The Language of Evaluation

Language of Evaluation |

At a recent staff meeting, I presented my colleagues with a variety of evaluation terms. I was interested to see their reaction to the terms in order to open up a dialogue about evaluative practices in our office. Evaluation culture is something that fascinates me and I thought that perhaps starting at the most basic level, the words we use when talking about evaluation, could give some insight in to how people view evaluation practices in my particular workplace.

I instructed my non-evaluator work-family to write down whatever came to mind regarding the term on the card I had given them. The evaluation terms I had chosen were:

  • Monitoring
  • Assessment
  • Evaluation
  • Performance
  • Judgement

After a few minutes we went around and discussed their thoughts on the words. Not surprisingly, there were several negative connotations surrounding evaluation terms. But let’s focus on the positive for a minute.

The most “friendly” evaluation term seemed to be “Performance”. Responses to this word included “Evaluation”, “Artistic”, “Scale” and “Skills”. I wouldn’t necessarily classify these terms as positive or negative, however this was one of the only cards without the perception that evaluation was a threat.

Regarding “Monitoring” the words that came up were “Fiscal duties” and “Transactions”. Monitoring appears to bring up more financial and budgetary thoughts within my group.

“Assessment” had a lot of writing and a lot of discussion. A few of the concerns that came up regarding this term were academic freedom and accreditation. Within the realm of higher education, this word tends to have more of a threatening connotation than does “Evaluation”. Other terms associated with this word included “Measurement”, “Process”, “Formative/summative”, and “Accountability”.

Assessment  |

The first thing written on the card for “Evaluation” was “Sounds better than assessment” which did make me laugh. Other responses included “Not sure if it is the same as assessment” and “May scare some people”. Although this term was decidedly less threatening within the group discussion, there was still a lot of worry and concern surrounding the word.


Somewhat unsurprisingly the term “Judgement” was almost completely negative in perception. Responses included “Criticism”, “Evaluation”, “Unfair” and “Picking sides”. It is easy to see how this term would be threatening or negative to most people, but seeing the exact parallels drawn is really interesting.

After reading over the responses from my colleagues and listening to their thoughts on their language of evaluation I have begun to rethink how I approach conversations with my group. Understanding what each organizations “evaluation language” is can help an evaluator to gain footing with organization members. Perhaps by slowly introducing evaluation terms in a non-threatening way, we can change the perception of some of these more negative terms.

I may even consider doing this activity with a new group of stakeholders when starting a new project or working with a new organization. I think that it would also provide insight for ECB and evaluative thinking work. If nothing else it may be a good icebreaker for new groups. As a field we have to work to show the positives than can come from evaluation, and in many cases we also must demonstrate how evaluation is not a threat. In order to develop a culture of evaluation and a dialogue around evaluative practices it helps if you start off speaking the same “language”, or at least understanding the meaning behind the words that you share.

Have you discussed appropriate evaluation terms in your workplace or with stakeholders? Do you find “Assessment” or “Evaluation” to be more acceptable in your particular field?


What’s Your Googleability?

No, we aren’t talking about your ability to use google to find a local restaurant. I’m talking about how googleable are you?

ProjectsHalfDone | Googleability Blog

Professional friends – When is the last time you searched yourself on google?

As a former high school teacher, I’ve searched my first and last name many times. Why? Because you KNOW your students will. And students? We search you too. Same goes for college students that you teach, and potential employers. These days, it’s highly likely that employers will not only google your name, but also specifically search for you on social media to see how you have been presenting yourself in public.

That’s right, folks. The internet is public. In case you have forgotten.

I try to stress the importance of searching yourself to my students, but it’s worth a mention to colleagues as well. Think about how you would want that perspective employer, colleague, student, person you meet at a conference, etc to see you? What do you NOT want them to see? What are you doing in public (i.e., social media) that you maybe should not be doing? Are you advancing your career with your public image, or are you doing more harm than good?

Personally, I want my blog, my university affiliation, and my LinkedIn to be what people see. I’m proud of those things, I’m comfortable with those things, and I don’t care who sees them. In fact, I would like it if potential employers saw these pages, because I feel like I am demonstrating professionalism and capability in these venues.

