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GSC Gathers Student Input To Improve Grad Advising

By Kathy Dobson


The Graduate Student Council organized a series of focus groups over the past two weeks as part of their initiative to improve graduate advisor-advisee relationships.

The issues raised by the focus groups are: finding and changing advisors, work expectations, students in transition, mentoring at MIT, conflict resolution, funding, ethical issues, and career advising.

The groups, comprised of graduate students, administrators and faculty from 23 departments and programs, each met over two sessions to discuss specific issues related to graduate student advising. At the conclusion of the sessions, the groups formed lists of recommendations that will be compiled and reviewed by the GSC Advising Subcommittee.

“The bigger goal of these focus groups is to develop a summary of recommendations aimed towards advisor-advisee relationships across the whole university,” said Krishnan Sriram G, chair of the GSC subcommittee on Better Advising and Research Ethics.

Satisfaction with advising varies

“I’ve had the good fortune to have good academic and informal advisors at MIT,” said Erika B. Wagner G, who took part in one of the focus groups. But, she added, she has met many students who have not been as fortunate.

Emilio C. Silva G, who also took part in the focus groups, said that he hopes to help other students avoid frustrating situations with their advisors. “I had a bad experience that was basically an advisor-advisee relationship problem,” he said, referring to his former advisor. Silva’s focus group came up with a list of recommendations that included keeping documentation of both the advisor’s and the advisee’s expectations.

Course II Administrator Leslie Regan, who also took part in the focus groups, said that she thought information, such as department contacts and resources, needed to be clearly posted for students.

Focus groups fill critical need

“Advising is a critical element of the student’s success in a graduate program,” said Vicki S. McKenna, academic administrator in the department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science, and a focus group participant. “Any school needs to pay attention to how the process is working.”

“In EAPS, we’ve had some really positive things happening between graduate students and faculty, and our experience would be valuable for people in other departments,” McKenna added.

Barbara Lechner, an academic administrator in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said that the focus groups were very valuable, but she would have liked to see more student representation in her group. “There was a lot of faculty support in my group,” she said.

“I think the GSC here has done a great job in all of their undertakings” and will continue to do so with this issue, said Regan.

Study to use graduate survey

The initiative to improve graduate student advising began several years ago, but the GSC organized their efforts this summer, said Singh.

Singh said after members of the GSC advising subcommittee identified the eight “issues” with advisor-advisee relationships, it then generated a list of questions concerning advisor-advisee relationships to supplement the Graduate Student Life Survey that is currently being conducted by the Institutional Research section of the Office of the Provost.

Singh said that he expects the GSC to finish examining the data from the survey by the end of January. Also, using the recommendations generated from the focus groups, the GSC will then approach departments independently with recommendations in the spring.