Advising program effective, but not without challenges
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 13:03
Most students have one advisor. Senior Demi Marks has three. Professors from the Drama and Child Development departments and the Communication and Media Studies program advise Marks in completing her self−created, interdisciplinary major in children’s entertainment. While Marks’ situation may be unique, the benefits and drawbacks of Tufts’ advising program remain a common experience for both students and faculty.
According to Program Director for Advising and Scholarships Laura Doane, seeking out advice is an essential part of the Tufts education because of the complexity and breadth of Tufts’ academic departments and programs.
“Students should be getting advice from any number of people,” Doane said. “You get advice from your parents and your friends — that’s being human. And it’s very effective.”
Even before incoming freshman step onto campus, they are assigned a full−time faculty member to help them with their first−year courses. Aside from certain special programs, advisor assignments are based on the basic information that students provide in their applications. According to Doane, this can leave room for errors.
“I do meet with some students who would like a different pre−major advisor for whatever reason,” Doane said.
Freshman Andie Eisen experienced the frustration of being paired with an advisor who did not match her interests.
“I wanted to get into the dual degree program with the [School of the Museum of Fine Arts], and my advisor is the head of the computer science program,” Eisen said. “It felt like a total mismatch, and he couldn’t give me any advice about course requirements for the psychology or art departments, which is what I want to study.”
Freshmen have five options for their first−year advising experience — the Curricular Advising Program, Faculty Seminars, Host Advising, Explorations and Perspectives — which can add to the challenge of finding the right fit.
According to the Tufts Admissions website, the Host Advising program is the most traditional of the five, assigning individual students to their pre−major advisor based on their general academic interests. Explorations and Perspectives advising programs group the students enrolled in Experimental College courses with the same pre−major advisor. Faculty Seminars and the Curricular Advising Program both involve pairing students with the professors of a seminar or course, helping the students to foster a relationship with the advisor.
Kelsey Schlueter, a freshman who chose the Curricular Advising Program for her first year at Tufts, enjoyed this approach. She enrolled in Introduction to Religion, and found having her professor as her advisor to be a positive experience.
“It was great, because there was a lot of crossover between being a student in his class and being his advisee,” Schlueter said. “So he’d ask me how my essay was going for his class, and then ask about essays for other classes too.”
When declaring a major, sophomores must choose a new advisor specifically for their major. Students can approach professors within their department and ask to be their advisees, or professors offer to advise students that are interested in their subject.
“The idea is that students are talking to faculty members related to their interest, about their interest. So if there is a match, they will feel comfortable with their advisor,” Doane said.
This transition from pre−major advisor to major advisor is not always a smooth one.
“I think that sometimes students don’t know how to find a major advisor, so the system in place for supporting that...could be better,” Assistant Professor of Psychology Ayanna Thomas said. Thomas currently advises about 25 students.
To select the professors who will become advisors, Doane said that she approaches the chairs of different departments and asks that each one provide a certain number of student advisors. All full−time faculty members are technically eligible to be advisors, but the chairs of the departments must determine which professors are likely to be overwhelmed with classes.
For smaller departments, it is often challenging to find enough faculty members to be advisors.
“Tufts has very generous leave policies. We try to make sure that our faculty have the space they need and the time that they need to pursue research projects and be accessible to students while they are also on the cutting−edge of their field,” Doane said.
While professor research has many worthwhile benefits, it adds to a lack of advisors on campus, says Doane.
“It does mean that the number of faculty advisors on campus have to reconfigure the number of major advisees on campus,” she said.
According to Thomas, some professors struggle with advising large numbers of students.
“I think if I had more than 25 to 30 [advisees] it would be difficult,” she said. “And I know that a lot of people in my department have more than that, so that must be really tough.”
While the official processes of advising may be overwhelming, professors and administrators help by trying to inform students about the unofficial ways of accessing advising services.
Julie Dobrow serves as an unofficial advisor for students minoring in Communications and Media Studies (CMS), the department that she directs. Students do not need an advisor for a minor, but Dobrow answers questions specific to the CMS minor and facilitates more general conversations about career paths and academic interests.
Dobrow serves as one of three of Marks’ advisors.
“[Dobrow] is my main advisor, and the other two serve as a sort of checks−and−balances system,” Marks said. “I think it’s very much on a case−by−case basis, but I’ve really enjoyed having three advisors.”
Marks’ advisors also form her thesis committee, so they have been familiar with her work since she designed her major in her sophomore year. Though Marks has benefited from the advice of three faculty members, this approach has had some challenges.