Thankfully, when I google, these things do come up. (I always google both with quotes around my name, and without. Taking the quotes out doubles my search results but also makes the results much more inaccurate) 

ProjectsHalfDone | Googleability 1

Scrolling further down, all still things I would be fine with other professionals seeing.

ProjectsHalfDone | Googleability 2

I happen to be one of those (un)lucky individuals with a rather uncommon name. Most of what comes up, is truly me. Or related to me somehow. If you have a name like “John Smith”, well then, unless you are the most famous John Smith, you will probably have tens of thousands of google results, and none will actually be you. For myself, I’ve only got about 10 pages. It’s pretty easy to click through a few and make sure there’s nothing I wouldn’t want anyone to see. The worst thing that comes up is a negative review I left for a restaurant when I was displeased with their service. I’m fine with that.

What wouldn’t I want someone to see? Well, thankfully there isn’t much about my life, even college life, that I wouldn’t want someone to see. Now I’m sure there are posts (opinions) out there that I have written and probably regretted later, but they are few and far between. I’m sure someone somewhere has an embarrassing photo of me, in fact, I know there are some less-than-flattering photos of me running in races, but again, I’m ok with those being public. I don’t love the idea, but I’m proud of my running accomplishments, so the photos are fine too.

Speaking of pictures, DO NOT forget about pictures. I hadn’t thought about this much, but I did a google image search for myself. It was a little odd. Somewhat creepy. But still, good to look through and make sure there isn’t anything that shouldn’t be there.

ProjectsHalfDone | Googleability Images

Mostly, these are pictures of me, and then some pictures of people who clearly are not me. These mostly appear to be professional contacts. I think those are popping up from my university affiliation and from LinkedIn. Which, again, I’m fine with. As for the random picture of garlic….no idea, but that’s fine too.

Now, what didn’t come up in my search was also interesting. My “real” Facebook page did not come up. The one that did appear, was a highly searchable one that I made specifically for interacting with my students. This way, no friends could post things that I wouldn’t want my students to see. I kept all adult humor, politics, and opinions off this page. Also, my personal blog and instagram does not come up. That’s fine. I wouldn’t be upset if anyone saw either of those. I think the reason they do not come up is that I am somewhat careful not to use my name on those sites.

Overall, my google search is pretty accurate. You find my professional web presence, some of my local race results (and to be honest, I need to run more so these come up more. It’s a point of running pride to have a lot of race results pop up), and then some sites that clearly are not related to me, random “phone lookup” sites and the like.

If you’ve never googled yourself, here’s an article that might persuade you to consider it, if my suggestion is not good enough. Also, Google does provide some resources on editing your search results.

What about your search results? How often do you check google for yourself? Are you an employer, do you have tips for potential employees? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Academic Reading Journal

This week was the first at my new job, which is awesome. Still in the “newness” phase but I think the awesomeness will continue. But all that aside, I made a goal for 2016 to read an academic-related article every (work)day. This could be a journal article, or an article in The Chronicle or even a blog post related to my field (Ex: My blogroll).

I’ve been doing pretty good and tracking my progress. So far I’ve only missed….7 days….haha. Well still. That’s 14 articles I’ve read that by this time last year…I probably would not have.

However this week, sitting at my new job, I started thinking about how just tracking the fact that I’d read a certain number of articles was not actually helpful to my future career. How much of what I read did I remember? For some reason, I find that non-fiction seems to stick in my head far better than academic articles, even if it is on a topic I love, like Evaluation. I also have a really difficult time remembering “who said what”. Usually I can place that I read something about evaluative thinking and the connection to evaluation culture but I can’t remember WHO wrote that article (Had to pick on Tom there really quick, kidding Tom. I know who the ET expert is).

