Graduate advisor handbook

Dear Colleague,

I want to thank you for your commitment to graduate students and their success at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Students credit their advisors with much of the quality of their graduate experience. The relationship between the advisor and student is a complex one, where both parties have responsibilities in assuring their mutual success. Our goal in creating this handbook is to provide you with a resource that supports you in guiding students through their graduate studies. This handbook presents principles and practices of graduate advising, that address your role as an advisor, a mentor, and the chair of the student’s graduate advisory committee.

This handbook is focused on the role of faculty member as an advisor.


Richard Collins, Director of the Graduate School


This handbook has been prepared to provide you with an overview of principles and practices of graduate advising. The handbook provides a discussion of the advising and mentoring of students as well as the specific procedures and policies governing graduate students and graduate student advisory committees at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

Although experienced faculty will find it useful, this handbook is written primarily for new faculty members. While the manual provides general information on graduate student advising and mentoring, established faculty in your department can also advise you on how to work productively with graduate students. Several departments and programs have their own handbooks for graduate students and if your department/program has one, please familiarize yourself with it. If you cannot find an answer to a specific question in your department/program or in this handbook, please contact the graduate school. The graduate school also offers workshops on chairing, advising and mentoring through the year.

Together with the UAF catalog, this handbook provides information about degree requirements, academic policies, and responsibilities of faculty and students. However, the UAF catalog is the ultimate authority, and this handbook does not supersede the UAF catalog.

The role of an academic advisor is to guide a student’s academic progress while the role of a mentor is to advance the student’s career. Traditionally that mentorship role was interpreted narrowly in terms of seeing that the student was “placed in a good academic position”. However, the role of mentor is increasingly seen more broadly in response to both the increased diversity of both the graduate student population and the careers that graduate students pursue. Mentors can serve as catalysts to unleash a students’ potential for discovery, curiosity, and participation in their field. Mentoring includes a wide spectrum of roles that includes; advisor, advocate, friend, professional coach, and teacher. These roles are not always played by one person, but can be played by several persons. The specific mentoring roles you adopt will depend on your own experience and the relationship you have with the student. You can work with the student to select an advisory committee where the members can address different mentoring needs of the student.

In this handbook we assume that as the advisor, you are also serving as chair (or co-chair) of your advisee’s graduate advisory committee, and that you are also committed to mentoring them, and use the term advisor to denote the combined roles of advisor, chair and mentor.

A fundamental rubric for advisors is that you should be ”partial to the student but impartial about the student’s work”. As an advisor you can model professional responsibility and collegial behavior, demystify graduate school, oversee professional development, encourage effective use of time, and assist with finding other mentors as necessary.

The increasing diversity of graduate students is forcing programs and advisors to reconsider what is worth preserving and transmitting in graduate education and also evaluate what is rooted in assumptions of homogeneity that should be adapted or discarded. Advisors can provide excellent mentoring to students who are not from the same background or identity. However, research nationally and at the University of Alaska, has identified the following factors regarding social identity and success in graduate school that all advisors should be aware of: need for role models; questioning the canons; feelings of isolation; burden of being a spokesperson; concern about speaking up; and suffering from stereotypes. Again, you can work with the student to develop a diverse advisory committee and/or professional network to support their academic and professional development.

Good advising has benefits for the advisors and advisees, advances disciplines, and promotes diversity. For you as the advisor these include: working with students will keep you abreast of new knowledge and techniques; enhancing your reputation through student success; extending your professional networks; attracting other good students; and personally rewarding. For the advisee these include: supporting student advancement in scholarship, presentations and grant-writing; making them more resilient; building their networks and increasing their employment opportunities; and increasing their professional confidence. For the discipline; students make contributions earlier in their careers; and students have higher professional standards. For diversity: support students from under-represented communities succeed; model professional environments where prejudice and discrimination are not tolerated; and improve the experience of all participants.

One of the most common issues that arises in advising graduate students is when the student and advisor have different expectations. Therefore, it is important that advisors are familiar with the procedures, policies, and regulations outlined in this handbook

Graduate study provides students with the opportunity to conduct independent scholarship and research that is focused on their personal and professional interests. The graduate student has the primary responsibility for the successful completion of their graduate degree. The student is resident in a department or program that offers their degree and serves as their academic “home”. The student should know the relevant departmental and graduate school rules, regulations, policies and deadlines relating to their degree. The student is responsible for proactively working with their advisor to develop their graduate study plan, form an advisory committee, and conduct their scholarship and research in a professional fashion appropriate to their discipline and consistent with university procedures, policies, and regulations.

In recent years graduate schools have recommended that advisors establish contracts with their students that explicitly define the rights and responsibilities of each party. Example contracts for students and advisors are posted under “Advisor-Advisee Contracts”.

Work with your students to choose opportunities for presenting their work, seeing other research or scholarly presentations, and meeting other students, researchers, and scholars in the field. This is especially important given Fairbanks’ relatively remote location. If possible, accompany your students to a regional or national meeting or other gathering and make introductions. The graduate school offers travel grants for students. Please consult the graduate school website for details and deadlines.

Encourage your students to begin looking for jobs about six (6) months before degree completion. Suggest places that they can look for postings, such as professional society websites. Tell your students about colleagues who might have relevant positions available. UAF Career Services can help students to make appropriate contacts with businesses and agencies. Encourage your students to research State of Alaska jobs, as well as Federal internships and jobs.

Be prepared to write letters of recommendation, or provide a reference over the phone. If you cannot honestly provide an entirely favorable recommendation, tell the student what you will say, so as to give the student an opportunity to seek another reference. For many positions it’s crucial for the reference to arrive by a given deadline, so try to take care of this task immediately when you receive a request. Most advisors will end up writing a dozen or more letters of reference for their former students, and it’s convenient to use much the same letter. There are resources for writing equitable letters, such as Equitable Letters in Space Physics.

Graduate study provides students with the opportunity to conduct independent scholarship and research that is focused on their personal and professional interests. The graduate student has the primary responsibility for the successful completion of their graduate degree. The student is resident in a department or program that offers their degree and serves as their academic “home”. The student should know the relevant departmental and graduate school rules, regulations, policies and deadlines relating to their degree. The student is responsible for proactively working with their advisor to develop their graduate study plan, form an advisory committee, and conduct their scholarship and research in a professional fashion appropriate to their discipline and consistent with university procedures, policies, and regulations.

In recent years graduate schools have recommended that advisors establish contracts with their students that explicitly define the rights and responsibilities of each party. Example contracts for students and advisors are posted under “Advisor-Advisee Contracts”.

As discussed earlier, the advisor guides the graduate student through their degree program and chairs their graduate committee. Beginning as early as the application stage, the advisor and student should discuss the student’s academic and career goals. Programs and faculty should accept applicants whose goals and interests are consistent with what UAF and the faculty member can offer. Once admitted, the advisor should work with the student to help them attain personal goals, consistent with the academic standards and requirements of the degree program.

In the student’s first year, the advisor works with the student to become established in their graduate program: forming a graduate student advisory committee; establishing a graduate study plan; and evaluating the student’s progress. In each following years the advisor and the graduate committee formally review the students’ progress annually. The advisor guides the student through their required examinations (i.e., qualifying examination for some MS, programs, comprehensive examination for all PhD programs), their advancement to candidacy, the defense of their dissertation/thesis/project, and the completion and submission of their dissertation/thesis/project.

Assist the student in designing their scholarship and research, review the final plan carefully, and approve it, in consultation with the other committee members, before the student begins work. Help the student to revise the design as needed based on the early results and other developments.

The advisor should describe the general scope of the dissertation, thesis or project topics that are consistent with their expertise and, if applicable, any funded projects, or potential funding sources. The advisor should fully inform the student of any restrictions on publication associated with the nature of the work or funding source(s).

If the student is offered a graduate assistantship, either as a teaching assistant or research assistant, the advisor should set clear expectations about the duration of support and the options for subsequent funding at the time the offer is made. The student should be informed as soon as possible of any substantive changes in funding. The student should be provided with a detailed description of the duties that will be required of any graduate assistantship, especially any unusual requirements (e.g., remote field work, shipboard work, travel, hazardous materials or activities, work schedule). Graduate assistantships (both teaching and research) are required to include the mandatory health insurance. We encourage faculty who are providing research assistantships to also include coverage of the student’s university fees.

