What Does An Advisor Not Do?

Bob Jacobsen, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, College of Letters & Science

We all know what advisors do. Or do we? They help students explore interests, navigate options and opportunities, connect with resources, plan, make decisions, and meet their unique goals. Right!?

Advising is informed by rich theoretical frameworks and a variety of methods and approaches. The advising role requires formal preparation and training and professional development is critical to ongoing success in a constantly challenging field. While there are many responsibilities attached to the practice of advising, from simple to complex, it can be important to remember what is at the heart of this many faceted role. In the following excerpt, Bob Jacobsen, Interim Dean of Undergraduate Studies in the College of Letters & Science, helps define the advisors role by examining not only what advisors do but what they don’t.

Academic advising is not primarily transactional.  

Academic advising is about the creation and execution of academic plans maintained through the advising relationship. It’s a long-term, consistent effort. Advising has little in common with a “transactional approach”, such as going to the DMV to get your driver’s license renewed.  A transactional approach to advising, such as through a “ticket” system that associates a specific problem to be resolved with each interaction between student and advisor, is unlikely to assist in creating long-term academic plans and a stable advising relationship.

There are some transactions in advising, but they’re not the critical thing; they’re the way we deal with legacy systems, maintain inflexible record-keeping, and in general cope with imperfect bureaucracy.  They’re something to be minimized & removed, not something to be made more pervasive.

Academic advising is not primarily focused on requirements.

Requirements are (a small) part of how one develops a good academic plan, and how one evaluates changes to that plan. Requirements are not a primary goal in and of themselves. Putting them at the front of the discussion makes the student’s academic career all about limitations and “the least one can do to meet the requirement”, rather than about how to get the very most possible out of one’s time at Berkeley.

Instead of requirements, the focus should be on examples of possible plans, discussion of the pros and cons of different approaches, and how to explore & learn as much as possible.  Only as the plans mature and become concrete do they need to be checked against requirements.  It’s the plan & the possibilities it explores that needs to be moved to the forefront.

Academic advising is not primarily focused on adjudication.

In some corners, advising is viewed as being about getting permission to drop courses, getting waivers of requirements, or applying for exceptions to policies.  These processes have grown to be quasi-legal operations with their own rules of evidence, statutes of limitations and system of appeals.  This is fundamentally the wrong approach.

The right approach is to have advisors and students working together to construct prospective plans that will work, helping the students understand the likely outcomes and consequences of their decisions, and then monitoring the academic work and outcomes to feed back improvements to the plan.  That deals with issues while there are still options, rather than afterwards when there can only be exceptions.

There will always be exceptions that need to be decided, but the goal is to merge them into the planning process and treat them as a normal operation that should take as little attention as possible.