Advice on Advising

05/09/2011 § 4 Comments

I have an awesome academic advisor. You may be thinking “Is that a typo? Did she say awesome?” I’ve had conversations with my advisor that drastically changed the look of my coursework and could ultimately change my career. My advisor provides honest, inspiring, challenging feedback that every student should be privilege to—but many are not. Heidi Kittleson’s recent post Library School Starter Kit – a class checklist spurred some great discussion that revealed how much of a mixed bag advising can be.

The quality of advising relationships can run the gamut from school to school. Online advising can differ from on campus advising. Your advisor may be a LIS faculty member or a generic university administrator. Some advisors engage their advisees while others keep it business. In a dream world we would all have access to great advisors. Since that’s not the case I’ve done my best to dissect my interactions with my advisor to figure out what works, what other students should look for in an advisor—and where to turn if your advisor’s not cutting it.

Getting to Graduation
Start planning for graduation early on. Discuss with your advisor your degree’s requirements and the best path for meeting them. As you begin school look at requirements and course schedules to create a degree plan that details what classes you will take by semester. If you’re not required to create a degree plan with your advisor, create one on your own and ask them for feedback.

This is meant to be a flexible tool but in some cases it may be difficult to plan out several semesters in advance. You may change career paths, course offerings may change, etc. At the very least ask your advisor for meaningful feedback on course pairings each semester. My advisor has looked at my degree plan and suggested moving classes around because of work load or even because skills learned in one class complimented a course project in another. Planning ahead can allow you to strategize with your advisor instead of just marking courses off a requirements list.

Getting to Know You
Library school does not happen in a vacuum. One of the first conversations I had with my advisor included her asking me, “What is your dream?”  This was followed by questions about my habits as a student, my work situation, my life in general. Library school can get tough. Job hunting can be tougher. It’s important for you and your advisor to know why you’re putting in this work, spending this money and taking this leap. It’s also important that your advisor knows your context. Do you have kids? Are you working two jobs? Do you have a learning disability? Hopefully your advisor is working to discover these things about you. If not, tell them what you think they need to know so that they can give you good advice that is relevant to your situation.

Tough Love
Picking out classes can be like going to a candy store—there are so many neat things to learn about in library school. While your advisor should be supportive of your goals and choices, they should also be telling you to eat your vegetables. Before the summer semester I picked out a lot of cool classes that came highly recommended by my classmates. My advisor gave me feedback that led to me swapping out those classes for more challenging ones that would provide me with more marketable skills. Most of the reviews you hear about a class will be from other students. While this is important, seek out faculty or advisor feedback when possible. They might think a class is cool too, but they may have some good input on how a course will help you build your resume and meet your career goals.

Keep Track
As you discuss goals and select classes with your advisor, consider jotting down notes or keeping a journal of your interactions. Save emails as well. There may be a brilliant thought that you want to revisit later—or you may need to use this documentation as back up if something goes wrong.

Where to Turn
If you feel like you’re not getting the feedback and advice you need from your advisor—seek it out. First, if you think it will be well received, ask your advisor for more engagement. Hopefully they’ll respond to your request. If you’re still coming up short, search for a faculty mentor who can give you good info on your degree plan, coursework and career goals. You can also look to working professionals for advice, or look for alums of your program to get their insight on specific classes and professors.

Your advisor, mentor, or alum can offer real world, practical input and guidance that you may not get from other students.There are lots of nuances in the library world. If I were picking out my courses on an island—my degree plan would look very different. With input from your advisors and mentors you can feel better equipped to make smart choices in your education and career.

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§ 4 Responses to Advice on Advising

  • Great post! I also am lucky enough to have a wonderful advisor and I second everything you mentioned!

    I’m wondering, are there schools where your advisor is a general graduate school advisor (as in, not Information/Library specific)? If this is the case, is there a way to “adopt” a faculty member as an unofficial advisor?

  • Annie Pho says:

    I totally adopted a different faculty member to be my advisor. He has more similar interests and isn’t afraid to give his opinion. He even looked up class schedules and outlined potential classes for me. Not that I listened to everything he said but I appreciated the thought he put into it.

  • [...] with the topic should be of sufficient amount to equal a standard course. Consult with faculty and academic advisors about potential topics to make sure that what you want to study isn’t already covered by a [...]

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