Step 65: Advise New Students

As a second year faculty – or rather, no longer as a first-year faculty – one of my new duties is to advise incoming students on their courses. I was initially anxious about this – my vacation travel made me miss a new advisor workshop, and although I later met with one of the workshop leaders, most of what I learned were procedural details of how to deal with edge cases, and very little about how to approach my advisees’ interests.

It turns out that the first advising session doesn’t require you to talk much about the student at all. I spent over six hours on Friday on advising – one hour with my entire new advising group, then 30 minutes of individual advising for each of my 10 advisees. 30 minutes is really not enough time to do anything beyond finding courses that interest them and backups in case those courses are full, and convincing students not to take certain combinations of classes.

Some observations:

  • My most valuable asset as an advisor was knowing how college works. The majority of my advice are things that older students take for granted: don’t take multiple heavy courses, don’t fill your semester with courses from the same area, check for co-requisites, etc. I suspect many students would have done as good a job here.
  • I also found myself being able to catch time conflicts without plotting everything out. I found this ability pedagogically interesting, since my advisees could have figured this out by themselves, except it would have taken them longer. It reminded me of some introductory computer science concepts, which students could slowly apply if given time, but which I could understand at a glance.
  • By the end of this process, I found myself shepherding students into a few classes that I knew had a lot of seats remaining and fulfilled a core requirement. This is after figuring out what classes they do want to take, of course, but after that, it was too exhausting to continue looking for new courses that might fulfill a distribution requirement.
  • Also by the end of this, I had completely lost track of what courses each of my advisees were taking. I tried to write down each student’s plan, but skip a student… and could not remember that I talked about even 30 minutes later.
  • First-years registered by timeslots, and some of my advisees were in the latest groups. Despite my best efforts, I could not find enough backups for students. I suspect I under-estimated how quickly classes would fill – the 10 seats in Intro to Cog Sci, for example, were filled by noon, before half the students had registered. There is also a hidden variable of reputation I’m not taking into account, and which I have no direct way of observing.

Now that the initial wave of advising is over, it’s time to plan out how I want future advising sessions to go. I would like my advisees to think through what they want to get out of college and to define their intermediate-term goal – or more generally, to be deliberate about their path. I heard from a friend who studied at Oberlin Conservatory of Music that she had to say where she saw herself in 5, 10, and 30 years. That sounds a little intense, especially if students don’t know even know what they want to major in, but I understand the intent.

Any advice for a new advisor in that direction would be appreciated.

Step 65: Advise New Students

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