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Voices of the Global Community


Tiffany Labon and Heather Ammons, The University of Alabama

Editor’s Note: This article is drawn from What have I gotten myself into?: Tips for new advisors, presented at the 2012 NACADA Annual Conference in Nashville, TN.

Tiffany Labon.jpgThe field of academic advising has various aspects that new advisors must navigate to fully embrace their position.  From acclimating to all of the curriculum requirements, university rules and regulations to gaining a perspective on the culture and climate of the university, advisors can find these tasks daunting.  In addition to working toward understanding the campus, the advisor also begins the process of understanding what advising entails. Trying to embrace all of these elements at the same time can be rewarding, but finding the starting point and the pathway to navigate this process can be difficult as well.

Heather Ammons.jpgThe guide below can assist a new advisor in navigating these pathways and reveal new areas to explore within the profession.  These tips are about the advisor and his or her growth in the profession, not about how the advisor interacts with and assists students. It may assist new advisors to separate the policy and curriculum aspects of their job, and truly focuses on the development of the advisor by looking at the advising profession, establishing a balance, understanding the institution, and enhancing personal and professional growth.

Getting into the institution

Establishing a physical and philosophical home at their institution allows new advisors to gain a more complete understanding of its framework.

  • Identify the stakeholders at the institution and what they do.
  • Understand the institution, college, and office mission. Evaluate to determine where an advisor fits.
  • Examine the institution’s advising processes.
  • Gain an understanding of the institution’s culture/climate by studying the institution’s population and how the services, policies, and procedures work together to meet the needs of the students.
  • Enhance ability to work with students effectively by gaining comprehensive knowledge of the curriculum, both at the departmental level and across campus. Seek out professors and other staff to gain an understanding of the established curriculum.
  • Talk to students and develop relationships with them.

Getting into the profession

New advisors can gain perspective and pathways into the field in multiple ways.

  • Network with campus advisors and other resources on campus to gain contacts who can assist when questions arise or new ideas are proposed.  It is okay to start small and then work to expand the network within the institution, state, and national level.
  • Explore the literature on advising – including approaches, theories, best practices, and the history of the field – to gain a better perspective on the path the field has taken.
  • Seek training opportunities; move outside the comfort zone by going to conferences, participating in webinars, or crossing departmental lines to gain new skills.
  • There are no dumb questions; it is always better to ask than to risk giving incorrect information.  Write down new information and share it.
  • Things change day to day, especially in helping fields; be flexible.
  • Interactions with students can be challenging and emotionally wrenching.  Identify someone at the institution who can provide understanding and an outlet.
  • Embrace those moments of laughter or frustration, because as much as we teach our students, they teach us as well.

Getting into a balance

New advisors need to discover their own balance, even when the personal and professional boundaries overlap.

  • Advisors’ boundaries between work and life can be intertwined.  Since it belongs to us, we must embrace them!
  • This is the advisor’s own personal journey and no one else can instruct us on how the balance can be reflected.
  • What are the factors that impact the advisor’s balance? Identify all of them, which can include school, work, family, and personal time, among others.  Once the factors are identified, the advisor can work toward establishing a fluid way to balance them and realize when it is time to change.
  • Oftentimes there must be a separation between the advisor’s personal and professional lives.  Find ways to disconnect and recharge!

Getting into growth

Planning for and reflecting upon growth transforms the advisor, both professionally and personally.

  • Personal
    • By reflecting upon their pathway, advisors can ask themselves who they are and where they want to go.
    • Learning from those around us – students, family, friends, coworkers or random strangers – allows every moment to be a teachable one.
    • Once an advisor has learned from a situation, sharing those lessons with others allows for future growth for everyone involved.
    • Change is inevitable and if an advisor allows it to happen the advisor can move out of his or her comfort zone and into newer heights.
  • Professional
    • Professional growth does not just happen. The advisor has to make things happen!
    • Establishing a timeline for professional goals allows the advisor to complete them.
    • Explore the various levels of the profession – state, regional, and national – and become exposed to them by presenting and attending conferences, as well as volunteering on commissions and other committees.

In essence, exploring these areas will allow advisors to begin discovering the pathways to strengthen their journey as an academic advisor. We may not need every piece of information during each advising encounter, but it may contribute at some point during our career.  

Tiffany Labon
Academic Advisor/Coordinator
Culverhouse College of Commerce
The University of Alabama
[email protected]

Heather Ammons
Academic Advisor/Coordinator
Culverhouse College of Commerce
The University of Alabama
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Labon, T. & Ammons, H. (2013, June). What have I gotten myself into? Tips for new advisors. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]
Posted in: 2013 June 36:2


# Joshua
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 12:54 PM
Thank you, Tiffany and Heather, for this contribution. I remember vividly my first few months as an academic advisor, when I was learning what it meant to be the resource (sometimes the only one!) for students in a large, complex institution so different from the ones I had known.

I would add that knowing the institution is helped by understanding the image it has of itself. Images of Organization, the book by Gareth Morgan, comes to mind as a way of assessing the institution and its actions. In addition, the transition is helped by the concept of sense-making, wherein individuals attempt to "make sense" of observed data. This scaffolding can help us integrate our past experiences with our current ones, and can lead to enhanced effectiveness when we sense-make effectively in the context of the organization(s) in which we operate.

Thanks again!


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