Advising Students by Meggin McIntosh, PhD

Feb 4th, 2014

Depending on your particular institution, advising of students may be a small portion or a significant part of your responsibilities.  Adapt the following ten tips to fit your situation so that advising is a productive (vs. draining) experience for you and your students.

  1. Request that students come to their appointments with a list of questions to which they would like answers.  Coming and just plopping down in your office is neither respectful nor productive.
  2. Create an advisee email list so that you can bcc all of  your advisees to send out reminders about particular deadlines that they should be aware of.  It is worth taking the time to do that rather than having 20% of them “forget” a deadline, which you then have to help them move past, get extensions for, etc.  Invest a few minutes; save hours.
  3. Expect timeliness.  If a student’s appointment is at 3:00, expect him/her to be there by 3:00 – and preferably earlier.  Make it clear to students that you will do everything you can to be respectful of their time and you need them to help you with that.  Keeping to a schedule is one of the ways.
  4. Keep notes about your advisees.  You may keep them in a file on your computer or handwritten in special folders you have for them.  It is the only way to remember what you discussed, decisions that were made, and or personal information about them (special upcoming events, awards, etc.).  Students need faculty who CARE about them and this is one of the ways you can indicate that you do care – without driving yourself nuts.
  5. Schedule advising appointments within close proximity of each other.  Once you put on your “advisor” hat, you want to keep it on.  Especially during heavy advising times, keep like with like when possible,  For example, if you advise both graduate and undergraduate students, then keep undergrads on one day and grads on a different day.  It is far more efficient to be thinking about one group and having all the materials and information at hand – and top of mind.  Even during the regular semester, if you have scheduled one advising appointment on a day and another student wants to be seen that same week, suggest an appointment time to be just before or just after it.
  6. Schedule “The Doctor Is In” times – by phone.  One of my favorite people gave me a sign that said, “The Doctor Is In,” which I could also turn over to “Out.”  It was a great way to let students (or others) know if I was available or not.  I later extended that phrase to let people know that I was available by phone during certain times.  On my schedule it just said, “The Doctor Is In” call-in time.  Advisees and others knew that I would be “standing by” to assist.  If no one called, I didn’t sit and twiddle my thumbs; I had other work I could do, but usually students used that time.  Most were glad to be able to call and get a quick question answered and get right back off the phone.  They are busy; you are busy.  This acknowledges that and uses everyone’s time wisely.  Note:  I have also used “The Doctor Is In” call-in times using a bridgeline (e.g., All Free Conference).  This allows multiple people to call in and lets students listen in and hear answers to other general questions – some of which they hadn’t even thought to ask.  It’s a nice option.
  7. Have Facebook (or Google) chats.  If you use an application that allows for chats, you can let your advisees know that if they see you there (or if you’ve scheduled a time), then they may ask quick advising questions.  Teach them the difference between “chatting” with you about advising and chatting with their friends about…whatever.  They need to learn what’s appropriate.  You aren’t their friend, even though it’s called that on Facebook.  You are their advisor.  Remember…use whichever of these ideas work for you.  I know this one is uncomfortable for some but I wanted to put it out there anyway for others.
  8. Record the most common responses that you provide via email (or even face-to-face) so that you have them written out and ready to send when particular questions get asked again.  You can save a bank of responses to questions in one Word document and then pull them up to cut and paste when a student asks a standard question.  This is one in which you invest a few minutes and save hours (and hours).
  9. Create an FAQ page just like we expect to see on many websites.  You can either put the FAQ on your website or use it to hand out to students.  You can spend more time on quality advising if you are not dinking around (a technical term) giving students basic information over and over.
  10. Have forms that you usually need during advising appointments easily accessible.  You may have particular forms and documents printed out and in a handy place for use when advising or you may have those webpages bookmarked for ready access during an advising appointment or phone call.

Regardless of whether you are “tasked” (ugh, I hate that word as a verb, but I used it anyway) with formal advising of students or  you do so on a less-formal basis, these ideas will help you be more productive while also being more helpful to students.

just_whelmedAnd if you like these tips and find yourself feeling overwhelmed, you will want to access the Just Whelmed Wee Weekly Workshops. Each week you will receive mini workshops are designed to help you reduce your stress so you can become just whelmed