Lessons of an Advisor


As you’ve noticed, I’ve not blogged in a while.  Not only have I started a new Assistant Professor gig , but I’ve also adopted a newborn son in recent weeks.  Entering parenthood for the first time is so fun and joyous and sleep depriving all at once!  However, I’d like to get back in the habit of blogging regularly as I’ve mentioned before this helps me accomplish more academic writing in other projects.  And most importantly, hopefully something here will help you.

Being in this full-time role exposes me to things that are non-issues as an adjunct faculty member.  One of them is the regular need to advise students.  Whether it be advising them about their study plan, the counseling profession in general, or which internship sites provide the best training in the area, these are typical advising issues with graduate-level counseling students.

While advising a burst of students recently, I realized that it might be helpful to write about basic tips on how to advise well.  Reflecting back on my doctoral and master’s-level training experiences, I had the fortune of being placed with excellent advisers.  However, as Karen Kelsky writes here, a lot of students are receiving bad advice from their advisors.

So what makes a helpful advisor to students?  I write from a couple of perspectives-both as a former student and also as a current adviser.  I also incorporate a couple of principles adapted from the above article.

1 – Be available.

Recently a student asked me, “Do you know how hard it is to get a professor to sit down with you?”  I encouraged her to continue.  She said, “If it’s not related specifically to my degree, then it’s hard to find faculty that have the time. I want to know more about the profession, its options, and more information about a specific evidence-based treatment.”

Being available can be difficult at times with committee work, faculty meetings, teaching, writing, conducting research, and other administrative duties.  However, if one wants to truly help students absorb all they can, then this includes taking time for advising them.  This is part of the reason why mandatory office hours exist for full-time faculty.  Much learning occurs outside of the classroom, and it is our jobs to facilitate that learning. Sitting down to talk about things not related to their coursework or degree plan can offer the best advising environment for critical learning to take place while also communicating that each student is important.

2 – Actively listen & support.

It may seem odd that I’m telling those in the counseling profession to actively listen to their advisees when that is supposed to come second nature to those working in the field.  However, you might be surprised how often the absence of active listening occurs.  It is easy to think one knows everything a student is about to say for those of you who have advised for many years.  Sometimes students just need to be heard even if it’s a complaint or maybe they’re experiencing a personal difficulty and they need emotional support.  While you won’t be doing therapy per se with students, sometimes an attentive ear goes a long way to supporting someone who is having a hard time.

3 – Most importantly, give honest advice.

Karen Kelsky says that advisors need to tell the whole truth even when it’s inconvenient or not popular, and this directive is especially true when it comes to the counseling profession. Recently a student concluded after our meeting, “One takeaway from our meeting is that it might take some time or even years to develop my professional identity as a counselor, and that’s ok.”  Being realistic with students often goes hand in hand with being honest.

Personally, I wish I had a class or advisement when I was in graduate school on how to start my own practice. Launching a private practice requires a big learning curve on how to start and maintain a small business.  This was never taught to me though different professors often talked about how a private practice was an option upon exiting graduate school and obtaining independent licensure.  Thankfully, our university provides practical insights on this subject, but they typically happen outside the classroom.

Other honest disclosures about the profession may include the following: a) the average salary for clinical MH counselors nationwide is only 40k per year (can be significantly less for new graduates), b) a lot of new counseling graduates work 2 part-time or PRN gigs until they find a full-time position, and c) while full-time counseling jobs are readily available, it may require a move to another part of the country.

Being a quality advisor for students is an expectation of graduate students and the universities that employ us.  However, far too many professors don’t make an effort or don’t prioritize being good at advising.  Being available, actively listening and supporting, and giving honest advice are three important strategies in effective advising.  When this happens, students are more likely to learn practical things about the profession and be better prepared when entering the counseling job market upon obtaining their degree.

What other tips would you give on how to advise well?  Will be interested in hearing from you below.







2 thoughts on “Lessons of an Advisor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s