The advisor serves as the chair or co-chair of the committee. Advisors may co-chair the committee for a variety of reasons. For example, if the student is working closely with you and another faculty member, combining your complementary fields and expertise, you may wish to serve as co-chairs. If you are working with a student and a faculty member based at another University of Alaska campus, the non-UAF faculty member may serve as co-chair of the committee. If you are working with a student in a department that you are not a member of, you should establish yourself as a collaborating faculty member with the department. You may be required to have a co-chair from that department. The co-chairs should determine which responsibilities they will meet individually and collectively.

Work with the student and the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), and the Institutional Review Board (IRB), to ensure that both you and the student have completed the required training, developed the necessary protocols, and obtained the University and agency approvals for research involving human subjects, vertebrate animals, marine mammals, endangered species, public lands, radioactive materials, biohazards, hazardous materials, and any other regulated activities.

Meet frequently with the student to follow progress, provide guidance, and assist with problems that arise. Work with the student to set realistic timelines for completion of the dissertation/ thesis/project. If the student is not meeting their timeline deadlines, meet with the student as soon as possible and to ascertain the reasons. Work with the student to improve their progress or alternatively revise their timeline. Use committee meetings to document progress, formally address any concerns, and identify pathways to resolve any problems.

Review drafts of the dissertation/thesis/project, or portions thereof, in a timely manner. In general, two to three weeks should be sufficient for a Master’s thesis or project, and four to six weeks for a Ph.D. thesis. Several factors may extend the review time, such as conflicting commitments on part of the advisor and committee members, or challenges with the quality of the writing or technical description. However, the advisor should communicate these special circumstances to the student promptly and tell them when the review will be completed. Thoroughly review the final draft of the thesis/project before the defense. In addition to reviewing the content, see that a high standard of writing quality is maintained throughout the thesis/project.

Chair the public defense of the dissertation/thesis/project. It is good practice to work with the student on a practice defense. A public defense of the dissertation or thesis is required, while a public defense of a project may/or may not be required by the department/program.

Carefully review the dissertation/thesis/project before it is submitted to the graduate school (or department, in the case of projects) and confirm that the changes required by the committee after the defense have been incorporated. Make certain that the final copy of the dissertation/thesis/ project conforms to the format and style requirements of the field of study, department and the graduate school.

The members of the graduate advisory committee review and approve the Graduate Study Plan and the Advancement to Candidacy Form, including the research plan. Check the thesis/project design before the research or project begins, and suggest needed changes. Attend committee meetings and carefully review the materials the student prepares for them, such as progress reports. Assist the student with research issues that fall within the committee member’s special area(s) of expertise.

The members should review the dissertation/thesis/project before the defense and see that a high standard of scholarship and writing quality are maintained throughout. Participate in the public defense of the thesis/project. Review the dissertation/thesis/project before the final version is submitted to the graduate school, to ensure that the required corrections have been made.

The graduate coordinators work at the department/program level. They are employees of their departments/programs not the graduate school. They coordinators work closely with the graduate school staff to answer student questions and resolve student issues. Their specific responsibilities vary by department/program. In general, the graduate coordinators are the frontline resource for students who have questions about their program requirements and may serve as academic advisors. The coordinators review all graduate student forms, and depending on departmental/program practice may be responsible for originating the forms. The graduate coordinators also work with human resources to establish and manage graduate assistantships, and may organize department/program specific orientation activities for graduate students. You should confirm the scope of these duties and practices with the coordinator in your department/program.

The Department or Program Chair ensures that the courses, comprehensive examination topics, and research plan included on the Graduate Study Plan and Advancement to Candidacy Form meet departmental/program requirements. Works with faculty to ensure that degree programs have appropriate requirements and standards, including standards for dissertation/thesis/project quality. Implements Student Learning Outcomes Assessment (SLOA) for graduate as well as undergraduate programs. Reviews the final form of the dissertation/thesis/project. Sees that a high standard of scholarship and high quality of writing are maintained in the dissertation thesis/project.

The chair is also available as a resource for graduate students to confidentially discuss any issues or concerns associated with their program.

The Dean or Director of the College or School works with faculty and departments to ensure that degree programs maintain appropriate academic standards for graduate scholarship including the quality of dissertations/theses. Reviews (or delegates a review of) sufficient portions of the dissertation/thesis to ensure that a high standard of scholarship and writing quality are maintained. Reviews and approves (as appropriate) departmental admission decisions. Review results of SLOAs for graduate as well as undergraduate programs, and support programs in making needed improvements.

The Graduate School Staff is a resource for information and support to graduate students, departments, schools and colleges. Promptly processes paperwork of graduate students and maintain student files. The staff provide training opportunities for graduate students, faculty, and staff. The staff conducts the final check of dissertations/theses to ensure that they meet UAF requirements for style and format.

The director of the graduate school works with faculty, departments, deans, and the Graduate Academic and Advisory Committee of the Faculty Senate to ensure that degree programs have appropriate standards for graduate scholarship and research. Administers financial assistance programs for graduate students, and work to secure more resources for those programs. Reviews and approves (as appropriate) departmental/program admission decisions. Monitor graduate student progress, as reflected in the forms and reports submitted to the graduate school. Reviews and approves (as appropriate) major academic decisions involving graduate students. Draws on Program Reviews, Outcomes Assessments, and Institutional Research, to monitor graduate programs’ quality and productivity, and assist in their improvement.

The graduate advisory committee guides the student in developing and completing their degree program. The student’s advisor as chair of the committee leads the graduate advisory committee in fulfilling the responsibilities of the committee.

The committee should be formed within the first two academic semesters, by end of Spring (Fall) semester for students beginning in previous Fall (Spring). Different departments and programs may have different procedures about the composition of the committee (e.g., minimum number of departmental/program faculty on the committee). The committee is subject to approval by the department chair, the school or college dean or director, and the director of the graduate school. The advisory committee of Master's degree students must consist of at least three approved faculty members. All Master’s committee members must hold an earned Master’s or higher degree, with exceptions for faculty, professionals, or experts with relevant accomplishments and expertise. The advisory committee of Doctoral degree students must consist of at least four approved faculty members. All Ph.D. committee members must hold an earned doctoral degree, with rare exceptions for faculty, professionals, or experts with relevant accomplishments and expertise. Such exceptions must have the approval of the department/program chair, school or college dean, and director of the graduate school. Retired and/or Emeritus faculty of the UAF who are collaborating with the home department may serve on or (co-)chair graduate advisory committees, upon expressed approval by the home department. Faculty from other universities and other professionals who are not employed by UAF may serve as committee members on advisory committees, upon expressed approval by the home department. Non-UAF faculty and professionals may serve as the co-chair of the committee with a UAF faculty member as the other co-chair.

The graduate committee is formally established with the chair (or co-chairs) and committee members identified. The graduate advisory committee’s major responsibilities are to formulate a graduate study plan in consultation with the student by the end of the students second semester; to develop a tentative timetable for completing all requirements for the degree program; to monitor the student’s progress in course work and research; to provide advice and feedback to the student on that progress; to attend regular committee meetings and formally evaluate the student’s progress at least once a year; to formulate and conduct the comprehensive examination and other exams as required by the department/program; to evaluate a research dissertation/thesis/project when one is required; to uphold the standards of the college/school and the university; and to inform the dean, in writing, if a student’s performance is inadequate and provide relevant recommendations.

If you are advising an interdisciplinary student, your department/program serves as the home department /program of the student. The student should establish their committee following the procedures of your department/program. For Interdisciplinary PhD students, at least one of the committee members must be a member of a PhD granting department at UAF or have served on the committee of a PhD graduate.

Graduate students must be registered for at least six graduate credits per academic year (fall, spring, summer) when actively working toward a degree. Graduate students failing to register for at least six graduate credits (or 400-level credits on their Graduate Study Plan or Advancement to Candidacy) or obtain a leave of absence will be dropped from graduate study. Students who have dropped will have to apply for reinstatement to their academic program. Students generally must be registered for at least three graduate credits in the semester in which they defend their dissertation, project, or thesis. If they do not graduate in the same semester, they must register for one credit at the 600-level each subsequent semester until their degree is conferred.

The following types of courses cannot be used to meet the requirements of any graduate degree program at UAF: 500-level courses; Courses below the 400-level; Courses at the 400-level that are graded P/F or Cr/No Cr, or in which the grade earned is less than “B” (a B- is not acceptable); Graduate courses in which the grade earned are less than “C”; Courses that have been previously used to meet the requirements of another graduate or undergraduate degree program.

