I’ve been at my new job for a month as of today and I’ve hit a tipping point as a trainee: my ratio of time spent training versus time spent working with students is finally trending in the student direction. Yay! I really like students. I actually went through a bit of student withdrawal during the first week of classes, really missing that first day energy. Now I’m meeting students in small groups, as well as holding walk-in hours and appointments, and the difference in my attitude and energy is remarkable.
One aspect of our jobs is to track our “development” as advisors: to see how we mature, change, and transform as we gain experience and knowledge. Our Director suggested that we sit down every month or so to define what academic advising means to us and track changes over time. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Bear in mind that the kind of advising I do is focused on 1st and 2nd year students, before they transfer to their majors or apply to selective programs.
Academic Advising is…
Trying not to ruin someone’s life.
This was my working definition for several weeks. At the end of the day, if I could say “I didn’t ruin his life!” I knew I’d done okay. I didn’t forget a crucial thing that could jeopardize their application, progress to graduation, visa, or financial aid. I didn’t say yes when I meant no, or say something was definite when it isn’t, or that something is fine when it is not. When learning the ropes, advising is about not fucking up.
Just like teaching, minus the grading, plus more email.
Know how students are always asking you questions that the syllabus answered? Or things you covered in class, just a minute ago? Advising is full of that. A dozen emails asking about add/drop deadlines, which you just clarified in an email that you just sent. A dozen requests for an appointment, when those have to be scheduled online or through the front office, which is clearly stated and linked in your signature.
I help first year students navigate the same bureaucracy now that I did as a teacher. I direct them to the same resources (fin aid, counseling), sympathize with the same roommate conflicts and bouts of homesickness. It’s very similar in terms of the personal relationship with students. What it lacks, completely, is after hours duties (I don’t check my U email at all when I’m home) and, huzzah, grading!!
Chris via Compfight
A lot of my training focuses on learning about relatively unknown majors that aren’t obvious to students, but are really cool (like Health Promotion, or Environmental Planning and Policy). Then, I have to talk to students to figure out what they really want (which is rarely what they say they want: e.g. “I want to major in Bio” is code for “I vaguely want to work in health but I probably don’t understand how intense Bio really is and I have the mistaken notion that this is the only way to get into that world.”) and push them in the direction of alternatives. This goes double when it becomes clear that students are not going to be admitted to the major or program of their choice. Then I have to make those back ups or “parallel plans” seem like the perfect fit (which they often are, although students may not see it that way).
A lot of advising, at least here, is about getting students to face their denial. It’s about looking at a transcript full of Bs and Cs and saying, yeah, that GPA is not going to make the cut for Business School. Really. Even if you magically do everything right this semester and make all As. Or, yeah. Unfortch, this math placement exam? It’s mandatory, and it says that you really do have to take College Algebra before you can get started on that Actuarial Science major, which, by the way? Is 99% math and wants a minimum of 3.5 for admission. Or, you did take those courses at the community college. Unfortunately, the transcript folks determined that they will not count towards your major, and no, there really is nothing you can do about it, and yes, you really have to retake them here.
You’d be surprised how long a student can keep up a fantasy that the path they’ve chosen will work out, even if it’s extremely clear that it’s not going to work out. We are like the wicked queen’s mirror who has to say, Actually, you aren’t the fairest of them all. There are clearly about 120 students more fair than you. It requires a balance of forthrightness and kindness that is challenging to strike, but it’s also really rewarding to help a student negotiate that serious process. Some advisers here call it “dream reshaping.”
That’s all I’ve got for now. Advising is clearly a field in which people undergo enormous growth and transformation over several years. Everyone says I can expect to hit my stride in about 3 years. I keep hoping I can accelerate that, though!
Have a great holiday weekend!