A lesson in resources

Adding Up

clare-egan_online

Even as a senior, I still think UC Berkeley’s advising system is confusing.

I was assigned a general adviser from the College of Letters & Science when I was a freshman. To declare my major, I went to one of the mathematics staff advisers in Evans Hall, and now I have my own mathematics faculty adviser.

When I was an incoming freshman, at Cal Student Orientation, or CalSO, I was eager for my 15-minute appointment with an adviser to discuss my first semester schedule. I waited outside the College of Letters & Science advising offices anxiously. There were so many questions to ask, and I was excited to get some feedback on my schedule.

But those 15 minutes flew by. I felt like I had barely gotten to ask anything, and then it was time for the next student’s appointment. I was disappointed. Would every advising appointment be like this?

I think this first advising meeting at CalSO gave me a negative perspective of advising. I went through my first two years almost never stepping into an adviser’s office. I had no interest in taking advantage of advising, and it wasn’t until I declared my major that this changed.

The mathematics department does its best to ensure that students meet with its advisers somewhat regularly. Once I declared my major, I starting meeting with my adviser every semester so that he could approve my schedule and electives.

At first, even meeting once a semester seemed like a lot. It was almost nerve-wracking to present my semester schedules and ideas for elective courses to my adviser. I worried that maybe he wouldn’t agree with my plan, and I wondered why the mathematics department insisted that students get all of their major courses approved.

Meeting with advisers always felt awkward. Because I never took the time to develop a personal relationship with any of them, I always had to reintroduce myself and my schedule. It seemed like half of each meeting was just me re-establishing my course history and future plans.

Part of me knew that I was consciously making a choice to not establish a personal relationship with my adviser, but advising resources seemed unnecessary. I have never been someone who’s especially eager to ask for help, so even the idea of constantly asking an adviser questions felt uncomfortable.

Many UC Berkeley students like me are probably inclined to do everything solo and not seek approval for our plans or schedules. But sometimes websites don’t have the answers to all of our questions. There have been moments when I felt confused in trying to fit everything together, and I needed to actually speak to someone face to face and get some feedback.

In those moments, advisers were there for me with their open office hours. When I was concerned about fitting in study abroad or adding a minor, they were there to give me some realistic feedback.

Maybe the mathematics department anticipates this, and so they build advising into the departmental structure. Even with the advising requirements, it’s not difficult to avoid it if you really want to, but advisers are there for anyone who needs them.

At CalSO, I was turned off by both the brevity of my advising meeting and the large number of students each adviser was tasked with helping. I was worried advising would never be personal enough, but I realize now, in such a large school, advising will be as personal as you make it. It is each student’s choice how close they will become with their adviser.

Even if you are like me and don’t drop in on advising office hours very often, there are still a lot of benefits that can come out of an occasional meeting.

Advisers can help ground us, and I have felt that some of my advising meetings have personalized a college experience that often feels anonymous. It can be nice to know that someone understands your problem or concern and has helped many other students with the exact same thing.

Even when advising is time-consuming or cumbersome, it can be comforting to talk to someone whose job is to help each of us make it through our time here. I, for one, have learned that advisers are usually curious about your interests and future plans, and just telling someone, “Yes, I’m going to do X next,” can really build your confidence.

For me, advising has been a lesson in making the most of my resources. I never went out of my way to get close to my advisers, but I have learned to appreciate their feedback.

Learning to ask for guidance and help has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned here, and without those mathematics advising requirements, I probably would have gone through college without asking an adviser any questions. I’m glad I was pushed to make the most of advising, and I hope other departments do the same for their students.

Clare Egan writes the Monday blog on her experience in STEM departments at UC Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cegan_dailycal.