For students who are pursuing a second Master’s degree, 6 credits may be counted from the previous Master’s program if approved by the student’s graduate advisory committee as being relevant to the new program. Seniors who want to count 400-level or graduate courses toward a future graduate degree must reserve those courses by filing a petition during the first four weeks of the semester in which the courses are taken.

Only a limited number of credits from certain types of courses may be used to meet graduate degree requirements: Not more than 12 total credits can be from any combination of 693 and 695 (special topics) and 697 (individual study) courses; Not more than 50% of total graduate degree program credits can be courses completed as a non-degree-seeking student, i.e., before admission to a graduate program; Not more than 12 semester credits of thesis (699) and/or research (698) for thesis Master’s programs (usually requires a minimum of 6 thesis credits); Not more than 6 semester credits of research (698) in non-thesis Master’s programs.

699 Thesis/dissertation credits are intended for students preparing for scholarly or research activity. All students who are working on a thesis/dissertation should be enrolled in 699 credits.

698 Non-thesis research/project credits are intended for students preparing for professional practice. Master’s degree students working on a project should enroll in research credits. 698 credits cannot be applied to a PhD.

Graduate advisory committees can require students to take deficiency courses if the student’s prior course work did not sufficiently prepare them to complete the graduate level courses or comprehensive examination in their graduate program. Required deficiency courses should be listed on the Graduate Study Plan, but should not be listed on the Advancement to Candidacy. Deficiency courses do not count toward meeting graduate degree requirements. Any undergraduate courses (100- to 400-level) courses included in the deficiency courses must be completed with a grade of “B” or better. English language proficiency is required of all graduate students. A student who is not initially proficient should be required to take English courses as deficiency courses. UAF offers several ESL (English as a Second Language) courses, as well as a technical writing course.

Students may elect to graduate under the degree requirements in effect and published in the UAF catalog in any one of the previous seven years in which you are enrolled as a master's degree student, or in the previous 10 years if you are a doctoral student.

All non-academic policies and regulations listed in the current catalog apply, regardless of the catalog being used for the degree requirements. All coursework listed on the Advancement to Candidacy form and all other degree requirements must be satisfactorily completed within seven years for a Master’s degree and ten years for a Ph.D. Taking a leave of absence or being reinstated into your program does not re-set the time limit. Students may request an extension to the time limits using the Graduate Student Petition Form, but extensions require approval at all levels and are not automatic. Extensions of more than one year are unusual and require special justification.

The time limits on degree completion are intended to correspond to extreme situations of part-time students or those who face unusual difficulties in completing their research or creative work. In normal circumstances, for a full-time student, two to three years should be sufficient to complete a Master’s degree and four to six years should be sufficient for a Ph.D.

Students must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 (B) for good standing in courses identified on the Advancement to Candidacy form to both graduate and to maintain a research or teaching assistantship (if applicable). Students must earn an A or B grade (no P grades or B grades) in 400-level courses; a C grade will be accepted in 600-level courses for the purpose of satisfying degree requirements (but a C- is not acceptable), provided a 3.0 GPA, overall, is maintained.

Students who have GPAs slightly below 3.0 and who have reasonable prospects for achieving a 3.0 GPA will be placed on Academic Probation, but are allowed to continue in the program. However, students with a cumulative GPA less than 2.7 after their first year (or 18 credits for part-time students) of graduate study should be advised that their chances of successfully completing the graduate program are poor, and that withdrawing is likely their best option. (A GPA of 2.67 for 18 credits would be the result of 2 C’s and 4 B’s for six, 3-credit courses). Students with a GPA less than 3.0 after their second year of graduate study, or after one year of academic probation (whichever is later) will be academically disqualified from the academic program in which they are enrolled.

Cooperative students (students who have a UAA or UAS faculty member as a co-chair and who complete the majority of their program at UAA or UAS must complete at least 12 UAF course credits as well as completing 18 UAF thesis (699) credits. Up to 50% of graduate program credits, if approved by the student’s graduate advisory committee, may be transferred from UAA or UAS. Up to 33% of graduate program credits, if approved by the student’s graduate advisory committee, may be transferred from other institutions. Note: that these limits cannot be added together, as a minimum of 50% of all credits used to meet the requirements of a degree program must be UAF credits. For example, a typical 30-credit Master’s program could include at most 10 non-UA system credits, and in addition 5 UAA or UAS credits.

Certain kinds of credits are not transferable. These include credits that are below the 400 (senior) level, credits that were not awarded a grade of “B” or above (including most P/F credit, unless the institution will certify that “P” is equivalent to “B”), credits that were awarded by institutions that lack regional accreditation (or the equivalent in foreign countries), credits that were earned more than seven years before the UAF Master’s (or 10 years before the UAF Ph.D.) is completed, and credits that the student’s advisory committee will not accept as meeting the requirements of the student’s degree program.

When a student is ready to begin writing their dissertation/thesis, it’s a good idea to have a committee meeting and answer the following questions:

  • Which thesis format will be used, monographic or manuscript? If the latter, to which journal(s) will the manuscript(s) be submitted, and hence, what style should be used? If the question is not already settled by journal requirements, will the thesis be written in first- or third-person style? Is the thesis outline (either prepared before the meeting, or shortly afterward) acceptable to the committee?
  • Will the major advisor review and approve drafts before they are passed to the rest of the committee? Or will all drafts go to all committee members simultaneously? • What is the smallest unit that the advisor or committee members prefer to review? For example, A completed chapter or manuscript draft, only? Or, the entire manuscript?
  • What will be included in the thesis? That is, a student might have collected some data that may not be suitable for the thesis, as they are “off topic” from the work, or the student was not primarily responsible for the data or their analysis. Sometimes, such data are included in an appendix rather than in the main body of the thesis.
  • What is the schedule for completion? It is usually best to set up a schedule for submission and review of each unit (e.g., each chapter), as well as setting a target date for completion of the entire thesis. At this time, committee members and the student can point out times when they will be unavailable. The schedule should be realistic, with formal meetings to support steady progress. The student and committee should work within the deadlines set by the department, school or college, and graduate school.

Before students begin writing their dissertation/thesis, they should attend one of the Thesis Formatting Workshops and one of the one-on-one formatting sessions offered by the graduate school. These workshops are offered twice every semester. Adopting the approved formatting style early on will save students a lot of time, as extensive reformatting of a mature document can take a lot of effort. The dates and times of these workshops are announced on the graduate school website. Students who are planning to graduate in the current semester are given priority in the on-on-one sessions.

The graduate school has some specific formatting requirements for projects. While the content of projects may consist of photos, software, or other non-text materials that can be formatted in a variety of ways, the graduate school does require the project has a specifically formatted title page and abstract. The formatting requirements for the content of the projects are established by the home departments/programs.

The advisory committee, department chair, and college/school dean/director usually have thesis or project submission deadlines that are well in advance, typically a month or more, of the graduate school deadlines. As the chair of a committee, it is most important that you convey any deadlines to your students in a timely manner. Although students are responsible for knowing these deadlines and meeting them often problems arise when a chair, or committee member fails to take into account thesis submission deadlines when they set their own calendars.

Advisory committee chairs and members are responsible for carrying out timely reviews of theses. This is a time-consuming task to do well, and students should expect it will take a minimum of several weeks. However, it is your responsibility to communicate your timeline with your students. Sometimes a faculty member may have other unusually time-consuming responsibilities in any particular time period. If this happens the faculty member should make their students aware of any changes in their schedules so that the timeline can be adjusted. Also, some theses submitted for faculty review need much more work than others. If a thesis draft needs many corrections and revisions, the time for the faculty to review it will be longer. However, faculty members should give students a date when the review will be completed, and do their very best to meet the agreed-upon schedule.

Committees and students should determine together if a dissertation, thesis or project is ready to be defended and decide when to schedule the defense exam. It is important to determine when the committee members are available. If necessary and if approved by the department chair, committee members may attend by audio or videoconference. Please remind your Ph.D. students to submit a Request for Outside Examiner a minimum of two weeks prior to the dissertation defense. The defense exam should be chaired by the committee chair, and the chair should work with the student to set up the exam (e.g, reserving rooms etc.). The exam should follow the format established in the department/program/discipline. 

