banana would be about the size of the receiver–the thing with the bulbous ends. These beauties were a couple of pounds of metal and plastic. Photo by Bruno Cantuária on

My solution was incredibly elegant, but I don’t recommend it. Instead of reporting the incident, or any of the other incidents, I dropped out and waited tables for a semester before changing majors and trying college again.

Anyhoo, a mentor’s lack of self-control or lack of initiative is not your problem. You should probably be their advisor in another version of life, but hey, you get to live in the real reality of the here and now, and they are choosing not to matter in the long scheme of your life as an effective human.

You can get guidance from any number of other sources. Aim high. Go to the head librarian with your hands-on research questions. Write emails to leaders in your desired field and read their biographies for those existential questions. Cross the lines and put your professional quandaries to other types of pros. Remember, people love to share knowledge of their specialty, unless they are supposed to do it as part of their job.

Then you only need your shirking un-mentor for the occasional signature, and they will gratefully scribble it while you walk.

If you really, really want to pick that lazy brain, buy them their favorite dinner and then you and the lobster will have their undivided attention for at least twenty minutes

lobster master chef

Nobody has to throw a phone to get answers, just ask a different mentor.


p.s. Currently accepting questions on mom at askyermom dot com.


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