I keep track of what books I read in the Good Reads app, so I wondered if there was something like that for tracking your academic reading. Turns out, there’s basically not. However I did find several good articles, most recommended using a citation manager like Endnote or Zotero. I’m only semi-enthusiastic about that idea. Usually, I read the articles online or in my hard copy of the journal and don’t download them to my desktop, so I would just be typing in the citation info and I can do that in any program. Plus…I don’t feel that Zotero’s notes feature is terribly helpful. (I’m not familiar with Endnote so if it’s better, please let me know.) Also, I am kind of hyper-organized when it comes to Zotero and my articles have to have a category…and since I’m not reading for any specific project, this could lead to creating new categories or having a lot of stuff fall under “General Evaluation” only for me to later realize that four of them were similar and could go over here in Category X.

So what to do…

As you may recall, I did have a coding system for my dissertation using Excel. Here’s the original post and it has a link to the Excel template if you would like to use it. I thought about using Excel and making a database of everything I’d ever read. I could search it, and that would be great.

But…that would also be a massive file.

Then I thought about Evernote. (More on Evernote and it’s wondrous ways in this post.) I can type out the citation for the article in Evernote without having to file the article somewhere. I can also make notes on blog posts I read. I can also tag, endlessly tag, what I read. And I can store it all in a “Notebook” in the cloud and not actually on my computer. Furthermore, I can search Evernote very easily, so even if I don’t tag the article for “Evaluative thinking” at the time, but I wrote one little note about it in there…it will pop up in my search. Here’s an example of Tom’s recent article in AJE that I read recently.
1.28.16 Academic Reading Journal

Also, because this reading is just for my own learning, I can just copy and paste quotes of the text from the article, directly in to Evernote, making it really easy to cite later. Additionally I can create my own notes or reflections on the article underneath those quotes. And search it ALL.

I started by creating a notebook called “Academic Reading Log”. I’d already had some articles in Evernote from doing my dissertation work. I moved those articles and continued with the format I had established of using the APA citation as the title of the note. Then, I can put all the info on the article inside that note.

I think I will still use my Excel method for specific projects. I can search the literature I’ve read from Evernote, and copy ONLY the relevant articles in to Excel, and write my literature review or article off of that.

So far, I’m liking this system a lot. Do you read an article a day? Do you track your academic reading? What method do you use? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
ProjectsHalfDone | Academic Reading Log

The Difficulty of Dissertating (or working) From Home

ProjectsHalfDone | Dissertating from home


It’s over.


Dissertation defended. Edits done. ETD submitted. Done. (Oh, and I passed, by the way)

For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been working and dissertating from home. My assistantship with my department ended, and although I did secure some part-time employment, it was all computer based so I worked from home. Every day I had to find the motivation to get up and do some actual work, whether that was writing my dissertation or doing work-related items, I had to force myself to get into that mindset.

Working from home…and being motivated every day was hard.




There were days when I wanted to lay in bed all day. There were days when I wanted to binge watch all of Netflix. There were days when I didn’t want to shower or put on real pants. There were days that those things happened. But how does that help me? Aside from the fact that everyone does need some down time…doing those things didn’t move me any closer to my goal of graduating. But I pushed through, and while it wasn’t easy, I did learn a lot, and I did finish. Finally.

So I want share some of my tips on managing the work/life balance when work and life are happening in the same space. Whether you are working on your dissertation or just working from home, the struggle is very real! These tips are what got me through the last 6 months.

Tip 1: Dress the part! You’ve heard this. I know you have. We all know we should do it. Get up and get showered and get dressed like you’re going in to the office. Or at least put on jeans. Or real pants. You can do this. It will cue you to be in “work-mode”. It sets the tone for the day. Sweat pants are for watching TV and being a bum on the couch. Yoga pants are for yoga. Put on your big-girl-work-pants and do work!!

Tip 2: To-Do list your day. Write down what you want to accomplish. Use a planner or a schedule or just a piece of paper, but set some goals for the day. It will help you become focused and it will also feel really awesome when you get to check off an item. Start with little things like “Shower” if you have to. I use the Bullet Journal system (more on this in another post) and instead of putting a check in the box, I fill it in. This way, if I’ve made progress on an item I can halfway fill it in, to show that I worked on the task but didn’t complete it.

