Doctoral Advisor Selection in Chemical Engineering: Evaluating Two Programs through Principal-Agent Theory


TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


VT Publishing


Background: Little is known about how doctoral advising relationships form, but understanding the inception of these relationships can be helpful to address doctoral attrition. Chemical Engineering programs highly structure this advisor-advisee selection when compared to other engineering programs. Purpose: This study examines how two programs in Chemical Engineering practice the advisor-advisee selection process from the perspective of their faculty. In particular, our study uses principal-agent theory to address the following research question: How do two Chemical Engineering doctoral programs manage the advisor-advisee matching process? Methods: Through multi-case study methods, we examine faculty perceptions in two large doctoral programs in the U.S. Our coding was informed using Principal-Agent Theory as a framework to help characterize faculty perceptions and develop insight into their interactions with students and the graduate program director. Results: Our findings showed that faculty perceived control could strongly impact whether they adhere to departmental processes and adapt to the existing practices or if they circumvent the process. Our findings also showed the role of transparency and how such impacted faculty engagement. Conclusion: We recommend departments consider how they practice shared governance in their departments regarding the advisor-advisee matching process. We also recommend they continuously engage in conversations about processes and practices to surface implicit and explicit practices and perpetuate good community in their academic units. We also present recommendations for using economics frameworks in studying academic processes.



doctoral education, chemical engineering, principal-agent theory