As a student affairs professional approaching five years of advising experience, I find myself at a crossroads. I always question which box to check when asked to identify myself as either an entry level or mid-level professional. I feel like Robert Frost in “The Road Less Traveled”, except the checkboxes and self-doubt are the causes of my dilemma. I’ve spent plenty of time looking down both paths, both reflecting on my experiences since graduate school and looking ahead to my future career goals. Through this self-reflection, I’ve made the decision to declare myself a mid-level student affairs professional.
How did I come to this conclusion? It’s not that one day I woke up and realized that I’m no longer an entry level professional: I’ve made a long-term commitment to my future in this field, both in and outside of the scope of my job description. My decision to move forward as a mid-level professional, and more specifically as an advisor, has been influenced by multiple factors, a few of which I’d like to share with you today: my advising style and how it’s developed over time, my experience handling student activities-related crises, and my ability to prioritize work and life, especially during the time of year we call (gulp) April.
- Developing an advising style: When I reflect upon my advising experiences and how they’ve changed from when I began working with student organizations, I think about one of the first large events I oversaw on our campus: a large festival with multiple on-site cooking food vendors (think fire permits and certificates of insurance), inflatables, performances, staging (on muddy grass, of course), and more. This event consumed me for weeks, and it caused me more stress than even some of my most complex professional dilemmas. This was because I allowed students to define my advising style, rather than me defining it for them. I welcomed them into my office every time they stopped by unannounced and without an appointment. I nearly tripped over their reimbursement forms and receipts when they slid them under my door. I called their vendors for them and pleaded for lower prices and faster turnaround times.
When my husband started becoming familiar with the names of my more demanding students after constant venting at the dinner table, I realized things needed to change. I started telling students that they needed to make an appointment with me before discussing anything related to their organizations. I set up weekly appointments for those who were more demanding or who had more complex events and organizational issues. I drew my advising boundary with a permanent marker, rather than with a pencil. There are still exceptions to the rule, of course, but it has allowed me to put my other work into perspective and realize how many other important issues come across my desk.
- Defining and managing crises: The definition of crisis varies depending on who you ask. For some of my student organizations, a crisis may mean that their chocolate fountain vendor didn’t get approved on time, and they won’t be able to serve dessert at their date auction. When I receive a pleading e-mail from students to modify my office’s policy on contracts with the e-mail subject reading: URGENT, I take a breath and realize that their definition of crisis is quite different from my own. Just two years ago, I traveled on an Alternative Winter Break trip to Los Angeles during which my students and I had to evacuate our hotel, and I had to assist a student having a major panic attack in the process. This, to me, is what crisis looks like – and I’ve been able to manage my stress over many other student-considered “crises” by reflecting upon that experience.
- Prioritizing work and life: I can think of one word that I’ve eliminated from my advising vocabulary, which has enabled me to grow into a more mature professional: guilt. I will no longer allow myself to feel guilty about not attending a student organization event when they’ve invited me. I can say yes to the events that are most significant to my professional development as an advisor, like attending a large-scale science festival for members of the community, and I can prioritize when my family life is more important than traveling to campus for a student group’s fundraising gala. We need to be able to determine when saying yes can benefit us the most, and when it could potentially be harmful to our personal lives.
Since I arrived at that checkbox crossroads, I’ve come to realize that being a mid-level professional does not mean being “middle of the road”. Becoming a mid-level professional means that we are provided with more opportunities to raise the standard of excellence, to achieve more within and outside the scope of our advising careers, and to face hard student affairs challenges head on, even during the chaos swirling around us in April. How has becoming a mid-level professional impacted your advising style and professional development during the busiest time of year?
This post is part of our month-long series #OrgAdvising, an in-depth look at the different aspects of the student organization advisor role. This series hopes to bring front-and-center a role otherwise overlooked or forgotten in the discussion of “advisor.” For more information, see the intro post by Cindy Kane! Check out the other posts in this series too!