Tip 3: Have a designated work space. Again, you’ve heard this. Don’t work where you sleep. Don’t work where you relax. Don’t work where there are distractions! We know this. It’s easier said than done. Fortunately, I do have the space in my home to have a designated “office”. Technically it also serves as a craft room, but I keep the desk fairly clutter free so I have space for my laptop, books, and of course my To-Do list. Wherever your space, make sure you set it up for your work each day. Even if you are using your dining room table, make sure that you’ve got things cleared away, and your workspace defined so you can focus.

Tip 4: Time yourself! No, I don’t mean work as fast as you can. After reading a lot of news articles and blogs on productivity, I decided to try working in increments. The advice is to work for around 48 to 90 minutes, and then take a 12-17 minute break (This depends on which article you read.). Using the timer on your phone or any other timing device can help you break up your day and keep you from getting super-bored. I used the 90/15 minute ratio. It also allowed me to shift from doing my work-work to working on my dissertation. I didn’t feel guilty for watching a 5 minute funny video on youtube…because I’d scheduled that break. Find the ratio that works for you and stick to it!

Tip 5: Leave the house. Seriously. At least a few times a week, leave your house. This could be to go outside and exercise, putting on real clothes and going to the grocery store, or my favorite, going to work in a coffee shop. By nature, we are social creatures. Being home alone, by yourself, all day long, all WEEK long, is not good for the long-term. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, go outside. Switching up your environment will also refresh your brain and generate new ideas, moving you closer to your goals with work or with your degree.

For me, working from home is coming to an end as I am getting ready to start my post-doc. I’m excited to join the real world again on a daily basis, but I’m glad I did have this opportunity to work from home temporarily. I learned a lot about myself and my work habits. A lot of these I will carry over into my new job. Especially the Bullet Journaling and the timed breaks.

Do you work from home? What do you do to stay focused? What roadblocks have you found when trying to stay focused? Share your tips in the comments!

Social Media Tips and Tricks

SoMe [That’s Social Media, folks!] Tips and Tricks

Tanya Halliday (@NutritionNerd) and Courtney Vengrin (@ProjectHalfDone) Virginia Tech

This blog is posted in conjunction with our poster at the NACTA conference.

ProjectsHalfDone | SoMe Tips and Tricks

Tanya and I are in the CALS GTS program together and have a mutual love for teaching excellence, (me in Ag Ed, her in Nutrition), social media (need to track us down? Check our Twitter feed, blogs and email, info linked at the bottom), lifting weights, and coffee!

So without further ado, here are some of our favorite Social Media tips!

  • Check the #!
    • Ok guys. I’m (Courtney) going to own up to this one. I was posting a picture to Instagram of my awesome tomatoes that I grew in my container garden. I was super proud of them and naturally I wanted to add some #’s and share the gardening love! I used #’s like #virginiagardens #gardening #containergarden and…. #growyourown. FYI…one of those is not for vegetables…I’ll just leave it at that. But the point is, check the hashtag. If you’re going to engage with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media that uses a tagging system make sure your tag is representative of what you intend it to be. You will probably be fine with hashtags you generate for your specific course like #ENG2040 for an English class, but still it would be a good idea to check first! It’s possible another tech-savvy educator is already out there and tweeting away!
  • Write SoMe objectives using Blooms Taxonomy.
    • Want to assess understanding, while also having students work on being concise? Have them summarize a journal article in a 140-character tweet. It’s certainly not an easy task to do!
    • Need a refresher or Bloom’s Taxonomy Action verb cheat sheet? Several exist, but to help you get started, here is a link to one:
    • For some really amazing tips, check out Techbytes who makes AMAZING graphics like the one seen here

TechBytes | Projectshalfdone

  • Don’t assume your students are familiar with the SoMe platform(s) you are asking them to use. Take the time to walk them through setting up an account, learning the lingo, and posting to the platform before the official “grading” period begins.
  • Post regularly
    • Before taking your social media in to the classroom you need to be able to commit to engaging with social media on a regular basis. Lead by example for your students. If you’re having trouble remembering to post, set a reminder in your calendar or write it in your planner. Set a goal for how often you should post.
    • Next, consider how often you expect students to post. Is it twice a semester, twice a unit, or twice a week? Set realistic expectations based on how influential you expect social media to be in your course.
  • Post relevant articles or popular press
    • If you’re not sure what to post, find an article or news release that relates to your course. Comment on an article you read recently. Find a blogger who discusses your topic and follow them. They certainly won’t mind you promoting their blog to your class!

