Purposeful Advising, Part 2 of 2

by | September 21, 2008

The number one core value of advisors is: Advisors are responsible to the individuals they advise (NACADA). Who wouldn’t agree with this? But what does it mean, especially to a doctoral advisor? I have learned over the last 18 months that advisors cannot tell their learners all of the answers. Advisors can only stage the learning environment so that learners begin to participate in and contribute to their own education. As advisors, we understand that some learners will move more quickly through the learning processes than others.

However, advisors are under constant pressure from both the University and the learner to prescribe rather than advise. Granted prescriptive (task-oriented) advising seems more efficient and certainly easier to dispense with 400 plus advisees, but learning theory tells us that we cannot shortcut the learning process and still expect learners to become scholar/practitioners who are life-long learners and leaders in their fields. I would like to engage learners in conversations about themselves, why they are in the PhD program and why Capella? I would like to know what topics they are interested in exploring and what they plan to do when they finish. I would like to know how I can help them in their doctoral endeavor. I believe that this approach is purposeful advising and within the context of the conversation, learners would indeed begin to participate and contribute to their own education.

Unfortunately, I do more prescriptive advising than purposeful advising. Instead of asking doctoral learners about themselves or their topics, I tell new dissertation learners about the sixteen milestones and ask them if they have a mentor yet. Instead of asking learners about their future plans, I tell learners where to find all of the forms and manuals and highlight the timelines on the first three milestones. No doubt, these are important tasks and many times, knowing these tasks will motivate the learner or at least move the learner forward in the process. However, my concern is that relying on a task oriented advising model stages the advisor as the problem solver rather than helping learner’s see value in the learning process, gain perspective on the doctoral experience, become more responsible and accountable, set priorities and evaluate their progress, and uphold honesty with themselves and others about their successes and limitations (NACADA).

I began writing this blog to explore what it means to be a doctoral advisor. It has helped me to understand my role and to understand that my role includes understanding barriers to student progress, and to identify ineffective and inefficient policies and procedures. NACADA has been helpful in this learning process and I believe that my responsibility to my institution as an advisor is to work to affect change. Included in NACADA’s core values are the advisors’ responsibility for their professional practices. To this end, I will be attending NACADA’s international conference in Chicago on 10/1-10/4. My goal for attending the conference is to continue my exploration of purposeful advising and how within the context of advising do we define ourselves to our universities as educators, and not simply task managers.