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A week of advising activities

Recently, I’ve been thinking, talking, and writing a lot about advising. These considerations have been spurred, in part, by the Dean’s request for us to think about advising. But there’s also been a Science Teaching and Learning Group [1] discussion of advising and broader CS department discussions of advising. Plus, as someone advising a lot of students, it’s always on my mind.

I decided to record as many of the advising activities as I could recall for a one-week period. In this musing, I describe what I recorded. I know that the musing is not complete, but it’s about as close as I can get it. I think it’s been a fairly typical week. We have nearly two weeks until preregistration starts, so there are a few planning questions, but not more than normal [2]. It’s after fall break, so I think I’ve already covered most of the fall APR [3] issues to date. The warning about the end of Withdraw period came in right at the end of the week, so there are a higher-than-normal number of withdrawal requests.

The Dean has noted that he doesn’t know as much as he should about advising at Grinnell. I wonder if this will be helpful to him.

Academic planning

Conversations with advisee about relative value of concentration on top of double major.

Review four-year plan for a likely advisee. The plan is not perfect, but acceptable. Send followup note suggesting some changes.

Review four-year plan for another likely advisee. Not perfect, but acceptable.

Suggest courses for next semester to a student who is unsure of what might work.

Review declaration of major essay for prospective advisee. Needs rewriting. Some grammatical issues and does not address the key questions.

Review declaration of major for essay for another prospective advisee. Get frustrated that someone decided that these essay should only be 100-200 words. How can an essay can that short and address both the scope of their liberal arts education and why they are declaring a second major.

Review rewritten declaration essay.

Talk to an advisee about withdrawing from a class. Confirm that it won’t interfere with progress toward graduation. Try to convince student that it’s worth staying in the class.

Talk to another advisee about withdrawing from a class. Note that it drops the student below twelve credits. Talk to the student about consequences. Call Registrar’s office. Learn that there’s a second form to fill out. Find the form and send a link to the student.

Discuss CS course choices for next semester with a prospective CS major.

Reflect on course choices and priorities with advisee. Consider relative benefits and conflicts of times.

Get signatures and carry declaration of major form to Registrar’s office for soon-to-be advisee studying abroad.

Quick chat in the hallway: If I want to add a CS major, who should I declare with given that you probably won’t be taking more advisees?
Suggest they talk to the Chair as a starting point. Suggest that they talk to another student who is doing a similar double major.

Chat with double major advisese about courses for next semester [4]. Suggest some additional courses. Discuss the value of music lessons.

It is highly unlikely that I will allow a first-year student into CSC 321 next semester.

Series of email messages about four-year plan for student abroad.

Check in with student thinking of dropping course.

Read message about special preregistration issues for an advisee who is abroad. Send response to let the sender know that the student is abroad. Find the student’s four-year plan and enter next semester in SelfService. Email the student about options.

Read and respond to an email message from a student thinking of dropping a course. Encourage them to check in with their other advisor.

Read APR for advisee. Email student. Talk to student about related issues.

Talk to yet another student about dropping a course. Find myself surprised by the student’s visceral reaction to the course and impressed by their careful analysis of the problems they have with the class. Consider implications of dropping the course.

Approve declaration of second major for student studying abroad. Read approvals from other advisors/chairs. Send them a reminder that the chair of their first major must also approve.

Discuss next semester with senior advisee. Consider conflict between a course that seems particularly interesting and one that they need for their concentration. Suggest that they write to the instructor of a related interesting course and see if they can get prereqs waived.

Talk about prospective second major in CS with a student. Hmm … it looks like you have a lot of Mathematics to do. It’s going to be hard.

Talk about prospective second major in CS with a student. Yes, if you already have Math 218 down, and have taken one CS course each semester, you only need one CS course each remaining semester.

Receive email request to review an advisee’s courses for spring. It’s a nice variety of courses, but at least one of them will close. Suggest that they find a fallback course. Catch them in the hallway to make sure that things are going well in general and to suggest they plan a face-to-face meeting for next week.

One more discussion about dropping a course. Some followup with Registrar and the student’s other advisor about one-credit courses.

Who should I declare with? Explain that our tradition is that students should talk to a few different potential advisors about their approach to advising. Conclude with We are asking second-year students to wait until at least after preregistration to declare. We will not prioritize declared second-year students over undeclared second-year students [5].

Look at what appears to be another request for a course plan review. (No email this time. Hmmm.) Note that the student took a replacement for CSC 161 and the planning system does not seem to acknowledge that. Send email to Registrar’s office. Realize that the student may not have requested a review and I’m just puzzled by the SelfService UI. But it’s good that I looked.

Chat with Physics major about options in CS. Yes, we do allow declared Physics majors to take CSC 161 without CSC 151 in their fourth semester or beyond. But we discourage them from going on to CSC 207 without taking CSC 151 first.

Respond to question from prospective major about class time conflict and ways to approach it.

Clear out list of five requested reviews on SelfService, some of which seem to be left over from a previous semester [6] and some of which seem to be new. Try to figure out what the Archive button does and whether to click Archive or Cancel.

Dig out link to add/drop form. Dig out link to request to drop below 12 credits.

Send note to advisees: I will be unavailable to sign drop forms on Friday. If they want to drop courses, they need to find me on Thursday or before. Discover in sending note that the advisee pictorial list is broken and does not list first names. Decide not to bother anyone about it.

Career and post-graduation issues

Review cover letter for internship with an advisee. Suggest student also talk to CLS advisor.

Talk to non-advisee about preparing for upcoming interview. Put student in touch with alumni who work at the company.

