Skip to main content

My latest advising statement (#1273)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

As I mentioned in yesterday’s musing, this past Thursday was our department’s annual How to declare a CS major session.

Back when we were a small department, we encouraged prospective majors to visit with each faculty member to learn about their approaches to advising and to detemrine which faculty member might be the best fit.

We’re no longer a small department. I think the administration calls us Medium Sized, and that’s true for the number of faculty in the department. But we have the largest number of majors of any department at Grinnell. About 80 second-year students declared a CS major last spring and we anticipate about 60–70 second-years declaring this semester.

Individual visits no longer work.

But we still think that students should try to identify advisors whose advising philosophy and approach matches their needs.

We also want to balance advising, both so that no faculty member is too overloaded and so that each student has about equal opportunity to get one of the faculty advisors they most want.

Hence, the session. Also the protocol that has all of our majors declare in the same two-week time period.

Since not everyone can make it to the session, many of us also prepare statements about our approaches to advising. I don’t know whether or not I wrote one last year. A few years ago (before the pandemic), I started to adopt an advising strategy that terrified students (I’m going to ask you to defend your four-year plan to a panel of faculty) [1]. These days, I’m a bit more mellow. In any case, it seemed time to write another statement.

Here’s what I came up with. Or at least here’s a slightly edited version of what I came up with.

It is my responsibility as your CS advisor to help you craft a liberal education that includes a computer science major. In the ideal, that means that we will work together to ensure that you can articulate the goals and components of a liberal arts education (preferably beyond one from column A and one from column B), that you select courses that will help you achieve those goals, and that you can explain how your collection of curricular and extracurricular work makes you liberally educated. We will also work together to design an education that makes you a computer scientist. In practice, I will also help you deal with the red tape and complex systems at the College and advise you on how to navigate the limited resources in the CS major at Grinnell. At times, you will find that I am a hands off advisor; if you don’t ask for help, I won’t offer it. At other times, particularly when registration deadlines near, you may find that I am a helicopter advisor.

In preparation for writing your essay and meeting with me, you should revisit the College Catalog’s statement on Liberal Education and read William Cronon’s Only Connect … The Goals of a Liberal Education

I expect that before declaring a CS major you will enter your four-year plan on SelfService (aka Academic Planning). I also expect that your declaration essay will reflect a coherent notion of a liberal education and suggest how that four-year plan helps achieve such an education. In the past, many of my advisees found that they had to rewrite that essay a few times. I am happy to work with you on these components of your declaration.

I require that you send me a PDF copy of your major declaration before you turn it in to the Registrar’s office [2,3].

I should also mention that I am among the least organized people you will ever meet. One look at my office or lab should tell you that.

Does that convey who I am as an advisor? Probably not. But I think it conveys enough.

Postscript: Wow! I made it through a whole musing on advising without asking how the College expects us to provide appropriate support to students with a time-consuming registration system and 24 advisees. [4]

[1] I still think it’s the right thing to do if we’re going to insist that our individually advised curriculum gives students a good liberal education. Liberally educated students should be able to articulate the meaning of a liberal education and defend the selection of courses that achieves such an education. However, I don’t have the time or energy to promote that vision.

[2] The Registrar’s Office used to send faculty declaration forms. They stopped a few years ago. But I rely on the declaration form to, say, see what their four-year plan is.

[3] No, there wasn’t an endnote in the original.

[4] Whoops.

Version 1.0 of 2024-02-24.