Today’s blog post was inspired by a recent discussion I have been having with a woman of color who reached out about what to do with a bad advisor.
For every department, there is an advisor for undergraduates and graduate students (if the department has a graduate program). You are assigned your advisor at the beginning of the year. You may be asked to come to their office or you will receive an official letter or email from them letting you know that they are your student advisor. They may also be quick to send you business paperwork such as major contracts, TAship contracts, flyers for department events, etc.
Depending on the school size and department funding, an advisor can be an official staff member or a faculty member. In some cases, a student may be an advisor.
Once you begin at your college, make sure you familiarize yourself with your department, the staff, the resources available to you on campus, and meet your advisor.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF AN ADVISOR?
An advisor is suppose to explain to you what exactly is expected of you in order to receive your degree.
Every department has a major contract where all your coursework and other requirements for your degree are explained.
Typically, this document has a check-off list for all the courses you are to take. They are separated by categories because you can take various courses offered each year to apply toward that specific category. In some departments, you are allowed to do what is called “double-dipping,” but this is rare. “Double-dipping” is when you can apply one course to fit two categories in your contract.
You may also have a language requirement. This means you potentially have to take one course or two in a specific language. Additionally, you will take a language test and it will verify that you know how to read and write in that language proficiently.
Other requirements depend on the school and department. In some colleges, especially private schools, the school itself may have a requirement of their own that you need to fulfill beyond what your department requires.
All this to say, you really need an advisor on your side to help you read your contract and keep you on track to graduate on time. They will know when certain classes will be offered and when others won’t. They will know when opportunities in the department open up, this includes work study jobs or funding opportunities in the department/campus. They will also know when opportunities for conference travel and research grants.
As you go further, for instance, into graduate school, you will still need the assistance from your advisor. This is where you may end up with a faculty member who is an advisor OR you have your own department advisor for graduate students AND you have your own faculty advisor for your research.
WHEN DO YOU KNOW YOU HAVE A BAD ADVISOR?
First off, if you started college and you have not been contacted by an advisor from your department… that’s bad.
Normally, these individuals begin to contact you as soon as you are offered to come to the school/program. They will do everything to help you confidently accept their offer and start the year off smoothly.
But, if you have not heard from anyone, you need to contact them yourself. You can do a google search of your school name and add the name of your department. You will also need to add “advisor” (whether it’s an undergraduate or graduate advisor) to the search.
If you do not hear from them in a few days, I would personally go find their office on campus. If an advisor is a faculty member, I would look at their campus website page and check their office hours. You may want to drop by, introduce yourself, and ask them to set up a meeting with you.
If you do know your advisor and they are not working out for you, you may need to either change your advisor OR ask a faculty member to help you. Adding another faculty member into your support group in the department may help. They may become the middle person who pushes the advisor to do more for you.
If you are a graduate student and this is your advisor for your research, you need to consider these tips when “breaking-up” with you faculty advisor.
If you are an undergraduate student and you are able to switch advisors, these tips can also work for you!
TIPS ON HOW TO BREAK UP WITH YOUR ADVISOR
- SCHEDULE A MEETING
- If you can, schedule a meeting with your advisor in order to let them know that you plan to work with someone else moving forward.
- The best thing you can do is be honest that they just were not mentoring you in the way you need. If the person wants to grow, they will ask what they could have done better, etc. You want to be honest, but don’t go overboard. Pick and choose what you felt they did not help with. I would go with the more important ones (ie. not responding to your emails, not checking in, not sending you the contract, etc.)
- Sometimes, this interaction can be quite fast. The person may be absolutely overwhelmed with work and other duties that you may be doing them the favor (unfortunately).
- Other times, the person may not even realize what they were doing wrong. And, in this case, you have to decide whether you want to give them “one more try” or just move on. It’s up to you, but make sure you are not pressured to stay. If the advisor you found for yourself is more motivated and communicates with you more than the one you had first… please make that change!!
- THANK THEM
- Make sure to say thank you (even if you feel they did nothing!)
- Being kind and letting them know you appreciate their help (even if you never saw it!) will let them know that you understand they are human. We are not perfect and people make mistakes.
- You want to keep that door open because you may need that person in the future for something and you do not want it to be awkward in the future. This does NOT mean you have to make a friendship or small talk with this person, but it means you want to stay hi to each other when you do see each other… basically, no hard feelings.
- DON’T TAKE TOO LONG
- The process of “breaking up” with an advisor may be a stressful and anxious situation for many. So, sometimes, we tend to talk more and faster when we are nervous. Try not to let your nerves get the best of you.
- Make it short and simple! Like I said before, pick and choose what you will use as examples. And, move on.
- TAKE A DEEP BREATHE AND DO IT!
- Before you go in, take a deep breathe! Focus on something as you take a few deep breaths and get your mind/heart in a place that’s calm. Check your heart, is it racing? You may still need to take more deep breathes to calm down.
- Don’t go in there with any type of fear because YOU DESERVE BETTER!! So, taking deep breathes will allow you to be focused and concise.
- Ground yourself and go in there confidently!
- DEFEND YOUSELF & SPEAK UP
- In the worst case scenarios, an advisor may try to gaslight you. This means that they will try to make you feel like you are the problem. They will make excuses and deflect any responsibility or accountability. In this case, DEFEND YOURSELF!
- Let them know that you know you deserve the information they did not get to you. You deserve to know everything that pertains to your major, graduation, and any other resources available to you.
- And, if this happens, you need to find the right time to walk away. This person will make it impossible for you to get your point across.
- They will also deny and forget anything you point out.
- Don’t let them make you feel crazy. Say your peace AND GO!
- Also, try to have a witness with you. Bring a professor, student representative, or a friend.
I hope these strategies for breaking-up with advisors helps!
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