Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Trying to be a Better Advisor (Part I)

I love wine. What does that have to do with advising, you ask? Oddly, lots, for me. A number of years ago now, when I first started pulling in the big bucks (hint: note slight tinge of sarcasm), I joined a wine of the month club. Each month, the vineyard sends me a couple bottles of wine, a wine of the month club note, and a recipe. The recipes always seem delicious and daunting, and I've never actually even tried to use one. But the newsletter I love; it talks about weather and winemaking, local wine issues, and then it gives information about the specific wine(s) they're sending that month, describing how wonderful it is, suggesting what foods it goes with best, and so forth.

Of course, this is marketing. But it's also fun for me to read and adds to my enjoyment of the wine when I drink it.

A couple of years ago, I decided to copy my wine of the month club's strategy and try an advising of the month club note or newsletter. (NWU, in its infinite wisdom, has an advisee email list set up for each advisor, so I can do this easily.) I'm not religious about it; I skip summer and sometimes months during the academic year. I've got no real way to measure whether it's helping my advisees or not, but I do have some feedback that seems to indicate it might. First, they often hit "reply" when they want to email me a question or make an appointment, which leads me to think that at the least my note makes my email a little more obvious and available, and so might help them actually ask the question. Second, sometimes I parody poems (and I'm always looking for suggestions! So far, my poem parodies have been focused on the cruelties of April, which really is the cruelest month up here in the Northwoods), and about one third to one half of my advisees either email or actually talk to me about the parody. So I know at least some of them are reading it.

I think one of the benefits of the note is that I can remind students of things they may not think about all the time, opportunities to get involved with activities, for example. I can also remind them of my office hours, requirements, and resources.

Most important, though, I think the note puts a bit of a human face on me, especially for newer students who get assigned to a random advisor by our advising guru when they sign up as an English major.

Here then, compete with some strategic cuts to slightly disguise NWU and yours truly, is this month's note:

Welcome to the November Advising of the Month Club Newsletter!

I'm sure you're all aware that registration is coming up FAST! My office hours are , so if you can make it, please come chat with me. If those office hours aren't convenient for you, drop me an email, please, and we'll find a time that will work.

(Some folks have already come to talk to me, kudos to you!)

When you come in to talk to me, I'd like you to have thought about what classes you need to take to complete your GEs, your major, and your minor, and also about what classes you're fantasizing about. I think it's really important that you read the university catalog as a fantasy book, and really think about taking some classes that just seem fun, just for the heck of it!

The other big "coming up fast" news is midterm grades. If you're worried about a class, or worried that you're not doing well for whatever reason, I encourage you to use this week to take stock and, if necessary, make some changes. If you're studying hard and feeling that it "doesn't help," then go talk to the academic skills folks, and see if they can help you with other study methods. (I speak of this from personal experience. You may not realize this, but I was far from stellar as an undergraduate. Retrospectively, I realize that I just didn't have good study skills. By the time I was a senior, I finally began to develop some, and my GPA did quite a bit better, and I actually felt good about my studies.) NWU has a boatload of resources to help our students with learning, from academic skills to the English Department Writing Center. We also have resources to help folks with personal difficulties. (Link to our student development information page)

And, happily, as your advisor, I can be your gateway to getting in touch with the resources you'll find helpful. (But I'm not a gatekeeper; you can also use these resources without my intervention.)

A few other things: if you've always wanted to work on a research project, but need some help, some funding, some guidance, then look into a student/faculty project: (Link to our student/faculty research information page.)

Here's wishing you ALL a great November!

Best, Bardiac

PS. I have a favor to ask the seniors among you. Here goes: I would appreciate it if you'd each email me a couple things you would tell a first or second year student, maybe an English major. What should/shouldn't students do? What advice would you give?


PPS. You don't actually have to be a senior to participate in giving advice. Feel free to email me!

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