Advising the Advisor: What Am I Doing, What Should I Be Doing?

-guest post by Jeannetta Williams

I’m Jeannetta Williams and I’m in my 4th year at a private liberal arts university in Texas. I’m an assistant professor in the psychology department, which is the largest major on our campus (around 350 or so students). Recently I received some good news–that I’m our school’s nominee for the university’s outstanding advisor award. As part of the nomination application, I’m required to turn in lots of materials–my CV, letters of support from students and colleagues, and my “Advising Philosophy.” A what?!

So, you can guess what I’ll be writing for the next few weeks. I’ve been working with students for several years so I must have some idea of how to advise students, but I’ve never thought about writing it down. I did some cursory scouring of the Net for advice on advising and I’ve come up pretty short. Most of what I’ve found has focused on getting students ready for graduate study in psychology. This is helpful, but only a small part of what we do as advisors. In chatting today with our director of the teaching excellence center, she remarked that advisors play a critical role in student retention, but few institutions require an advising statement in faculty applications (although the # is growing).

I didn’t receive any specific training during graduate school on the do’s and don’ts of faculty advising, but I don’t know if my experience is unique. I’m lucky that our university provides training for advisors, but the expectations for each department vary widely. Here’s where you come in. In your view, what are the essential characteristics of being a successful advisor? How do you manage all of the varied aspects of advising, such as formal academic advising vs. informal advising? Sharing information about careers inside and outside of academe? Advising student organizations? Bringing professional development opportunities to students? What do you know today about advising that you wished you knew while on the job market or in your first faculty position?

[Note: This post was originally contributed as part of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Early Career Committee 2009 blog.]