Twitter Tips | ProjectsHalfDone

  • Be an example for your students
    • In all that you do on social media, remember that you are an example for your students. You are also putting yourself in public, so consider your social media account to be an extension of your professional presence online. Show your students what it looks like to be a professional. You can even incorporate appropriate social media behavior in to class discussion, highlighting appropriate posts and emphasizing how many potential employers WILL look at your online presence and make a judgment accordingly.
    • To help keep the posts and conversations professional, while also respecting your students’ privacy, we feel it is best to develop a social media policy up front. Create this document with your students. If your school has a code of conduct, use that as a starting point!
    • Finally, we will all make mistakes as we interact on Social Media platforms. Your students may tweet inappropriately. You may publish an inaccurate blog post. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes keep you – and your students – out of the conversation. Acknowledge these errors, lapses in judgement, etc; learn from them; and move on!
  • Network with other professionals
    • Follow other people in your field! Follow The Chronicle and other academic accounts. Share their posts to your account! You can make some really amazing connections just by spending a few minutes a day on social media
    • Tanya here: I have to admit, I was very anti-social media for quite a while. At one point I even deleted my personal FaceBook page because I just didn’t see the relevance. However, after getting annoyed with all of the misinformation on-line related to nutrition and exercise, I decided to start my own blog. From there, I began writing a nutrition column for a popular running blog and was quickly “encouraged” to GET ON TWITTER! So, I did. Reluctantly. However, this has been one of the best decisions I have made for my professional life. I have made connections with other dietitians, graduate students, and even some of the TOP researchers in my field simply by putting myself out there on social media. In 2012, my on-line presence resulted in an invitation to the Gatorade Sports Science (GSSI) Satellite Lab in Bradenton, FL as part of their Sports Fuel Expert Summit. Not a bad way to spend a few days! [Link to that post here:]
  • Promote your own work
    • What else is social media other than self-promotion? Don’t be shy! Promote your blog. Tell people that you’re excited about your conference presentation. Let everyone know your article is going to be published in the Journal of Awesome Educators!
  • Maintain an online presence – Control what is out there
    • The biggest thing for you as a growing professional and for your students is to control what is out there!
    • Your on-line presence is going to build itself anyway. Deliberate and purposeful engagement on SoMe platforms lets YOU drive it. I remember as an undergrad when FaceBook first came out, administrators, faculty, coaches, all told us “Make sure nothing bad comes up when your name is “Googled”. I don’t think that’s enough anymore. Now, I think it is imperative that you be easily located on on-line searches, and are known as having a positive and professional presence!
    • I’ll be doing a post soon about Google-ability. Stay tuned for more on this!
  • Should social media use be mandatory in your course?
    • Great question – and one you can probably answer better than us! Know that the likelihood of having students engage as much as you would like if it is NOT mandatory is slim. You’ll perhaps have some adopters, but don’t expect your students to automatically create a dynamic online community without incentive (e.g.- a grade) from you. That being said, think about the time you can devote to reviewing the SoMe contributions. If it is an integral portion of your class, then go ahead and devote the time to it and make it mandatory. If you’re just dabbling, or it’s ‘just for fun’, then spend less time with it and make it an option. With your purpose in mind, along with the realities of the associated time cost, you can then think about organization, tracking, and assessment
  • Organizing, Tracking, and Assessing SoMe in your course
    • Organization: Consider how you will organize your requirements for students, how the social media will be organized in the context of your course, and how you will utilize all of the data generated through these communications!
    • Tracking: If you’re utilizing a platform with hashtags (Instagram or Twitter) several options exist for tracking that hashtag. (Here’s one example). If you’re having students blog, you may not have time to read all of their blog posts every week. This could be a chance to grade based on the bigger picture. Each week, browse the comments – if you see a student post that they are confused about another student’s post, go in and see what that student wrote about. Offer guidance as needed. If a student was particularly engaged in class, check out their blog post. Chances are they wrote something phenomenal, and you can comment as such – and share as an example with the rest of the class. Using Pinterest? This one may be better assessed at distinct time points throughout the semester.
    • Assessment: Just like you have criteria –and perhaps a rubric – for other assignments in your course, create one that is specific to your purpose and platform of choosing so you can more objectively assess student’s use.

