Which Oz Character is Your Dissertation Advisor?

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Which Oz Character is Your Dissertation Advisor?

If you have the ideal advisor, count yourself lucky!

If your advisor is not stellar, consider which category your advisor falls into. I find it helps to think in terms of characters from the Wizard of Oz.

We’re Off To See The Wizard

As Dorothy walked along the yellow brick road, she knew her goal – to get back home to Kansas. She longed for guidance, but she got stuck with all these older and “wiser” mentor figures that either hindered her or weren’t that helpful. Maybe you can recognize your advisor in one of these characters from the Wizard of Oz.

Glinda, the Good Witch


The Glinda-type advisor is so nice and friendly. But she only points you down the road and doesn’t give very useful advice. Oh sure, she’s there when you ask for help, but mostly she wants you to learn on your own. Think about it — why didn’t Glinda tell Dorothy to click her heels in the beginning?

The student with this type of advisor can often feel guilty and hesitant to ask for help. The advisor’s friendly demeanor can cause confusion about what role the advisee should take in the relationship.

The Wicked Witch of the West

There are some advisors, unfortunately, who are just plain mean. If they take a dislike to you, sometimes for apparently arbitrary reasons, they enjoy hurting your feelings. Frequently their remarks seem aimed at discouraging the unlucky advisee from continuing as a graduate student.

Students with Wicked Witch advisors can become very anxious and even paranoid. They will often avoid handing in their work because of the very real fear of cruel feedback.

The Scarecrow

Some students have advisors who seem to have no backbone. They flip and flop, and don’t remember what they’ve said half the time. It’s not that they don’t have a brain, but maybe they don’t put the mental energy into advising that you would like.

Students with Scarecrow advisors can become frantic, trying to do what their advisor suggests, and then finding out that he now wants something different. They’re often just plain confused.

The Cowardly Lion

It might not seem so bad to have a Cowardly Lion as a dissertation advisor. But what if your advisor is afraid of telling you the truth? Many of my clients have worried when they got a chapter back with just a few typos corrected, and no substantive comments. I have also worked with professors who fear confronting their students in any way. The Cowardly Lion may be hesitant in other arenas, such as the job search, where you would like an advisor who can really go to bat for you.

Graduate students with Cowardly Lion advisors live in fear of having the other shoe drop. “When will I finally be told,” they wonder, “what my advisor really thinks of my work?”

The Tin Man

Some students have advisors who are as rigid as the Tin Man. Some are older and set in their ways. Some have a research agenda that the student is made to conform to. Like the Tin Man, this kind of advisor doesn’t have a “heart,” or the empathy to see that they need to let the student find their own way of doing research.

Students with Tin Man advisors can feel angry and frustrated. They often find themselves stalled out because of oppositional feelings engendered by feeling that their advisor is controlling them.

The Wizard of Oz

Having a Wizard of Oz advisor can be difficult. He’s often blowing smoke, trying to show others that he is great and mighty. He’s difficult to get a hold of, and when you want to meet with him to discuss something, he sends you off to do some impossible task; e.g. “Finish this chapter in a perfectly polished format and have it on my desk in a week.”

Students with Wizard of Oz advisors can be found slinking around the hallways guiltily hoping that their advisor doesn’t see them. They’ve been unable to do the impossible task, so they feel ashamed.


What To Do About Your Advisor

To succeed in graduate school, it’s imperative that you know how best to work with your advisor, no matter which Wizard of Oz character he or she reminds you of. Get the mp3 recording of our teleclass on how to deal with your dissertation advisor.

Click the ruby slippers to learn more!


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