Notes from an advisor's desk

Jan 29 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

My undergraduate advising duties have picked up quite a bit over the last few months. I've had a bunch of meetings with students in their second through forth year and every meeting is different. I didn't expect that a group of people all going through the same (or similar) training would have such completely different experiences, but perhaps that's a simplistic view.

In about five minutes I can tell whether the student is just there for affirmation that they are on the right track or if they came because they don't know how to get to the end game. Initially I was surprised how many students are in the latter category (the major requirements and spelled out in multiple places, with worksheets to help students schedule their classes), but then I remember that most of the students I see are younger than 20 and are choosing their own path for really the first time. In high school their schedule is predetermined for them, for the most part, but now they are free to follow guidelines or not, with no consequences to those choices until after the fact. From my position now it seems crazy that students can't stay on track to meet the major requirements in 4 years, but I was a wide-eyed student once too and many don't know exactly what they want to do from day 1.

In my capacity as an advisor I try and get to know what they want to do post-university, and within reason, put them on a path to succeed. But I have been surprised at my reaction to the various students who walk in my office. In most cases the meeting is straight-forward and I give them a plan for a year or two of classes. In about 40 minutes I can work them through what they need to do and we can agree on a course of action. What intrigues me, however, are the students at the extremes of my reaction spectrum. Some walk in and I find a pretty limited desire to help them. I'm not saying I don't work with them, but something about our interaction keeps me focused more on how to get them done with the major rather than tailoring it to their specific interests. In other cases I have gone out my way to come up with a ideal schedule for students, including finding lab work for a student who didn't even know that option existed. I only recently realized that there was a bell curve to my advisee interactions and I haven't been able to pin down what the factors are that influence it, because it is not related to GPA, the engagement of the student, or other potentially obvious factors and I'm meeting them all for the first time. Some students are just more helpable than others and I guess sometimes I'm just a sucker for a good story.

4 responses so far

  • MGS says:

    It's great that you're trying to figure out what factors correlate with how much effort you put into a student.Something to consider is that some people don't know how to ask for help but very much want it, and that some of those students are the ones that come in looking like they know what they want. When I was in undergrad I spent hours poring over course schedules to put myself on the right track and then went to my advisor with plan in hand, but didn't figure out in time that I had the wrong major. I thought that coming in without having done the legwork would irritate the professor (whose time I knew was short), but with having done so much, perhaps I seemed less helpable. I missed a lot of opportunities in undergrad, presumably because no one thought to tell me about them.Now as a grad student, I do my best to spread the word about opportunities that I know about or create, but the more I do things for the group, the more lost I feel, myself.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    When I taught I had the same mix of students to advise: the utterly prepared (loved these kids if they were not neurotic), the kind of on track, the Amtrack ran off the damn rails 100 miles back kind of student, the "I breathe 100% through my mouth" student, and last but not least the "I just want to get the hell out of here what do I need to do" student.

  • Ms.PhD says:

    Yeah, it's interesting when you're able to observe your reactions from an objective viewpoint. Some students are fun, have their priorities straight, and others are very limited by pressure from their parents. I was one of the latter, and it took me a while to grow out of that limited mentality. I just wish I knew how to guide those students more than anyone guided me. But now that the shoe on the other foot, I know why no one really tried to tell me to forget my parents' ideals and strike out on my own - it's a very sticky issue.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have forgotten about undergrad advising. When I was that age, my adviser was in Economics and had no idea what I was doing. I have 3 undergrads working in the lab for me but it is nothing like advising because I know exactly what they are doing. Then again, when they ask me about how many credits they need, I tell them to talk with their adviser. Best of luck.

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