Talk to advisee about how to handle an offer deadline along with an offer of an interview at another company after that deadline. Suggest student also work with CLS advisor.

Quick question: Should I try to fit my résumé on one page? Quick answer: In most cases, yes. Didn’t you go to the Google talk?

Should I take a year off before graduate school? Discuss why. Consider options.

Non-advisee senior: How do I decide between these two very different career options? Discuss some of the characteristics of the two jobs. Remind them that they are lucky to have two cool options. Suggest that teammates and learning are good things to think about. Recommend that they also work with CLS advisor.

Non-advisee senior: How do I prepare for my two upcoming interviews? How do I coordinate travel? (And many more issues.) Reassure student, who is excellent and should know it. Provide contact information with alums at a company. Point them toward CTLA for some of the questions.

Recommendation Letters

Study abroad recommendation. Approximately 800 words.

Realize that I need to find a place to store all of the FERPA forms.

Write a last-minute recommendation (about 600 words) for student who is panicking that they have not heard from their recommender. Discover that the letter was submitted fifteen minutes after mine.

Respond to email request for recommendation for current student. I hate shoe-horning information about students into traditional HR emails. (E.g., How well did the candidate perform his/her assigned responsibilities and what additional activities (if any) did the candidate undertake outside original scope of responsibilities?)

Dig out FERPA form for another situation.

Respond to email request for recommendation about alum. This one worked as a class mentor, so I could focus primarily on their work in that role.

Try to figure out how to get information about alumni out of SelfService. Fail. Send letter to Registrar.


Discuss status of 3-2 plan with 3rd-year advisee.

Email another 3rd-year advisee to check on the status of their 3-2 plan.

Email faculty member to check on advisee who had been struggling.

Email another faculty member to check on advisee who had been struggling.

Update advisee list in preparation for preregistration. I use that list to keep track of who has and who has not registered for classes since WebAdvisor/SelfService does not easily provide that information. I also need to keep track of who is currently abroad and who is going abroad. And I got to mark one advisee as graduating mid year [7].

Follow up with faculty member about students in academic difficulty.

The CSC 322 project from a few semesters ago that I’ve been working on completing has become irrelevant. What do I do? Start some simple brainstorming (pick another CSC 322 project to finish). Suggest that we follow up with a meeting next week.

Follow up with another faculty member about student potentially in academic difficulty.

Talk to first-year student not yet in CS who is thinking about a 3-2 program. No, we don’t offer a course in Python. No, I don’t have recommendations of where to learn Python. But I do have students who might have recommendations. The biggest proponent of Python in the department is Prof. V. Let’s walk down the hall and see what she has planned. Oh, if the program also wants you to have Data Structures and Algorithms, that’s our CSC 207 course. You’ll need to take CSC 151 and CSC 161 first, in that order. Other students who are doing 3:2 programs? Here are three.

Chat with a variety of students about the Facebook problem and some related issues [8].

Catch student walking down hallway to see if they are feeling less stressed after break.

Quick chat in the hallway with advisee about the importance of attending classes.

Chime in on discussion of student with chair on prospective change of major to CS.

Read letter from study-abroad program; they rejected between 1/4 and 1/3 of their applicants. Send followup messages to advisees hoping to study abroad to check their status and to suggest that they meet with me to discuss alternatives if not accepted.

Email chat with an advisee who is not doing well. They’ll meet with someone about some personal problems and will meet with me about other issues.

In-person chat with an advisee who is not doing well. Suggested that they consider dropping one or more of their responsibilities.

Quick chat with advisee about imposter syndrome in Mathematics.

I know that I missed some things, particularly on the busier days and with regards to internships and jobs. Nonetheless, the list provides a good flavor of the kinds of things I do as an advisor. Next time I try this exercise, I should consider setting up a spreadsheet with times (both day and length), categories (broad and narrow), type of student (advisee, CS major, someone else), and such.

I don’t really feel like counting activities, particularly since I know that the list above is incomplete. But making the list reminds me that students talk to me about a variety of things, that I advise my official advisees, other CS majors, prospective CS majors, and even folks who are not and will never be CS majors.

Do I think that my activities are substantially different than other Grinnell faculty? I know that some colleagues support more students who are having personal or academic difficulties. I know that some colleagues support fewer. I assume that my colleagues in some other disciplines get fewer job-related questions, but I could be wrong about that. Other than that, I think the range of activities is pretty typical.

As you can tell, a lot of my advising is ad hoc and on demand. I know that some colleagues rely more on planned meetings. Some even keep notes on each meeting in the advisee’s file and review those notes before each subsequent meeting. With 54 advisees, I can’t do that. But even when I had twenty, that wasn’t my style. I do better in the ad hoc/on demand mode. That works well for some students, and not for others. Those differences are one of the reasons students should have choices as to their academic advisor is.

[1] STaLG. Elaine M. and I coined the abbrev. back when we ran it.

[2] Some students really like to think ahead.

[3] Academic Progress Report.

[4] Since the student has two advisors, they want to make sure that they have time to talk to both of us, in case they have changes that they need both of us to approve.

[5] I think that’s true. I’m not sure what we’re doing with second-year students who already have a first major declared and that first major is not computer science. I’m 90% sure we’ll treat them the same as every other second-year student.

[6] They have nothing in their plan for spring, so it’s unlikely that they requested the review now. I sometimes forget to click the Review Complete button.

[7] Congratulations!

[8] Some of the chatting was joking. But we also talked about the more serious issues of how students should treat each other and about broader decision making.

Version 1.0 of 2017-10-31.