09 April 2012

The Advisor

I was scrolling through my advisee list last week looking for the name of a student who sought my help. I noticed a number of names on the list that I recognized for being there, but realized I had never spoken with these students in person (and some were seniors). This prompted me to think about the role of the faculty advisor in a students' career planning.

Most students know their advisor is there to help them with their academic plan and issues that arise related to it. However, I am not certain students know what else their advisor can do for them. The most important function, at least to me, is that of a sounding board. The advisor can be help in terms of feedback regarding career questions, potential academic or career plans (e.g., where I want to work in the United States), and, depending on their nature, personal issues. Personal issues have been, for me, those difficult discussions about a student's behavior, study habits, or other matter. When I taught in Thailand, students opened up to me about every possible issue imaginable. Here, though, students do not feel the same sense of comfort to disclose. That's fine. The advisor can be a bridge between worlds for a student as they can be a friend, but are not like a student's classmates and friends. They can be a parent, but not replace a student's parents. It is a funny role for us to play.

For new students entering the DSA, I would recommend setting a time to meet your advisor within the first quarter of the first year. This can be a meeting to introduce each other to each other. The more an advisor knows about a student, the better he or she can help that student with advice, ideas, or important decisions.  I am not advocating complete disclosure on day one, but I am certain that opening that door early on makes it easier for the student to get to know the advisor, and teachers in general, and allows the advisor to understand this particular face in a crowd.

In the end, I recommend the following baseline topics to discuss with your advisor.

1. Career interests and the pathway(s) you see that can get you there; advisors have contacts and friends in the industry and are usually ready to help if, first the student will help themselves, and second, if the advisor feels comfortable with the student and believes he or she is worth mentioning to a contact (e.g., for a job interview)
2. Academic progress including concerns that might be had about a class (e.g., an ECON class) or study habits in general
3. Important, non-academic issues that the advisor should know about if it means his or her knowledge can assist in any way (e.g., special testing needs)
4. A life outside of school. Getting to know your advisor on a personal (and him or her allowing you to get to know them), humanizes both of you and allows the possibility of a better relationship to develop
5. Exchange information; many students and advisors are on LinkedIn and it is a good idea to check with your advisor to see if he or she will accept student contacts...most will

From these five main areas, it is my hope that a solid relationship will develop and the advisor - advisee relationship can become a stronger one along the lines of a mentor - mentee relationship.  MEP

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