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This Week: Group Starting Edition - Choosing an Advisor


winnersThis week, I’d like to talk about an often ignored but super-important aspect of your group: finding an advisor.  Many universities require that a group have an advisor*, but many universities don’t exactly tell you how to find one.  And they certainly don’t tell you what you should look for in an advisor or what role they should play in your group. I’m going to cover all of these things and more in this week’s article so that you are more prepared and equipped to either find an advisor or evaluate the one you already have.

A few weeks ago I discussed how to find a focus area for your group. I hope that you’ve all taken that seriously and at least had a discussion about what your group’s goals should be for this year. Even this quarter/semester would be a good start! When finding a faculty advisor, this conversation is important.  Each group will need and want something different out of their adviser. Where one group might expect their advisor to attend weekly meetings and events, another group may only want their advisor to show up for required or important functions. These decisions are best left up to you and your individual members, but some questions you might want to ask are:

  • What role should our advisor play?
  • How often should we expect to meet with her/him?
  • What level of involvement do we expect from our advisor?

Once you’ve figured these things out, the real work starts. Finding an advisor can be really easy or really tough. I’ve worked with groups that have been approached by people who want to advise them, and I’ve also worked with groups who have to look for weeks before finding someone appropriate. Don’t be discouraged, though. It’s better to find someone who fits well with your group than settle for the first interested individual.  Remember your goals, remember what you want to accomplish, and make sure that your advisor is on board.

When you go to meet with potential advisors, you should definitely bring a copy of your constitution, some literature (what we sent you in your Group Starting Packet would do nicely) and also be prepared to discuss what goals and plans you have for your group. Also, try to dress professionally (something clean, not necessarily a 3-piece suit) and act professional.

So, where to look? If you haven’t gotten any interested emails from faculty members after hanging up your flyers (and if you haven’t hung up your flyers, why not start now?), then you’re going to have to figure out where to start asking.  Believe me, I know this can be awkward, as you may not be sure what people might think of the secular student movement before you talk with them.  But there are actually some ways that you can get clues.

Firstly, ask fellow students in your group if they know anyone that might be interested.  Most universities will allow both faculty (e.g., professors, lecturers, etc.) and staff (anyone else who doesn’t directly teach a class but works for the school) to be an advisor, so keep that in mind.  If you and your fellow group members don’t know any interested potential advisors then you'll need to start reaching out.  Where do you look?  Not to be cliché or biased, but odds are that you’ll find more interested parties in certain departments than others.  Starting in the biology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, medicine, physics, chemistry, and neurology departments are probably your best bet.  Take a walk through the areas where faculty in those departments have their offices, and see if you notice any pro-evolution or even pro-science stickers, signs, or buttons on any of the faculty/staff’s doors or offices.  If you do, chances are they’d at least be interested in talking to you and knowing your group exists. 

If this doesn’t work for you, then my next advice would be to actually talk to whoever you can, be it other students, faculty, staff, or what-have-you and see if they might know any interested parties.  In the case that you absolutely cannot find an advisor, email us at the SSA and let us know what’s going on (i.e., what you’ve tried already) and we’ll try to help you out.

Once you find someone who is interested in helping out, make sure to go through the questions I mentioned above.  Be open with your potential advisor about what your group’s goals are and get their feedback. Remember, though, that this is your group, and while an advisor is an invaluable source of advice, they’re not there to run your group for you.  Make sure to answer any questions they have about your group or your goals.  If they have any questions you feel like you can’t answer, don't panic.  You can always admit that you don't know – but make sure that you follow up with the answer when you find it.  You can also encourage them to contact the SSA or go to our website.  We’d be more than happy to help out!

Hopefully you all feel more comfortable about finding an advisor for your group.  As always, if you have any questions or experience any problems, do not hesitate to contact me or any of our other staff to help you out.  I will see you all next week!

*Even if your university doesn't require an advisor, you might consider having an informal adviser for your group.  An advisor can be someone who can help maintain institutional memory and provide a stable presence through the frequent leadership transitions that our student groups have.  So consider the benefits and decide whether having an advisor might be a good choice for your group.

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