Advising Time

The middle of the semester is always rough for me as an advisor.  It’s the perfect storm of anxiety-making things happening to our students: midterm grades, illness and injury, personal and relationship problems, the consequences of bad choices, and of course, registration for next semester.  All of which seem to end up in my office at the same time.  Not to mention my responsibilities that are related to the other hats I wear as a faculty member.

An additional complication for me is that all of my advisees (200 future Neuroscientists) are required by WSU to come and see me face-to-face before they can complete the process of registering for spring semester.

Things can get interesting pretty fast.  When you’re trying to accomplish things in short intervals between back-to-back appointments, and everything that walks in the door or lands in the inbox is URGENT!!!!, it’s easy to get focused on one thing to the exclusion of others and completely drop the ball.  Even though “advising season” is never a surprise to me, for a long time I would let it overwhelm me every semester.  As a new advisor, I slogged through and worked 12 hours days and weekends for a month just to keep up with everything because I thought it had to be that way.  I was so naive about the breadth of advising practice, that I thought this was the best use of my time.  In reality, I was so behind that I couldn’t even think about how to get ahead.

This is no way to advise.  When you feel overwhelmed as an advisor, you don’t have the mental energy to work effectively with your students.  Motivational interviewing? HAH, I was lacking my own motivation.  I was working twice as hard because my head wasn’t in the game, so I finally made the decision to work smarter, not harder, and reduce the drain on my time during registration advising.

The first thing I did was change my interactions with students during registration appointments.  I realized that I was spending a lot of my day just repeating myself over and over.  Instead of trying to impart a ton of information to each student individually during a 30 minute appointment, I started holding “group advising” sessions where I could share that information with many students at once without rushing through it. I also decreased the time allotted for registration appointments down to 15 minutes.  Surprisingly, when I’m not instructing students about the mechanics of the registration process, 15 minutes is enough time to deal with classes AND start conversations about career goals, internships, etc.  Further, this opened up a lot of my schedule to continue those conversations later, deal with other student issues, and keep up with my other responsibilities.

The second thing I did was to set boundaries with my schedule.  In addition to blocking out my classes and regularly scheduled meetings, I don’t schedule meetings with students before 9:00 am or after 4:00 pm.  This gives me time to work on other things and answer emails every day, so I don’t get behind.  I also block out an hour in the middle of the day for “lunch”, but I will schedule an appointment with a student over the noon hour if their schedule is full, though that happens rarely.  I also make sure to take at least 15 minutes during the day when I don’t work, usually reading or working on a puzzle, especially since I usually eat at my desk.

(Yeah, yeah, I know.  I’m still working on it!)

Finally, the third thing that I did was to empower my students to take responsibility for the things they can control.  By scaffolding opportunities for them to use the tools and resources at their disposal before they need to choose courses, they are more confident to explore and plan on their own.  I’ve started being more deliberate about building long term course plans with every student and talking about career goals and back-up plans early in their college career.  I also make it a point to discuss extracurricular opportunities during individual appointments.

These three simple changes have really paid off for me and for my students. Being smart about delivering information in a group setting and reducing my appointment times accordingly has really opened up my schedule to deal with all of the responsibilities that don’t go away during advising time.  Blocking off time to catch up on email at the beginning and end of the day also keeps me on track and able to communicate with students and others in a timely manner.

The majority of my students still only come in to see me because they have to, but now we have a chance to go beyond the basic registration pieces in these brief appointments.  I have also noticed that more students are contacting me about a second appointment for a follow-up conversation than ever before.  More students are coming to registration appointments prepared with a list of courses, and many of them indicate that they are exploring opportunities like study abroad or taking on a minor because they are planning ahead.

So far, making the most of the time that I have with students has really improved the relationships I have with students and the quality of my advising.

How do you make the most of your time to have time for advising?  How do you meet students’ needs during the busiest times of the term?




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