Graduate dissertation. thesis and project defense examinations are public events and open to the university and wider community. The student should submit their name and project, thesis, or dissertation title and the date, time, and location of their defense examination to the Graduate School at least two weeks prior to their defense examination date. The Graduate School, along with the home program, department, college, or school, will advertise the examination.

The defense examination includes a public presentation of the dissertation, thesis or project moderated by the chair of the graduate advisory committee, followed by a private executive examination by the committee.

Students may submit their Public Defense Annoucement to the Graduate School using the submission form found on the Forms webpage

Before final acceptance, all members of the advisory committee, the department chair, the dean of your school or college, and the director of the graduate school must approve the dissertation/thesis. Any of these individuals may require changes or corrections. The committee chair and other advisory committee members are primarily responsible for evaluating the dissertation/thesis, and they consider both the academic standards of their field and the quality of presentation. Usually, the committee will give the student the required changes or corrections shortly after the defense. The student must make those corrections before the committee members give their final approval. The department chair should also conduct a thorough review, to check for any overlooked errors, and to monitor the quality of dissertations/theses for the program as a whole. The chair will approve the dissertation/thesis after the student has corrected any additional errors they have found. Most deans/directors read only parts of dissertations/theses, or selected dissertations/theses, again with the purpose of monitoring quality, but they too can require changes before approving. The graduate school checks that format and style conform to UAF standards, and the graduate school director will not give their final approval until the student makes any required corrections. The graduate school director reviews selected theses in some detail, and the student must also correct any errors that he or she finds before his or her final approval.

The many steps in the evaluation process require substantial time and departmental and graduate school deadlines for thesis submission are set well before the end of the semester. If you think your student will miss a deadline, but will be very close to meeting it, the committee chair may request an extension for the spring or summer terms. The committee chair (not the student) must submit a Request for Extension to Thesis/Dissertation Deadline form. This form must be submitted to the graduate school no later than April 7th for spring, and August 1st for summer. Because of the holiday break, fall (December) extensions are not granted. At the graduate school level, 1-week extensions are often granted but on a first-come-first-served basis, and 2-week extensions may be granted in special circumstances, but are strictly limited, because they require an expedited turnaround to meet the graduation deadlines.

All dissertations/theses must be submitted electronically to the graduate school though the designated website. Currently the graduate school works with ProQuest. Electronic copies of the dissertation/theses/projects are hosted in Scholarworks

All forms are available online at the graduate school website. All forms can be filed electronically. While all completed forms are filed with the central UA storage system, you and your students may wish to keep copies of these forms. You should also confirm if your department/program maintains a copy of the forms.

Required Forms:

The Appointment of Advisory Committee form records the members of the graduate advisory committee, and identifies the chair or co-chairs of the committee. The committee should be established and the form submitted to the graduate school before the end of the students second academic semester in the program.

The Graduate Study Plan (GSP) outlines the curriculum of study and timetable to be followed by the graduate student in completing their graduate degree. It serves as a road map for graduate study. It should be drafted early in a student’s program and submitted to the graduate school by the end of the second semester of study. The GSP serves as a working agreement between the student and the committee and should be written collaboratively. The GSP contains the specific degree requirements and indicates the mechanism for fulfilling these requirements (e.g., via coursework, examinations) . The GSP can be revised as warranted. Possible reasons for revising a GSP are: a planned course is cancelled, initial results or funding changes dictate a change in research direction, etc.

This Report of the Advisory Committee (RAC) is the fundamental evaluation and record of the student’s progress. The report is an evaluation by the committee of the student’s progress in both their coursework and their dissertation/thesis/project and is accompanied by a self-assessment by the student. The RAC must be submitted the graduate school annually for the student to remain in good academic standing (by May 15 for students admitted in Fall, and December 15 for students admitted in the Spring). A committee can meet formally with a student more often than once a year (semiannually or quarterly) However often the committee meets, reports should be filed for each of the meetings. Lack of a current RAC on file with the graduate school can impact a student’s ability to receive scholarships or fellowships from the graduate school.

The student’s progress can be evaluated as “Satisfactory”, “Conditional” or “Unsatisfactory”. If their progress is deemed “Conditional” or “Unsatisfactory” the report must include specific and complete instructions to the student on how to improve and a timeline for meeting the requirements. If appropriate, consequences for not fulfilling the conditions must be specified. A student who is not making “Satisfactory” progress may be placed on academic probation. Students with “Unsatisfactory” progress may also lose their eligibility for graduate assistantships or graduate school Fellowship support. If a student has been evaluated as “Conditional” or “Unsatisfactory” the committee should meet formally to reevaluate the students’ progress in the next semester and file a RAC that documents the student’s progress, whether the student has met the requirements of the previous report, and again evaluates their progress as “Satisfactory”, “Conditional” or “Unsatisfactory”. If a student does not return to good standing in two semesters, with a “Satisfactory” evaluation, the student may be dismissed from their degree program.

Reports of “Conditional” and “Unsatisfactory” progress can affect the status of international students. If you think it might be necessary to file such a report for an international student, please consult the graduate school beforehand.

The Advancement to Candidacy Form (Master’s & PhD) formally establishes the student’s specific degree requirements. The form documents the courses that were taken by the student at the recommendation of their committee and must be consistent with the requirements of the degree program. It is in the best interests of both the student and the advisory committee to file the Advancement to Candidacy form as soon as possible. Master’s students are eligible to advance to candidacy if they are in good standing, have completed at least 9 graduate credits after admission to a graduate program, and have their committee’s approval of their Graduate Study Plan, including research topic, coursework, comprehensive exam topic(s) and any other requirements. Some Master’s programs require the student to have passed the comprehensive or a qualifying examination before advancing to candidacy. Ph.D. students are eligible to advance if they have completed the full-time equivalent of two academic years of graduate study, have completed at least 9 UAF credits, have an approved Graduate Study Plan, and have passed a written comprehensive examination. At the latest, the Application for Advancement to Candidacy form must be submitted at least one semester prior to graduation.

The most recent Graduate Study Plan should be used as a basis for completing the Advancement to Candidacy form, but it is not necessary to submit a Graduate Study Plan to the graduate school with the Application for Advancement to Candidacy. Once filed, the Advancement to Candidacy form can be revised with a Graduate Petition Form.

The Report on Comprehensive Exam documents the result of the students written and/or oral comprehensive examination. After the completion of a comprehensive exam (either oral, written or both), the student submits a Comprehensive Exam Report signed by the committee chair, committee members, the department chair, and dean of their school or college (and, for Ph.D. students, the outside examiner) to the graduate school. The student can receive a “Pass”, “Conditional Pass” or “Fail” for the exam. The report is also used by Master’s in programs that have qualifying exams. To report the results of these exams

If the student receives a “Conditional Pass” the report should specify the conditions that the student needs to fulfill before the exam will be passed. The report should also identify the deadline for meeting these conditions. These conditions can include a second, partial oral or written exam covering the areas of weakness, only; completing assigned readings and a synthesizing paper, again addressing the areas of weakness; completion of a course or courses; or other appropriate remedies chosen by the committee. If the student fulfills these conditions the student submits a report indicating that they have passed the exam.  If the student does not fulfill the conditions by the specified deadline, then the committee submits a new Report on Comprehensive Exam form that indicates a “Fail” grade.

Most departments have written policies on how many times a student can attempt the comprehensive examination. Such policies usually state that a graduate student will be dismissed from the program if they fail the comprehensive examination after a certain number of attempts (usually two or three). If your department does not have such a policy we strongly recommend that you establish one in writing and communicate it to your students.

The Report on Dissertation/Thesis/ Project Defense documents the result of the students public defense examination. After the completion of a defense, the student must submit a Report on Dissertation/Thesis/Project Defense signed by the committee chair, committee members, the department chair, and dean/director (and, for a Ph.D. defense, the outside examiner). The report on the defense is distinct from the approval of the dissertation/thesis/project”.

The student can receive a “Pass”, “Conditional Pass” or “Fail” for the exam. The “Conditional Pass” is usually appropriate for a defense where the student’s work can be remedied by re-analysis or re-interpretation. The student should work with their committee to remedy the work. Once the work has been corrected to the satisfaction of the committee the student submits a new report indicating that they have passed the exam. A student who receives a “Fail” may be allowed repeat their defense if the departmental policy allows it. If your department does not have a policy on failed thesis defenses, then we recommend that you write one and make it known to all graduate students.


