My students survived the first day of advising

Classes don’t start until Wednesday, but students are all here on campus already for orientation. Part of that is having them meet their faculty advisor, which for some of the less fortunate students is me. I gave them a little pep talk and an assignment — they’re supposed to find me in my office next week, remind me of who they are, and tell me a little bit about how their semester is going. Or just say hello.

They seem to be a pretty good bunch of young people. Now I just have to make sure we get rid of them in four years. Hello goodbye! Have a great life!


  1. rockwhisperer says

    Student advising is so damned important, and most of the professors who’ve advised me upon my entrance to a new school did it really badly. School #1, I was fresh out of high school, starting at Big, Well-Regarded State Research University., and the professor who met with me obviously didn’t give a fat rat’s patootie about me or students in general. I did soldier through and get a BS, but it was a challenge. I found better faculty advisers eventually.

    School #2, Big-Name West Coast Private Research University, where I started on an MS. Advising professor was even less engaged. I lasted one semester there. Nobody seemed to give that same rat’s patootie about MS students at all. The MS program was a cash cow, nothing more.

    School #3: Small Private Teaching University, focused on local working students who wanted advanced degrees, especially in tech subjects. Decent advising, not great, and if my heart was in it, I might have gotten the MS. But I was losing interest in engineering.

    School #4: Local Tier-2 State University, primarily a teaching institution, Master’s being the highest degrees they awarded. Extraordinary advising. The day I went to meet with the department’s graduate adviser, I found a pleasant, cheerful, extremely helpful professor who told me exactly what I was in for. I was changing from engineering to geology, which would require lots of undergraduate background classes, and I needed to really like hiking. Bob to this day remains one of my favorite professors, though the topic he taught was my most difficult one (which was not Bob’s fault in the least; it required extensive 3D visualization, and I”m simply not good at that.)

    I had the best time of my life at School #4, and I might have missed it entirely if that graduate adviser had been like the professors in schools #1 and #2.

  2. says

    I don’t even know who was my advisor when I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington. I certainly never met with them.

    I hope they’ve improved since, because it really was sink or swim.

  3. rockwhisperer says

    PZ, that’s sad, and I’m not surprised. The schools in my story were the University of California at Davis, Stanford University, Santa Clara University ( a well-regarded school despite being Jesuit), and San José State University in San José, California, part of the California State University system.

    (Note that California has two state university systems. The University of California campuses are research schools who teach our state’s best students and do some outstanding research. The California State Universities are primarily teaching institutions, with the mission of training all Californians who aspire to university degrees, and who can handle the work. Getting into UC schools requires intelligence, hard work, and more that a little economic privilege in terms of family who have time and resources to promote education to their children from an early age. The California State Universities are there to educate everyone who can handle the academic environment, and many students are the first in their families to go to college. For a long time, a CSU spot was guaranteed to every California student who’d maintained a 3.0/4 GPA in high school, though some schools can no longer admit all those who qualify in their geographical area. Classes are small and research grants make up a small proportion of departmental funding. Money is tight, and no undergraduate makes it out in four years; they simply can’t get into all necessary classes in those years.)

    If I wanted a PhD, my choices would have been different, but I’m not cut out for teaching or writing grant proposals. I did my sedimentology thesis based on USGS work done in the South San Francisco Bay Area in cooperation with our local water district, and kindly USGS scientists and staff members helped me access the relevant well cores and brought my thinking up-to-date on the local USGS work. I got a $600 grant from the College of Science, which I used to have thin sections (geology microscope slides) made professionally, since they’re very hard to cur to the required thickness when the material is sand in glue. There’s this guy in Idaho who has the equipment and skill, and takes enough time off fishing to actually do the work…but I digress. I was doing a very tiny bit of research on a topic that was only locally interesting, but I learned an enormous amount, I interacted with dedicated professors and engaged fellow students, and had a terrific time (except for those long hours peering into a microscope, for which my back may never forgive me).

    THAT is what university education should be for all of us who are not PhD material, from our first day of our first semester onward. Good teachers, interesting projects, a senior or MS thesis project that lets us contribute a tiny bit to the body of knowledge in the world. Presentation and writing skills, regardless of our chosen fields. I make no secret of being a real champion of Cal State schools for undergraduates and Master’s graduate students. The system may be second tier, but how many of us are PhD material anyhow?

  4. wzrd1 says

    Poor students, overloaded by novel conditions, then faculty advice.
    Yeah, it’s just that ugly, overall.
    Don’t have a problem with that, save, an absence of mention of a non-faculty advisory position.
    Aka, an escape valve.