Want to get in touch with us? Here’s the info one last time:

  •  Tanya Halliday

Happy tweeting!!

Operation: Dissertation Organization

As I’m coming to the final stages of my doctoral program I’ve thought a lot about what I wish I had known when I first started. Over the next few weeks I’m going to try and share some of these thoughts with you all. Today’s tip is probably my favorite. I’m going to share with you my organizational system for my dissertation literature.

First off, I wish I had thought of this as soon as I started reading relevant literature. But life doesn’t work like that. The good ideas only come when you’ve got a problem. But thankfully I found a solution and I’m going to share it with you so maybe if you are just starting your graduate career, this will help you out.

Also, before we go any farther, let’s be honest…I’m a data-geek. And an organizational nerd. I like Microsoft Excel. I like clean lines and tidy folders. My desktop is barren. Everything has a label and everything has it’s place. If this is not your mindset then that is fine. I am not saying this system works for everyone out there or that it’s the most perfect system ever, I’m just saying it’s mine, and I like it.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

The reason I do things way I do, is not for any academic reason. It’s because I’m poor. I have no fancy programs. Therefore, I use what the computer gods gave me. And that would be Zotero and Excel. (Pretty sure all the gods rejoiced when Excel came in to being. I know I did.)  

Basically, I take my document/book/article, (and for the purposes of adding something to look at in this jumble of words…we will use the latest SOTU’s, because it’s a public document and something we can all somewhat comprehend) and code it. Yeah. Like qualitative research. Coding. And I’m more of a quant girl…but hear me out. You’re basically doing a document analysis. You have to read and sort through hundreds of articles. There is too much to fit in your head. It’s just too much. You HAVE to take notes. So why not be systematic about it and code them?

So let’s look at the latest SOTU and say we want to write a paper on presidential stances on inequality and social justice over the last 30 years. Think about some keywords: Poverty, race, socioeconomic status, women, minorities, wages…and so on. Keep this list handy as you read. It’s not your limit, it’s your starting place. With your dissertation this list would be your topics and relevant words. As you read, this would be where you highlight the topics relevant to your study. Here’s a basic example I did in a word document with a SOTU. (I do the same thing with paper and highlighters)

Projects Half Done | Dissertation Literature Management

Then, once I’ve coded my document, I take my quotes and codes and stick them in Excel. I also number each quote I pull (meaning the order it came in on the journal article) so that if I want to sort it IN ORDER I can, so the first document I input and the first quote would be 1. Now moving on to the second document I continue the numbering, for sorting purposes. Then the next column I put the APA bibliography information. Next I put the quote in or a summary of it, and then the last column or sometimes two are codes.

This is hard to explain…let’s use some pictures. The first image is the codes and information being input in the order I read them. Sometimes it’s also nice to include the page number for reference. Also notice the use of the second code column.

Projects Half Done | Dissertation Literature Management

Here, we sort for the codes alphabetically, so all my codes for race are now together. This way I can see all the information relevant to the topic of race, and begin to shape my paragraph that relates to this topic. Notice there are two different SOTU’s in this example, 2014 and 2015. I can see who I need to cite and write up my thoughts!

