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.