Other Forms:

All Ph.D. students must have an outside examiner attend their oral comprehensive or qualifying exam and dissertation defense. They must request an outside examiner by submitting the Request for Outside Examiner at least two weeks before the exam or defense. For Master’s students an outside examiner is not required for either a comprehensive examination or thesis/project defense.

The graduate school asks a faculty member from outside of a student’s department/program to be present at the Ph.D. oral examination and thesis defense. The role of the outside examiner is to assess whether the exam was fair and rigorous. However, the outside examiner is not expected to be an expert in the student’s field or on the specific thesis topic. If you agree to be an outside examiner, you are responsible for returning the Report of Outside Examiner (one will be provided to you) directly to the graduate school after the exam or defense. The graduate school greatly appreciates faculty who agree to take on this important role. And as a reminder, many departments will count time spent as an Outside Examiner towards service requirements on a faculty’s workload.

Proficiency in a second language or a research tool may be required by a department/program but is not a UAF-wide requirement. The advisory committee determines the specific language or research tool, guided by policies of the administrative unit in which the degree is offered. Generally, competency in a second language is required. However, upon approval of the department chair, the committee may substitute computer languages, statistics, mathematics, or study in areas such as history or philosophy of science, business, administration, law or economics. In all instances, topics selected must support the student’s degree program. When the requirement is completed, the student must submit a Report on Language or Research Tool Requirement.

If a graduate student will be unable to complete the six graduate or 400-level credits per academic year (fall, spring, summer) required for active status due to job, family or other issues, a leave of absence may be obtained by filing a Temporary Leave of Absence Request form. Leaves of absence are normally granted for a maximum of one academic year. If a graduate student does not resume their studies by the originally scheduled re-enrollment date the student will be out of status and must file the Reinstatement of Graduate Student Status form.

A graduate student who has not registered for at least six graduate or 400-level credits during the previous calendar year (unless on approved leave of absence) is dropped from their degree program. However, the individual may file the Reinstatement to Graduate Degree Status form. If approved, the student will be reinstated into their academic program, but reinstatement is not automatic. The student’s advisory committee, department chair, and dean/director will consider the student’s academic record, progress in research (if applicable), and the date of enrollment in the degree program relative to limits on time-to-degree when determining if a student should be reinstated.

Students may use the form for a change of major within a department (or equivalent). For example, a student could use the form to change from an M.S. in Marine Biology to an M.S. in Oceanography program (both housed in Graduate Programs in Marine Science and Limnology). The form may also be used to change from an M.S. to a Ph.D. program, or vice versa, within the same department. However, it may not be used to change to a major in a different department. For that, the student must submit a new UAF Admission application, although documents such as transcripts, GRE score reports, and letters of recommendation that were submitted with the original application can be re-used if they are still on file.

The form can be used when a student would like to be enrolled in two degrees (MS & PhD) at the same time in the same department. For example: if a student is in PhD Marine Biology but has decided to earn a MS along the way (thus being in two programs at once).

A student who desires an exception to a catalog requirement, or wants to change anything on the approved Advancement to Candidacy form, must complete a Graduate Student Petition and receive approval from his or her advisory committee members, the department chair, the dean/director of the school/college, and the director of the graduate school. The graduate school director will not approve the following kinds of petitions:

  • Reduction in the 30-credit requirement for Master’s degrees or 18-thesis (699) credits requirement for the Ph.D. These are requirements established by the university Board of Regents and cannot be waived.
  • Application of course credits below the 400-level (or any 500 level credits) for graduate programs.
  • Application of Credit for Life Experience or Credit by Examination for graduate programs. This is against the rules of our accrediting organization. Credit for Practicums, internships, and individual study courses are acceptable if these are organized according to UAF rules and procedures for granting credit.
  • The requirement to register for at least 3 graduate credits (or 400-level credits needed to meet degree requirements) in the semester of graduation if the student has not yet defended.

Departments offer training for Teaching Assistants (TA) specific to the courses their TAs teach. However, if your department does not have these resources, you, as the faculty member in charge of the course, are usually responsible for any further training that the TA receives.

It’s very important to make expectations clear, and it’s best to put these in writing. Some issues to address include:

  • Expectations for class attendance (e.g., TAs who are mainly paper graders may or may not be required to attend class sessions. Also, some faculty members want TAs to arrive earlier than the start time of the class, to set up equipment, answer student questions, etc.) • Specific TA duties.
  • What the TA must do when unable to attend a particular class or lab.
  • If the TA is responsible for grading assignments or exams, when is the deadline for having them returned to students? Are there explicit grading criteria, or is the TA expected to use his or her own judgment?
  • Is the TA required to keep office hours? Are office hours required in the evening or at the weekend?
  • Is the TA expected to respond to e-mailed questions (about course content)? To assist students over the phone?
There are many resources available online that can help graduate students maneuver through teaching experiences. We recommend the University of California Santa Barbara website.

Graduate Research Assistants (RA) have varied tasks and responsibilities, depending on the field of research and the specific project. A key to working successfully with Research Assistants is good and frequent communication. The supervising faculty member should discuss his or her expectations with a new RA shortly after he or she joins the project.

Here is some information that you should give a potential RA,

  • What, specifically, is the RA expected to accomplish?
  • What deadlines exist? Are these somewhat flexible, or unchangeable? (Due dates for grant progress reports and final reports, or a task that must be completed to allow another to begin, are examples).
  • What records do you to be kept, in what format? Do you expect copies to be made and stored separately?
  • How often do you expect progress reports? Do you want written or oral reports?
  • Are there any scheduled activities that the student must attend, without fail? For example, remote field research often has to be conducted on specific dates, because the logistical arrangements and/or scheduling of other participants are very complex.
  • Are there any unusual physical or travel or other requirements of which the student should be aware? For example, some field research requires unusually good physical condition. Some research requires long periods (many months per year) away from home. Other projects may require handling of toxic or radioactive substances; although regulations require that exposures will be within safe limits, some individuals may be unwilling or unable (e.g., multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome) to tolerate any exposure.
  • What times and days or dates do you expect the student to be present in the lab or office? (The faculty supervisor should consider the student’s class schedule in setting the RA schedule. It’s fine to allow a flexible schedule if that fits your program and suits others in your research group, but if not, be specific about what you want.) Note that it should be forbidden that the student work alone with hazardous materials or in other hazardous situations, especially outside of working hours when there will be few people in most buildings.
  • How long will the RA last? Can it be renewed? How likely is renewal? (If it depends on a new grant proposal or proposals, you might mention your funding track record). What other funding options exist?
  • We encourage faculty who are providing an RA to also include coverage of the student’s university fees. An advisor who is working with a student who spends a semester as a TA may also choose to pay the students fees from their research funds.


There are a variety of different types of financial aid available to graduate students at UAF.

May involve teaching courses, leading a discussion section, supervising a laboratory, grading papers, or meeting with students. The typical appointment involves working up to 20 hours per week. A teaching assistant receives a stipend, health insurance and tuition payment by the university. Tuition is paid for no more than 10 credits during each semester if the workload is 15 to 20 hours per week. If the workload is 10-14 hours be week, no more than 5 credits will be included. No tuition will be included if the workload is less than 10 hours per week.

Are most common in science and engineering fields, but are often available in other fields as well. Research assistants work in laboratories and other settings to assist faculty on research projects related to the student’s thesis or project. Research assistants also receive a stipend, health insurance; a tuition award based on workload and in some cases may include payment of fees. Research assistant support is provided by grants/contracts and includes a tuition payment for no more than 10 credits during each semester if the workload is 15-20 hours per week. If the workload is 10-14 hours per week, no more than 5 credits will be included. No tuition will be included if the workload is less than 10 hours per week.

These highly competitive awards are offered by the graduate school and are intended to support students without a source of funding to support dissertation and thesis writing as they complete their degree. Ph.D. students will receive preference in the selection process. Evaluation of applications will be based on academic achievements, prior timely progress in graduate course-work and thesis or dissertation research, and a plan plus time line for completion of the thesis or dissertation within the duration of the fellowship. Check the graduate school website for application dates.

University of Alaska Foundation and UAF privately funded scholarships are also available at UAF. The deadline for applications is February 15th. Early applications are strongly encouraged. The Financial Aid Office coordinates scholarship applications with the various departments, which evaluate the applications for appropriate scholarships. Applications are available online at:

Other funding sources are available to assist graduate students in accomplishing their educational and research goals while at UAF. There are sources within your department, in the graduate school, and external to the university. Depending on the source, the funds may be used for living expenses (stipend or salary), tuition, equipment, supplies, or travel.

