This week, Columbia College sophomores will be attending department open houses in preparation for major declaration next week. Although there is a standardized system for major declaration, advising for majors varies across departments. American studies majors are assigned graduate student advisers, while history majors are advised by a rotating committee of faculty advisers, and psychology and biology majors are assigned an adviser by last name.
Departments are not always able to offer their students an individual faculty adviser, often due to the number of students and faculty in the department. The physics department is a rarity, with about a 3 to 2 ratio of professors to juniors and seniors. Other departments, such as economics, have about a 1 to 3 ratio of professors to juniors and seniors.
Other undergraduate schools at Columbia have proven more successful in connecting students with professors. As a first-year, every Barnard College student is assigned a faculty adviser in a department in which she has expressed interest. Students later receive an additional faculty adviser once they’ve declared their majors. Similarly, all School of Engineering and Applied Science students have a faculty adviser within their declared department in addition to an advising dean in the Center for Student Advising.
Columbia College and General Studies should follow suit and create a more uniform system to help students develop relationships with professors. This would not mean the elimination of the Center for Student Advising, or the removal of current advising structures within departments. Rather, all departments should give students the option of requesting an additional faculty adviser, potentially even before declaring a major. We acknowledge that professors have limited time available to dedicate to advising, and therefore it is not feasible to require departments to assign every student an individual adviser, particularly before major declaration. Instead, students who wish to could opt in to the department’s faculty advising system. Students could be matched with a professor based on their expressed interests, whether they be academic, preprofessional, or both. Students could potentially request a specific professor whose course they’ve taken in the past or who works in a particular field.
In addition to helping with course selection, faculty advisers can provide valuable guidance on a range of topics, like pursuing research interests, developing a senior thesis, finding worthwhile internships, and planning for after graduation—especially for students thinking of applying to nonprofessional graduate schools. For students in the hard sciences, professors are frequently research collaborators, and occasionally publish papers in conjunction with students. Professors can also give much-needed guidance for students who have yet to declare their majors. This is particularly important for students in large departments, where it’s easy to get lost.
During an interview with Bwog in 2010, history professor Adam Kosto said that he and many of his colleagues were interested in advising undergraduates in order to bridge the gap between students and faculty. Experiences in office hours confirm Kosto’s observation that many professors seem enthusiastic and more than willing to work closely with students.
Currently, many of our peers have to muster the courage to go and speak with professors on their own. Making the leap to reach out to professors can be intimidating, especially for first-years and sophomores. CC and GS can work to facilitate stronger relationships between students and their professors by making advisers more available. Office hours are great, but they’re not quite long enough to get advice on the meaning of life and what you can actually do with your major.
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