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Advising (#1023)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

Today Grinnell’s CS department had its second annual meet the advisers session. Given the ratio of students to faculty in the department, we’ve been looking for the best way to ensure that the students are relatively evenly, and relatively fairly, distributed. We also want to make good use of students’ time as well as our own.

We used to suggest that each student talk to multiple faculty members to figure out which advising strategy or personality best meshed with the student’s preferences. With sixty majors in each class year, we can’t spare that time. But we think it’s important that students hear a bit about the different approaches to advising.

We’ve also worried that setting a first come, first served policy; students should not get the adviser they want just because they decide on the major earlier.

So we came up with what we think is a reasonable compromise. In early spring, a few weeks before students have to declare, we invite all of them to a meeting in which we talk a bit about our advising strategies and then meet with them in small groups. After that, students get to reflect a bit and then fill out a form listing their preferred advisers and some information about their advising expectations. We then try to organize a reasonable matching between students and advisors.

I think that makes sense. I can’t come up with a better solution.

But it does mean that I needed a way to speak about myself and my advising strategy, in this case to a group of students who does not know me very well. I wasn’t part of the meeting last spring (I can’t remember why), so it was new.

I had hoped to write a short statement in advance of the meeting. However, I didn’t have a lot of free time. I ended up talking to an alum instead of writing my statement. So I ad-libbed my statement. I thought I’d approximate it as today’s musing. Some of it comes from a statement I have somewhere on my Web site.

Hi. I’m Sam Rebelsky, the once and future Chair of Computer Science. Many of you may know me from my office, which I consider an homage to entropy. I’m snarky, sometimes excessively so. I am among the least organized people you will meet. I have been known to lose advisee folders the moment I get them and not find them again until after my students graduate. But I will care about you as a person and, having been at Grinnell for about twenty-three years, I’m pretty good at managing red tape. Of course, I will likely care about you and help you manage red tape, even if I’m not your advisor.

I take a relatively laissez-faire approach to advising. I’ll talk to you whenever you like. But I’ll likely only reach out to you during registration period or when I get an Academic Progress Report.

I embrace Grinnell’s open curriculum and take it quite seriously. I’ve always asked my students to go beyond the 200-word essay. This year, I’m going a bit further; I’d like to see you write a clear exposition of your interpretation of a liberal education and then explain how your four-year plan aligns with that interpretation. I’ll then ask you to defend those statements to a few other faculty members.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned the latter part. It does mean that my students will get to avoid Jerod’s close reading of their declaration essays and four-year plans. But others will be paying even more close attention to those documents, so it balances out in the end.

I look forward to seeing who I end up with as advisees. It’s always an adventure.

Version 1.0 of 2020-02-20.