Tag Archives: advising

I’ve Met Mr. Magoo



I’ve been on the struggle bus with an undergrad researcher this fall. He’s been fighting me the whole way and needless to say, I hit my personal “full” line with him this week. Seven weeks of not taking instruction, fighting back with me every week, arguing with me about due dates and other trivial things, and finally….for the last three weeks, he’s refused to take any mentoring-all my words passed right through his head and exited as soon as they entered.

I’d been in touch with his academic advisor, who is a great advocate for all of his students and our dialogue had been productive.

  • I’m frustrated.
  • And I’m out of strategies.
  • So I admitted it to my student.

Part of being a mindful and self-aware faculty member is knowing when you’ve hit your limit. Your stomach tells you when it’s full. Your body tells you when it’s time for bed. My “stress bone” (wherever that is) was screaming pretty loudly at me and while I read the students latest attempt to convince me that I’m wrong and he’s right, I thought, “why am i fighting this so hard?”

There’s a few reasons: I am an educator, I love helping students, I believe anyone can be taught, and I’m aware of my imperfections so I try to remain unbiased.

But–in a society where we only want to blame one party but never look anywhere else, the students academic advisor shed some light on the whole situation for me that helped me finally pull the plug and have a ‘come to jesus’ with the student.

The advisor likened the student to mr. magoo. Not because he has poor vision, but because of his stubborn refusal to admit there’s a problem and that he is indeed part of it. College is a place to stretch, to practice, to self-regulate, and to be challenged. Learning how to fail is equally important and my message is clear: you’re failing but in order to correct it, you have to admit it to yourself first.

I’m stubborn, but I’m also exhausted and my stress bone was aching at the thought of trying to muddle through more of this students work with no real direction, no ownership of the problems behind it, and the continued notion that “it’s all of my fault” without accepting any responsibility.

I shared my concerns with the student, let him go for the week, and got an email “how can i be better?” In the meantime, I laid out a plan of achievable benchmarks, sent it to the advisor and student and said, “i need  break-i’m at a conference next week, see you in two weeks.” I can’t battle like that every week and I’m learning that I don’t have too. Instead of taking time to reflect, this student continues to miss the mark, insisting a meeting where he will defend himself to me because it must be my fault, will fix things.

I refused to meet with the student. I’m taking my two weeks and I told him why, “I’m taking a pregnant pause for both of us to regroup on this.” I want him to think through the benchmarks, I want him to meet with his advisor, and I want him to assume some responsibility over his education and his research. I need to do the same-think through my responsibilities to him and my other students, what I can offer, and what my upper limit is on the capacity for my time and resources. I’ve learned that the absence of anyone to fight with is a powerful tool.  On the outset, it sounds cold, but it’s for self-preservation at this point for me. I cannot reason with a student who will not take the reins of their life. Self-regulation, motivation, and self-awareness are all skills that should be kicking in and until this student assumes responsibility for those, I cannot help. I can coach, I can mentor, I can praise effort, but I cannot assume his share of the work.


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The other side of the desk

source (my desk has never been this clean)

I’ve been on one side of the desk for a while now. Going from teaching to student and now back to faculty–I switched roles a few times. While in grad school, i was also teaching, making the switch from one side of the desk several times. Even in this position, I’m on one side or the other depending on who it is.

It’s an odd shift though–moving ‘officially’ back to the ‘decision’ side of the desk. It became more apparent the last few weeks of the semester. While guarding my time, I did make a series of decisions that would affect others. Grading, hiring a GRA, submitting grant applications, and negotiating for fall programming were all done at a desk of some sort. Albeit for me to say that there was a formal desk or negotiating table involved, but there was the back and forth banter that needs to exist for effective communication to exist.

I had not been responsible for those kinds of decisions in quite a while. While I was certainly not ‘drunk with power’ it did cause me to reflect about my decisions and how they would affect others. Grades were easy–students earned those, I didn’t give them out. This is not Halloween. The rest of it was a bit trickier. Politics, negotiating, and considering what would go into a GRA and school sites was a bit trickier because I was very aware that my decision would positively or negatively affect someone elses’ life, even if for just a moment.

It’s hard to be diplomatic when politics and other outside forces are involved.  As a new faculty, I’ve leaned heavily on my immediate peers and colleagues to help guide me with these decisions.  How do you handle these things?

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Faculty just don’t understand


“Dr. Drape, you just don’t understand what it’s like to be 22 and having to decide between happiness and money.” Ha! What a week–And may I add: what a difference a decade makes.  Weekly meetings went well this week and I suspect to be getting some great final projects from students. As we wrapped up a meeting this past week, I engaged the student on his job search and how it was going.  He has two great offers from two very different areas of his interest and degree area.  One is with a big software development company on the west coast, the other is funded through a government grant program that would work on making cars safer in crashes.  As he verbalized the thoughts going through his head, he kept having the same argument that many of us have: for love or money? This student was consumed by the almighty dollar sign and in his millennial upbringing I was not surprised.  What I was surprised by was the fact that he knew he should pick the job with lower pay but with more challenge.  He had ZERO excitement in his voice when he talked about the position out west with the big company.  No excitement, no smile, in fact he sighed when he talked about it.  His shoulders dropped, and he returned to the fact that he needed a new car and wanted to buy a house.  I countered and asked him, “will you be happy with a car and a house if you’re stuck in a cube writing code all day?”

There were several things about this conversation that stuck out in my mind.

  1.  Does this student think that I was never his age, graduating from my undergrad, and having to find a job?
  2.  How much money does this kid think I make?  Let me share with you: it’s not much!
  3. What is driving decisions?  Just money?  Clearly this young man wanted to follow his heart, but the number on the piece of paper that was being dangled in front of him like a carrot to the horse was so alluring and intoxicating.  I fear for this guy.  He will either sink or swim.
  4. Who is guiding these young graduates?  I know I’ve mentioned this troubling thought I keep having, but on the flip side of the coin, you can’t reason with a 22 year old very often if I remember correctly.

In the end, I tried not to ‘mom’ him to death and shared that I had once done all of those things and that in the end, I wound up choosing happiness and taking a cut in pay. I hope that he finds happiness in whatever job or career he ends up in.

As a new faculty, how do you advise students?  Which part of your brain do you think with when working with them?  Do you keep it all business and not get to know them?

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