Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Art of an Amazing Academic Adviser

Most students see their adviser twice a year: once for a midterm check-in during Fall semester and then to lift an adviser hold to allow registration for Spring semester courses.

When students who declare a psychology major at my institution first enter into the program, they are placed with a "pre" academic adviser who works in the student success center with many students. The criteria for being granted and transferred to a faculty adviser is to earn a "C" or better in the Introductory Research Methods and Behavioral Statistics courses. Usually, students have been reading about where they would like to end up in psychology, so much like picking a thesis adviser in graduate school, they choose an adviser whose research interests most align with their own.

In my case, I had switched majors twice before ultimately deciding to declare psychology as a major. More on that later, though. Because of that, I had to take both the statistics and research courses in the same semester, which was grueling. It was nice because many of the lectures overlapped, and I felt that one course was reinforcement of the other. I did excellent work in the classes because the professors were young, and they were motivated by their work. At the conclusion of those courses, it was time to move into the academic department for an adviser. The computer system automatically put me with a faculty member that I knew, but only through peers. In all honesty, I was more than intimidated by this man. He had gray hair, which meant he'd been working at his craft for awhile, he was a neuroscientist, and he wore bow ties all the time. How was this going to work? He teaches a lower-level neuroscience based course that I decided to take the following semester so that I could fulfill a degree requirement but also so that I could get to know his teaching style and to get to know his personality.

Instantly, the class was one of my favorite classes. It was discussion based, and we read books based on neuroscience topics like Rita Carter's Mapping the Mind for those of you who may be familiar. For each chapter in each of the three books we read, a group of four students would lead discussion and create a podcast with graphics and voiceovers to present to the class.  At the time, the podcasts were tedious because they required the use of GarageBand, which takes some time to master, but now, I am profoundly grateful for the knowledge that I have and the time that I spent with my classmates. I met some of my dearest friends, and my adviser and I instantly made a connection.

After that fall semester, I was to begin my academic credit internship. When I went to "lift" the adviser hold on my student record, Dr. I and I had a nice conversation about career options and what this internship would mean for me in terms of graduate school and a career.  That conversation started it all. I knew that I didn't have anything to worry about in terms of advisement; he was probably the best in the department.

This past fall semester, I was enrolled in his Behavioral Neuroscience course, which is arguably the most challenging required course for psychology majors. For every class, I sat in the right corner of the front row, where any sighs of "You're going too fast!" could be heard without much commotion. We had lots of interesting things that we'd talk about before and after class, and I cherished it. It was one of the first times in my four-and-a-half years that I felt academically validated. I will be forever grateful for it. When there were some extreme difficulties with the course due to impairment related to my physical challenges, we compensated. And we compensated well. I've never seen anyone devote as much time to his work as his students the way Dr. I. does, and trust me, we all benefitted. Now, I'm looking into neuroscience programs and figuring out if my time in his class should be explored further. That, my friends, is the art of an amazing academic adviser.

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