Monday, April 23, 2007

Advising Joys and Frustrations

It's advising season here at NWU.

I had a fantastic meeting with a student last week; we put together a schedule so that each of her classes speaks in some way to another class. Environmental lit with human geography and so forth. I felt a strange sort of jealousy, because I think she's going to have one of those really amazing semesters. In an ideal world, part of advising is helping students look for connections between and among their classes. It's especially important to make meaningful connections between work in general education type classes and their majors/minors. The fact that this student was actually going to have a semester where those connections were explicitly emphasized makes me happy, and seemed to please her as well.

I've also had some less satisfying meetings. I have a couple advisees who are changing majors. I don't regret in any way the change, or even losing them as advisees. But I worry when someone tells me she wants to change majors but she hasn't even read through the catalog to learn what the requirements for her new major are. The frustration increases when the new major is in a field for which licensing plays a large part, such as nursing, accounting, or teaching. I do my best to set things up, and then tell the student to hie him or herself to the new department to talk to someone who really knows the show.

And I worry when a student who talked to me during our meeting last semester about changing majors has another appointment with me this semester because it means they haven't followed up on the change for some reason. If they haven't followed up because they changed their mind, fine. If they haven't followed up because they just didn't bother, then that's not so fine. I see some of each.

I don't worry at all about first or second year students who aren't leaning towards a major/minor combination so long as they're in exploration mode, trying out different things, and familiar with the catalog possibilities. I worry a lot more when a junior or senior seems undecided and unfocused. Most students, though, work through their decisions, sometimes without my help, sometimes with more specific help. I have a tendency to send students to career counseling, especially if they're talking about doing a teaching degree so that they'll have job security. Job security means little if you hate your job, I figure. So I try to get them to do some tutoring or classroom observation at least.

We have to give certain advisees a registration code, and we're supposed to advise them before we give the code. The idea is that they actually have to talk to someone about their academics before enrolling in their next semester of classes. That makes good sense to me.

But it's so very different from my own advising experience. I would have benefitted a LOT from actually talking to someone once a semester about what I was doing, but I'm a stubborn so and so, and would have fought such a system. I have students who fight this system, too, and while I understand their irritation, their sense that they should be able to make totally independent decisions, I also don't give out the code without seeing them and trying to advise them. But I can tell when I get their frustrated email about how they need to register and don't have time to come by to talk.

One of the more frustrating meetings this semester involved a student who didn't want to come see me last semester, but who came. We talked, and I wrote down the classes he planned to take. And this semester, he's not taking any of the classes I wrote down. Sometimes students can't get into classes, but sometimes, I think they change their minds.

I remind myself, it's their education. I can talk to them, listen, advise, and try to help them go in the directions they seem to want to go, but when push comes to shove, they have to register for classes, go to classes, do the hard work involved. And they'll get the degree. Or not.


  1. I would have given a lot to have an advisor help me navigate my education. It would have saved me the year between college and med school that I spent napping and fishing!

    Also, it would just be nice to have someone who knows what's what sort of help me navigate the system.

  2. My problem is with most advisors I've had to see is that they are not help what so ever. It is just another hoop to jump through when I register.

    It took me four tries to get my current advisor to understand that I was a straight History B.A and three to get her to actually tell me what I had to do to pention for a class to be accpeted.

    She's also fond of telling me that math really isn't that hard and that I should take Spanish becuase it's easier than Latin.

    Needless to say I avoid her like crazy. I'd love an avdisor that would listen to me. I wish I could talk to the other History advisor but so does everyone else it seems.

  3. If you want to become an English major, MWaK, let me know!

    History Geek, I have a feeling some of my advisees think I don't listen as well as I should, but I try. It's one of those things where both people need to reach out a bit. Happily, most of my students are really wonderful people and teach me a lot, too.

    ps. Math isn't that hard!!! And it makes so much sense of the world, especially when you get to calc and statistics. Econ, too!!!