Posts Tagged ‘Student Advising’

In most areas of my transition to a new institution I have been able to draw on my previous experience as a tenure-track faculty member. This has been similar to my mostly-smooth transition from graduate school to life as a tenure-track faculty member. There is one area, though, in which my years as a tenure-track faculty member have not left me feeling any more prepared than I did during my last transition: advising.

Although I’m still part of a sociology department, there are some major differences between my current institution and my former when it comes to advising. The primary difference is that my current department has many fewer majors than my previous department, so while I had 40-60 major advisees at my previous institution, I currently have seven non-major advisees. This is an area in which I have no experience.

Previously, I was challenged with learning the departmental curriculum and the institution’s general education curriculum in order to advise students to complete all of the necessary graduation requirements. Currently, I need to know both of those things as well as enough about each of the other majors on campus to advise students until they officially declare, which must be done by the spring of their sophomore year. Although there is a lot of guidance available in the form of quick-reference sheets, lists of courses to start with, etc., it feels like the risk of screwing up somebody’s academic career by giving bad advice is magnified.

I’m sure that I will eventually get used to this, like I did at my previous institution. Until then, I’m glad that I don’t have many advisees to ruin the futures of!

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One of the advantages of working at a small school is that things are not set in stone months in advance. Sometimes, though, this is a disadvantage. This comes into play every semester when it is time for advising. I typically get the schedule for the next semester via e-mail about two weeks before registration starts. Because I work a small school and students are required to meet with me personally before they can register this gives me two weeks to post a sign-up sheet outside my office, contact students telling them to sign up on said sheet, and meet with roughly 60 students to discuss their past, present, and future courses. I received the registration dates and course schedule for the spring semester yesterday.

There goes my hope for accomplishing anything next week!

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This semester I have been attempting to find out how many meetings a single professor can have with students before going insane. Whenever students are responsible for large assignments on topics of their own choosing I like to meet with them to make sure that they don’t go astray. For example, students in research methods have met with me and stated that they are interested in studying cancer. Not the social effects but cancer itself. How it can be prevented, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated. Clearly, this is not a sociological topic! (Actually, I should allow students to use this. I would like to see how they propose to study these things using sociological methods.)

So meeting with students is good, but this semester I ended up assigning this sort of project in all three of my courses, leading to nearly 80 meetings and a serious reconsideration of my usual practice. On top of that, I offered students in one class an extra two points on their exam if they met with me to discuss what went right and (mostly) what went wrong in their preparation. I go back and forth on offering extra credit for an activity that I wish students would do anyway, but this does allow me to check in with them and let them know that I’m on their side as long as they’re willing to do the necessary work. Of course, only about half of the students who actually met with me did poorly on their exams…

I somehow survived all of these meetings over the course of about a month. I’m not sure whether it made me insane. Next up: meeting with my 50 advisees about their spring schedules!

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When I started advising students I recognized that I had no idea what I was doing. Since then, I’ve figured out most of the important things but I still have not figured out a good way of dealing with students who are in need of emotional support that I’m not qualified to provide. It is easy to refer these students to the appropriate campus counseling services but it is not always easy to get them to recognize that I’m neither knowledgeable enough nor comfortable enough to provide the type of advice they seek. Because they don’t realize this they repeatedly come back to my office seeking advice. In these situations I feel like this:


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