International students are faced with unique situations that domestic students don’t encounter. They must comply with immigration regulations and adapt to a new and different culture. The International Advisors (IAs) at International Student and Scholar Services.  serve a liaison between the student and the U.S. immigration authorities, authorizes documents for student visas, help students adjust to the U.S., Alaska and UAF, provide counseling for personal, academic and employment-related problems and serve as a resource for information and support. The IAs can be contacted by telephone at (907) 474-7677 or (907) 474-7583.

ISSS helps students comply with U.S. immigration laws and is committed to assisting students in ways that prevent status violations from occurring. F-1 and J-1 students new to UAF must physically check in with IPI IAs prior to registering for classes. The IA will review the student’s immigration documents, and must confirm to U.S. immigration authorities that the student has arrived on campus.

International students must maintain a full course of study unless they receive prior authorization from the IA. Failure to obtain advanced approvals is considered an immigration status violation. “Full-time” means a minimum of 12 credits per semester for undergraduates, and 9 credits for graduate students. Of these credits, no more than 3 credits can be independent study or distance education. International graduate students who have completed required coursework may register for thesis or research credits only but must enroll in at least 9 credits. Acceptable reasons for reduced credit load include: students who experience academic difficulties (for example, unfamiliarity with American teaching methods or incorrect grade placement); students in their final term of study may enroll in less than full time credit but must have approval for reduced course load before the end of the semester’s late registration period; students who have a medical problem may be authorized a reduced credit load or take the semester off (this reduction cannot exceed an aggregate of 12 months and the request must be accompanied by a doctor’s statement and must be authorized when the medical condition begins – not afterwards). Students must request and be approved for a reduced course load before falling below full-time status.

“In status” means that the student is meeting all regulatory requirements and can continue studying in the U.S. “Out of status” usually means that the student must leave the U.S. within a very short time or be deported. The student is considered to be maintaining status if he or she is making normal progress toward completing a course of study. This includes being registered as a full-time student (except in summer) and being in good standing as a graduate student. If proper procedures are followed, students on F-1 visa can complete one degree and then begin another, e.g., a student can earn an M.S. and then enroll in a Ph.D. program the next regular term. It’s not necessary for international students to enroll in summer, unless they are receiving an RA or TA or other financial support that requires it.

Some examples of failure to maintain status include dropping from full-time to part-time enrollment without prior approval from the IA; attending a school other than the one a student is authorized to attend; failure to apply for a timely transfer or I-20 extension or change in level of study; unauthorized employment; and failure to report a change of address. UAF is legally required to report to Immigration (i.e., through the Student & Exchange Visitor Information System) if the International Advisor has information that indicates an international student is out of status. If you, as advisor, have reason to think that a status violation might exist (or might occur soon), contact the graduate school for advice.

International students on an F-1 Visa are restricted in the jobs they can work in, and should consult ISSS about possible employment. Students usually work as teaching and research assistants in academic departments and affiliated research institutes. It is possible for international students to work, outside of their department, but only with special permission from the IA. For more information contact the ISSS.

Health insurance is required for all international students in F-1 or J-1 status (including Canadian students). International students who meet specific requirements may get a waiver from the UAF Office of International Student and Scholar Services. Graduate students funded through a Research Assistantship, Teaching Assistantship or University Fellowships are automatically covered by the Graduate Health Insurance policy. This coverage meets the requirement.

International graduate students on F-1 visas must complete their first semester in a UAF program in physical residence at UAF, including those UAF facilities located in Juneau, Palmer, Seward, Kodiak, or any of the UAF rural campuses. However, they may not reside in Anchorage, since UAA is a separate institution under Immigration regulations. Taking UAF courses via distance learning does not qualify as physical residence.

FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) requires that UAF and all of its employees keep student records confidential. This applies to any written record of student performance, including grades (either for assignments or courses) and graduate school forms (e.g., Advancement to Candidacy, Report of Advisory Committee, or Report on Examination). Even accidental release of information is against the regulation if it occurs because faculty or staff failed to exercise due care. For example, do not leave student records in places where they can be easily viewed by others, i.e., unattended computer displays, open files on the top of your desk, stacks of graded papers in hallways, grade sheets posted on your office door, etc. It’s also forbidden to disclose the contents of records verbally, even though the record itself is not released. The rules apply even if parents, spouses, siblings, close friends, or employers of the student request the information, unless of course the student has given express written permission for the release of records or information. It is permitted to share or discuss student records with other faculty, staff and administrators if there is a legitimate educational reason for doing so.

A current or former student’s request for a reference constitutes permission for you to discuss your knowledge of the person’s qualifications, which might report grades in courses you taught, but it does not include permission to print the student’s transcript or make copies of other student records and attach them to the reference.

A student’s friends or relatives often wait for the result of an oral comprehensive examination or defense outside the exam room. Please treat this situation sensitively. In the case of a pass, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will mind if the good news is announced, but fails are a touchier situation. If you do encounter someone who asks about an exam result, if the exam was unsuccessful, it’s best to say, “I’m sorry. You’ll need to discuss that with the student”. The person is likely to infer bad news from that statement, but it doesn’t actually reveal any confidential information.

A faculty member’s discussing his or her individual opinion of a student is not a violation of FERPA, but in some circumstances this can be inappropriate and unprofessional.

UAF forbids all employees, including faculty, from engaging in discriminatory behavior. A short statement of this policy is:

“The University of Alaska will not permit or tolerate discrimination that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment, or that interferes with an individual's performance.”

Students and employees are protected from discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, citizenship, age, sex, disability, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions or parenthood.

If a student thinks they have been the subject of discrimination by a UAF employee (including faculty) they can contact the dean of their school/college or the director of the graduate school, or they can contact the Office of Equity and Compliance ( directly at (907) 474-7300.

While faculty and students can be friends, consensual sexual relationships between faculty members and students are considered unprofessional. If a sexual relationship develops between a faculty member and a student, the faculty member must not thereafter be involved in any academic decision concerning that student. If the faculty member is serving on the students advisory committee, they must immediately resign from the committee. Course instructors must not have sexual relationships with students who are currently enrolled in the courses they teach. Interpreted with respect to graduate students, this policy means that a faculty member cannot be the supervisor of a graduate assistant or serve as the advisor, chair, or committee member of a student who their sexual partner.

No employee of the University may supervise or participate in employment, grievance, retention, promotion, salary, leave or other personnel decisions concerning members of his or her immediate family. Immediate family includes an employee's spouse, child or stepchild, parent, sibling or immediate in-laws. It is not a violation of this policy for a faculty member to have an immediate family member as a student enrolled in their class, provided that the chancellor has approved an alternative means of evaluating the student's academic performance. This precludes the faculty member from direct involvement in such evaluation. A faculty member cannot be the supervisor of an graduate assistant, or serve as the advisor, chair, or committee member of a graduate student who is an immediate family member. It is allowed for an immediate family member to enroll in a graduate course you teach, but you cannot assign their grade. Instead, another qualified individual approved by the Chancellor must evaluate his or her work.

Immediate family members of faculty may enroll in graduate programs offered by the department that employs the faculty member, but this decision should be weighed carefully. Very difficult situations could arise if colleagues make negative academic decisions about your family member. Further, UAF programs cannot reject applicants solely on the basis of their relationship to a faculty member, if they are otherwise qualified, unless the program is so small that nepotism could not be avoided. In these cases the Interdisciplinary studies program may be a suitable alternative for the student.

Student are required to follow student code of conduct. The university may initiate disciplinary action and impose disciplinary sanctions against any student or student organization found responsible for committing, attempting to commit or intentionally assisting in the commission of any of the following prohibited forms of conduct

  • cheating, plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty
  • forgery, falsification, alteration or misuse of documents,
  • funds or property • damage or destruction of property
  • theft of property or services
  • harassment
  • endangerment, assault or infliction of physical harm
  • disruptive or obstructive actions
  • misuse of firearms, explosives, weapons, dangerous devices or dangerous chemicals • failure to comply with university directives
  • misuse of alcohol or other intoxicants or drugs
  • violation of published university policies, regulations, rules or procedures or any other actions that result in unreasonable interference with the learning environment or the rights of others

This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather offers examples as guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

If you have good reason to believe that a student might harm you or others (e.g., verbal or e-mailed threats; damage to property, especially if meant to intimidate; or physical assault, even if minor), the matter should be reported to the UAF police department, to the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities, and to your dean/director, and the director of the graduate school.