Projects Half Done | Dissertation Literature Management

I really like this system and I kind of do my qualitative coding in the same way. Being able to sort the columns and pull all my quotes on one particular topic together is really helpful. I realize other systems and applications have great tagging features and you all know that I’m a huge Evernote fan, but this just works for me.

If you really like this system, feel free to grab this free Dissertation Literature Management System and enjoy! I would appreciate credit if you do discuss it publicly but I can’t guarantee that I’m the first to come up with this method.

How do you sort through all your dissertation literature? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment down below!


Advising Matters

       (I steal things from google images)

Social media and events at a Georgia university have recently sparked a conversation about advising practices. If you missed out, just go on over to twitter and search #itsbiggerthanKSU.

At first I wanted to be on the side of the faculty. They couldn’t seriously be turning away a student who had made an appointment. Right?? Ok so maybe he didn’t have an appointment and just wanted to wait to see someone? Maybe the student had said something off camera that was perceived as harassing to the faculty?? I went through all the possibilities.

And then I went to Twitter. The evidence (if we are counting social media as evidentiary support) there suggests this is an ongoing issue. A huge issue. How can our students be successful if all they hear is “I don’t have time for you”?

I thought back on my own experiences as an advisee. At one institution I attended I had basically the same experience as these students. I was assigned to an advisor (this person rotated, I don’t think I saw the same advisor twice) and I was to show up for a 10 minute appointment once a semester to have my class sheet signed. I remember once asking for help in deciding which classes were appropriate for my future goals and the advisor at the time telling me “Well, you should probably take something” and signing my form as they dismissed me. I’m not even sure it was filled out.

I’ve often wondered if I would have a different career path if I had had better advising. I think at the very least I would have gotten where I am a lot quicker. I spent two years between my bachelors and masters just taking random classes at a different institution because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I could do with my bachelors in Biology.

Thankfully in graduate school I have had several wonderful advisors and mentors that were willing to take their time to meet with me over the years, both in my masters and doctoral programs. I found overall that the university I attended for graduate school was more supportive of its students than my undergraduate institution. Advising, academic assistance, and other student services were heavily advertised and encouraged. I think some of this is due to leadership within the university and some of it is the culture of the faculty and staff.

Overall I think that graduate students tend to have much better advising experiences than undergraduates, which is sad. Students should be supported throughout their academic career, period. In some cases, advising for undergraduates has been relegated to computer systems! How is this helping our students when they have actual questions? Sadly, the tenure process does not place much emphasis on advising and therefore not all professors see the importance in spending time working with students one on one.

I am (thankfully) involved in a program designed to prepare future faculty for their teaching roles and an emphasis is placed on advising. We invite in guest speakers that have been recognized for excellence in advising, we discuss advising issues, and stress the importance of helping our students, both graduate and undergraduate. I realize I am fortunate to have this experience, but shouldn’t more faculty be prepared to advise and assist students? Shouldn’t we be going into this career path assuming we will need to help our students out and make time for them?

College life comes with a barrage of choices as well as complications. Students may jump in to a course that is too difficult, or become distracted by extracurriculars. Advisors are the front line of defense to help a struggling student. They are the ones that are notified when a student is falling behind in class. Advisors are responsible for helping that student correct their course and find success. We need to reward and celebrate the advising aspect of the university system. Often students are not sure what classes to take, what their future opportunities are, or how to reach their goals. Advisors play a vital role in not just answering questions, but encouraging students to pursue their academic goals. If we want quality graduates, then we need to provide our students with quality advising.

We were all students once. We need to remember what it was like to have a poor advisor…and do better by our future students.

So how do we fix this? I think the first step is for the university leadership to emphasize the importance of advising. Encourage advising training for faculty, provide support when faculty aren’t sure how to advise students. Prove that advising matters to the university. This also means increasing the importance of advising in the P&T packet. As (future) faculty we have to take it upon ourselves to emphasize the importance of advising if there is not an existing supportive culture. You might be the only one spending their time this way at first, but it will be worth it in the long run. Who knows, you could find your next research assistant by taking a few minutes to meet with a student. At the very least you’ll probably keep yourself off of youtube and out of the spotlight.