Professor Advising Students

How hard is advising?

When I was first starting out as a professor students would ask me questions I just found ridiculous. Like, did they need to take a particular art history course. I thought, geez, take what the catalogue tells you to take! I didn’t always comprehend that a major or minor could have options, there could be confusion, and that the students themselves maybe didn’t know who else to ask those questions of. No, I thought, as the professor, their questions for me should be strictly limited to class content! Everything else was, “See your advisor.” And the advisor was never going to be me.

However, in the real world, or the real world in academia, advising may differ from campus to campus. It may be perfectly legitimate, or even encouraged, of students to ask questions related to finishing their degree requirements of their professor. Logically, shouldn’t it make sense that we are all able to answer basic questions about our programs asked by our declared majors and minors? Sadly, there are a lot of our colleagues who leave the advising to someone else – the chair gets a reassignment, they can do all the advising, or, we think we can send all of the students to Academic Advising and they’ll straighten it out. On our campus we have over 40 subjects in which a person could major or minor. We have that ever-slippery concept of “Interdisciplinary Majors” vs. “Disciplinary Majors”. Can we actually expect the advisors down there dealing with transfer credit, course substitutions, and general education requirements to ALSO be experts on our own curriculum? Who designed that curriculum, anyway…oh, that was either us, or the people who hired us. Yeah…and we all have a few really great ideas for changing it, from time to time.

Peanuts Cartoon

Peanuts Cartoon

How hard is advising? Well, it’s not hard unless there’s a student on the verge of tears sitting next to you. It’s not hard unless there’s an angry frustrated student about to drop out of college if he or she doesn’t get some answers that make some sense. It’s not hard unless you do it wrong, and then live to face the consequences when a student has to take out another loan to finish because you didn’t understand the periodicity of class scheduling and told them to take a Fall-only offering in Spring.

The sad fact of the matter is, if you poke around our website you have all the right answers at your disposal. Sometimes, you and the student can work together on their SIS account and find all kinds of interesting facts as a team, but once in a while, it’s a relief just to be able to answer a question quickly in class, or in the hallway, confident that you gave important accurate information and helped a student get a little further in life.

Isn’t that why we’re all here, anyway? So learn a bit about your own program, and bravely jump into responsible advising instead of passing the buck. You can get started on April 7 at 3:30 by signing up for this CATL workshop: Advising for New and Unofficial Advisors, led by me. I learned the hard way. You don’t have to.

Alison GatesAlison Gates
Associate Professor, Arts & Visual Design, & Women’s & Gender Studies
Faculty Consultant, CATL

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