Illegal student behavior should be reported to the UAF police department. Illegal and other prohibited behavior should be reported to Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities, to your dean/director and the director of the graduate school. Serious violations of the student code of conduct can be grounds for dismissal.

Graduate students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better to advance to candidacy or graduate. However, if the low GPA is due to a “C” grade in one or two courses, then the student may be able to raise their GPA by retaking the course(s) and earning a better grade, or earning an “A” in one or two other courses. Graduate students with a GPA below 3.0 can be dismissed from their graduate program on the recommendation of their graduate advisory committee (or the chair if a committee is not yet appointed), the department chair (or equivalent), the school/college dean/director, and the director of the graduate school. This step is normally reserved for cases when the committee sees little likelihood of the student being able to improve the GPA or complete the other requirements for the degree. The committee should initiate dismissal for any graduate student whose GPA is below 3.0 after the equivalent of two full years of graduate study (36 credits attempted). The annual “Report Advisory Committee” should reflect the low GPA at its first and subsequent instances and include steps to rectify the GPA as well as a timeline and consequences for not bring the GPA up to the required 3.0. A GPA that rounds up to 3.0 (i.e., ≥2.95) is acceptable.

If a graduate student wants to appeal a course grade or an academic decision (e.g., failure of a comprehensive examination, failure of a dissertation/thesis/project defense, dismissal), they should follow the university appeal process established by the Faculty Senate and overseen by the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities.

Initially it is not unusual that the student may be dependent on you for directions. Break up large tasks into smaller, easier parts, but allow and expect the student to take the initiative on those. Gradually increase the length and complexity of the tasks.

However, if your student is making insufficient progress you may need to meet with the student regularly and frequently, and work with them to identify and remove barriers to progress. In consultation with the student, set a written schedule and require biweekly or monthly progress reports (or partial drafts, if at the thesis writing stage). It’s usually best not to take a punitive approach as this can undermine a student’s enthusiasm and motivation. However, in severe cases, it may be necessary to specify consequences: a conditional or unsatisfactory “Report of Advisory Committee”, withdrawal of funding, or even dismissal, if the schedule is not met. If matters get to this stage, the consequences should be a collective decision of the entire committee, and the student should be provided with an explicit written warning.

It’s important to meet with the student and identify the problem. Think about the student’s working environment. There may be problems a student is reluctant to admit to you (e.g., personality conflicts within the research group) The student may have personal or family problems that limit work time. It may be best for the student to take a leave of absence until they can be resolved. Most advisors try to accommodate students who must take up to several weeks off for illness or serious family emergencies. However, if a student is unable to meet the ongoing requirements of a research assistantship, it may be necessary to terminate the assistantship.

If you have criticism of the students work, be sure to criticize their work not their person. Allot sufficient time for any meetings, without interruption. Avoid publicly criticizing the student, unless the advisory committee is meeting with the student. Keep criticisms specific to a few issues that need improvement. If there are many such issues, prioritize and save some for later. Offer specific instructions for improvement (if appropriate) or ask the student for an improvement plan. Praise as well as criticize. Don’t criticize at every encounter (the 80:20 rule works for No Criticism:Criticism). Be calm and courteous, even if the student is defensive. Listen carefully to the student’s response or explanation. Agree or disagree, but avoid being drawn into an argument. If the discussion is no longer constructive, end it, but offer an appointment to follow up later.

If the student avoids you, this may reflect the fact that the student may be reluctant to tell you about a lack of progress, he or she may fear criticism (especially if you have been frankly critical in the past), or you may be too busy (or seem so to the student). While the student has responsibility to stay in touch with you, it can be helpful if you make the extra effort to initiate contact (try an intermediary if the student won’t talk to you). Advisors do have the authority to require student attendance at reasonably scheduled meetings. If the student fails to attend such meetings, and fails to return phone calls and e-mails, it can be grounds for an unsatisfactory progress report and ultimately, dismissal. Be absolutely certain you use current contact information.

If you are concerned about the quality of a student’s research work, the best approach to this depends on the reason. Many new graduate students have very little practical research training or experience. They may not know how to keep good records or carry out many of the specific tasks you expect of them. In this case the student needs additional instruction on expectations or techniques. On the other hand, perhaps you have not allowed sufficient time to do quality work. Perhaps the student needs a little less time pressure. Another possibility is that the student needs more supervision. For example, a student who knows that you will look through his or her lab notebook every Friday may be more likely to keep a neat, complete, and up-to-date notebook.

If you are concerned about the quality of a student’s writing, it’s best to try do deal with this early in their program, because it will be painful to both of you if writing is still a serious problem when the thesis or project must be completed. Many students would benefit from a formal course or courses in writing. Students also benefit from practice; you may want to require a student with weaker writing skills to submit written progress reports on his or her research. The Writing Center is available to help with written assignments and, in a limited way, with thesis writing. In some cases, a student may need to hire an editor to produce a well-written final thesis. Often the least expensive editor is another graduate student in the same program.

If it seems that the student has a serious behavioral health problem, then the Center for Health and Counseling ( may be able to help. Most faculty members do not have the skills to address such problems and should avoid trying to play the role of a professional counselor.

If your student is not complying with research ethical or regulatory requirements, as principal Investigator or co-author, you may be held responsible. Hence, this cannot be overlooked. To prevent serious problems, appropriate training is important. UAF’s Office of Research Integrity offers on-line training in several important areas, as well as seminars and workshops. Environmental Health and Safety and Risk Management offers some training for regulatory compliance. However, if your student needs specialized training for compliance, it may be necessary for you to seek and pay for (through your grant or contract) training outside UAF.

If you are concerned that the student should not or cannot finish their graduate degree, first, think about this evaluation carefully. What is it based on? Good reasons for concern include consistently marginal performance (i.e., a GPA close to the minimum 3.0 in graduate course work), minimal performance on comprehensive exams, or little progress on research. However, sometimes the issue is less clear-cut. For example, a very shy student may not respond well to questions face-to-face, and so could appear to lack ability. However, if their written work is satisfactory, the shyness might be partly overcome in time. Check your perception with other faculty (committee members, instructors of courses) and the department chair. Do they share your views of this student? Counsel the student about his or her prospects. Try to draw the student out and let him or her do much of the talking. Is continuing this graduate program really the student’s best option? Voluntary withdrawal is much less traumatic than dismissal, and even if the student might complete the program, there is little to be gained from the effort to earn a degree in a field that the student finds very difficult or uninteresting.

Resignations from thesis committees are strongly discouraged as an alternative to dismissals, and must not occur without consultation with the department chair, dean/director of the school/college, and director of the graduate school. All committee changes require the signatures of these individuals.

Dismissal of students must follow due process and include fair warning. “Due Process” means that the same, well-defined process carries out dismissals for every student, with adequate levels of review. At UAF dismissal of graduate students is recommended by the advisory committee, and then must be approved by the department chair, dean/director of the school/college, and director of the graduate school. Note that final dismissal letters are only sent by the director of graduate school. “Fair Warning” means adequate notice to the student that dismissal is a probable or certain consequence of his or her performance or actions. This notice can simply be catalog policies, when the grounds for dismissal (like low GPA) are very clear-cut. In the case of dismissal for inadequate progress, the student must receive a written warning of pending dismissal at least one semester before the dismissal occurs and be given a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate adequate progress. Again, it is imperative that a “Report of Graduate Advisory Committee” be filed with the graduate school and it should reflect the pending dismissal. The following are examples of grounds for dismissal:

  • Academic standards: These include low GPA (well below 3.0 at any stage, or below 3.0 after the completion of the equivalent of 2 full years of graduate study) or repeatedly failed comprehensive or qualifying exams or a failed thesis or project defense.
  • Academic misconduct: Substantial evidence of misconduct must exist. The student may be entitled to a hearing. Contact the graduate school for advice if academic misconduct is suspected.
  • Research misconduct: Contact the Office of Research Integrity for advice and procedures, especially if the misconduct involves funded research.
  • Lack of progress: Normally (but not always) dismissal is undertaken only after the time limit for a degree program has passed. The committee must document the lack of progress with “conditional” or “unsatisfactory” Reports of Graduate Advisory Committee (may be filed much more often than annually) over a period of at least a year. An explicit dismissal warning must be issued, in writing, at least one semester before the dismissal can occur.
  • Other serious misconduct: Rarely, a student is barred from campus, either temporarily or permanently. Usually this occurs only if the student’s behavior makes them a serious threat to the safety of others. Obviously, a student who cannot enter the campus cannot complete their degree.

Student expectations and normal practices for award and continuation of research and teaching assistantships vary among departments. Become familiar with your department’s (or research institute’s) policies and practices in regard to assistantships. Many international students do not have the financial resources to remain in the US if they lose their assistantship; therefore, it’s important to discuss termination of assistantships with the International Student Advisor.

If a prospective student is offered financial support, it is very important to include a clear explanation of the duration of the support in the offer. Is the research grant that funds a research assistantship (RA) continuing for one or two or three years? Do departmental policies limit the duration of teaching assistantships (TAs)? If a student’s initial TA or RA ends, are there prospects for other funding? Do some students need to fund part of their education out-of pocket? Many faculty members go to substantial lengths to obtain funding for all of their students for the full duration of their programs, but even so, their efforts are not always successful, and students need to be aware of the uncertainties from the outset. If a department or PI is very clear about the duration of offered support from the outset, then no special steps need to be taken when support ends.

Occasionally it is necessary to terminate an assistantship before the end of the contract period, or before the end of an agreed-upon term of support. TA or RA contracts are normally for one semester, two semesters, or a full fiscal year. It’s uncommon to terminate support in the middle of a contract period, but this can occur for cause. In addition to the circumstances that warrant dismissal of the student, grounds for termination also include failure to carry out the duties specified in the contract letter satisfactorily. Examples include repeated, unexcused absences during assigned working hours or classes or poor performance. The supervising faculty member should keep timely records of absences, student complaints (in the case of TAs), botched laboratory work, or other problems. A written warning, coupled with a verbal warning and advice on how to improve performance, should be given.

All departments that employ TAs are encouraged to give each of them a systematic, written evaluation each semester. The advisory committee normally evaluates RA performance annually, if the RA is related to the student’s thesis research.

At the end of a contract, the supervising faculty member may decide that the student’s performance does not warrant continuing the graduate assistantship. Again, this should be based on documented, poor performance, and the student should have received a written warning well in advance of the termination of support.

There are a few circumstances in which immediate (or very early) termination is necessary. Occasionally a new TA can’t communicate in english and so is unable to do their assigned teaching. Departments need to be very careful to ensure that TAs have adequate english skills, e.g., via telephone interviews prior to acceptance. If available, the degree program should try to shift the student to RA support, provided the student’s English skills are sufficient for that type of position.

A rare situation that can call for immediate termination is when a student engages in criminal behavior (either at the University or elsewhere) that raises concerns about their carrying out the duties of the assistantship. UAF does not have a policy that automatically terminates assistantships of students with criminal convictions, but in certain cases (e.g., a TA who is a convicted sexual predator) termination is the only prudent course. There are also circumstances when termination may be appropriate when a student is arrested for an offense, but not yet convicted. Since the best course of action is seldom clear, faculty who face this situation with an RA or TA should contact the graduate school, University General Counsel, and the school/college dean/director for guidance.

I acknowledge that I have the primary responsibility for the successful completion of my degree.

I will:

  1. Meet regularly with my advisor and provide my advisor updates on my progress in academic courses and research,
  2. Work with my advisor to develop a research plan that will form the basis of my thesis.
  3. Work with my advisor to select a graduate advisory committee and a complete Graduate Study Plan.
  4. Be knowledgeable of the department, program, and graduate school rules, regulations, policies, and deadlines as applicable to my studies and commit to meeting these requirements.
  5. Discuss my fieldwork needs and plans (if applicable) with my advisor, will take required safety trainings, and will take all possible measures to responsibly and safely conduct the fieldwork.
  6. Collect data/samples relevant to my research and document/store these in an organized manner as appropriate. I understand that all tangible research (e.g., samples, original notes, backups etc.) are the property of the institution and that I can take a copy of my notes with me when I complete my thesis/dissertation.
  7. Discuss expectations for publishing, conference attendance, and authorship with my advisor. Work with my advisor to submit all relevant research results that are ready for publication in a timely manner.
  8. Discuss policies and expectations on work hours, sick leave, and vacations with my advisor, and inform them of any planned absences in advance.
  9. Seek guidance on my career path, while acknowledging that I have the primary responsibility for developing my career path following graduation.

I acknowledge my commitment to advising/mentoring the student to successfully complete their degree and potion them in their profession.

I will:

  1. Be committed to mentoring the student.
  2. Be committed to the student’s scholarship and research project.
  3. Be committed to meeting with the student on a regular basis.
  4. Be committed to providing resources and/or doing my best to find the resources to help the student conduct research, complete and successfully defend their thesis/dissertation.
  5. Be committed to providing resources for the student to take required safety trainings and carry out field work (as applicable). I will discuss the risks of remote field work and will do my best to alleviate risks as applicable.
  6. Be knowledgeable of the department and graduate student school rules and regulations and will guide the student, especially if they are “lost”.
  7. Help the student in selecting a graduate advisory committee and establish a relevant Graduate Study Plan.
  8. Help the student in developing academic and professional skills (e.g., oral and written communication, grant writing., ethical conduct in research, scientific publication, scientific publication, etc.)
  9. Discuss policies on authorship of papers and data ownership.
  10. Clarify expectations concerning working practice (e.g., office hours, vacation etc.) with the graduate student.
  11. Encourage the graduate student to attend professional meetings, disseminate research results, build a strong network, and will help the student to secure funding for such activities.
  12. Provide to the best of my ability an environment that is intellectually stimulating, emotionally supportive, safe, and free of harassment.
  13. Be supportive, equitable, accessible, encouraging, and respectful throughout the student’s time in the graduate program.
  1. Alaska Biomedical Learning and Student Training (BLaST) Program, 2018, BLaST Mentoring Handbook, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 78 pp,
  2. Alaska Department of Administration, 2021, Workplace Alaska,
  3. Bloom, J. L., A. E. Propst Cuevas, J. W. Hall, and C. E. Evans, 2007, Graduate students’ perceptions of an outstanding graduate advisor characteristics, NACADA Journal, 27(2),
  4. Cassuto, L., and R. Weisbuch, 2021, The new PhD; how to build a better graduate education, Johns Hopkins University Press. 400 pp.
  5. Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI), 2021, Responsible Conduct of Research, Mentoring,
  6. Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), 1997, Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering. National Academies Press. 96 pp,
  7. Council of Graduate Schools, 2009, Broadening Participation in Graduate Education, 31 pp,
  8. Equitable Letters in Space Physics, 2021,
  9. Grossman, J., 2018, Hierarchy and Needs: How to Dislodge Outdated Notions of Advising, Perspectives on History,
  10. Jones, A., 2018, Alaska native scholars: A mixed methods investigation of factors influencing PhD attainment, PhD Dissertation, University of Alaska Fairbanks,
  11. King, M. F., 2003, On the Right Track: A Manual for Research Mentors. Council of Graduate Schools. 26 pp,
  12. Medawar, P., 1979. Advice to a young scientist, Harper and Rowe, 109 pp.
  13. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019, The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press,
  14. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2021, The Science of Mentorship, Podcasts,
  15. Paglis, L.L., S. G. Green, and T. N. Bauer, 2006, Does adviser mentoring add value? A longitudinal study of mentoring and doctoral student outcomes. Res. High. Educ. 47, 451–476.
  16. United States Office of Personnel Management, 2021, USAJobs,
  17. University of California Santa Barbara, 2021, The TA-ship and the University,
  18. University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School. 2019, How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty in a Diverse University. 52 pp,
  19. Cross, Lydia (2015). Professional staff as graduate student academic advisors. Academic Advising Today, 38(3).,
  20. Stanford University. 2021, Advising Practices & Resources.


  1. University of Alaska, 2021, General Counsel,
  2. University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2021, Career Services,
  3. University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2021, Catalog,
  4. University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2021, Center for Health and Counselling,
  5. University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2021, Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities, Appeals,
  6. University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2021, Student Code of Conduct,
  7. University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2021, Environmental Health and Safety and Risk Management.
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  10. University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2021, Office of Equity and Compliance,
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