|Ten Things They May Never Tell You: Opening Dialogue Between Chapter Advisors and Officers|
|Merry J. Sleigh, PhD, Aimee West, and Jason Laboe|
Winthrop University (SC)
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a Psi Chi advisor is forming relationships with the student officers and working toward their success. The relationship offers advantages to the officers as well, from the opportunity to get assistance with club activities to potentially finding a lifelong mentor. Because both parties in the relationship are invested in and care about each other, sometimes it may be difficult to communicate about needs or problems. Drawing from conversations with fellow officers and advisors, and our personal experiences, we have created a list that includes areas that might be difficult to communicate about or issues that don’t arise in typical conversations. Our hope is that looking at the chapter from each other’s perspective might help advisors and officers better appreciate and support one another, as well as result in a more effective chapter.
Advisors’ Wish List to Psi Chi Officers
- Take ownership of the organization.
Psi Chi chapters are run by students, not by faculty advisors. Officers sometimes treat us as the chapter president, assuming that we will initiate and organize the group’s activities. Other times, we are given the role of chapter secretary and left in charge of all of the paperwork. Be careful about any situation where the advisor is assuming the chores of the chapter officers. We want to be a supportive presence, a safety net, and a resource, but not the steam engine of the chapter. Be particularly mindful of the financial records. Part of your responsibility is keeping track of the budget and spending. Each chapter is accountable to the Central Office, and the Central Office is accountable to the federal government. Money needs to be handled in an ethical and responsible fashion, with fastidious record keeping and timely submission of required paperwork. The Psi Chi website offers a wide range of resources, including descriptions of officer positions and their roles HERE. You are in charge of the organization; however, you are not alone.
- Take advantage of our experience and expertise.
Although we do not run the chapter, our role is important. We can serve as a liaison between the chapter and the Central Office, offer a historical perspective of the chapter’s activities, ensure continuity from year to year, and help the chapter adhere to Society, departmental, and university guidelines. Don’t be frustrated with us if we advise against a course of action. Based on our broader perspective, we may be encouraging you toward a more successful pathway, not just thwarting your efforts. If you are in a chapter where you feel as though your advisor is disengaged from the chapter, you have power to improve the situation. First, be aware that members either select or approve a departmental nomination for their chapter’s faculty advisor; there is power and responsibility in this choice. That being said, your best option may be to work with your current advisor. When we agree to serve as your faculty advisor, it is because we care about you, the organization, and our field. Assume that we care, and work with us to improve the situation. Start by asking us for our opinion on how the chapter is functioning. If we do have frustrations, this might be an ideal time to air and address them. Another way to engage your advisor is to make sure that our input is solicited, heard, and appreciated. An advisor advises, and advice is only useful if it is received.
- Think outside the box.
We can offer ideas and suggestions, many based on past events. Take advantage of this past experience, but simultaneously be creative and innovative. Part of thinking outside the box is taking old ideas and giving them a new twist. Take advantage of other chapters’ successful activities HERE; figure out how to make them work on your campus. In addition, bring in outside interests or hobbies to the organization. Pass out surveys to your members to find out their talents. Find a way to combine natural strengths with Psi Chi events. For example, artistic members may do face painting for local children, while musicians lead a sing-along at a nursing home. Similarly, identify members who are active in other organizations; reach out to these campus groups for joint service and social activities. Also consider partnering with student service centers, such as the campus health center or career services office. A partnership may benefit both organizations. Psi Chi should be a visible presence on campus, not just well-known to the psychology department and its students.
- Be aware of the long-range picture.
You have taken on leadership for a temporary period of time for an organization that will hopefully continue long after your contributions end. Lead your year in a way that sets the stage for continued success in the future. Develop a 5-year strategic plan that sets long-term goals for your chapter (for more information, see Weaver, Marsland, & Whitbourne, 2009). Create a mental picture of where the chapter should be in five years and design yearly goals to meet that long-term objective. For example, you may work toward increasing membership, focusing on community service, or receiving a Model Chapter Award HERE. The success of the plan depends on clear communication between outgoing and incoming officers and strong goals that will stand the test of time. Recognize that you may not see the endpoint, but your contributions are a critical part of getting there. You are serving your chapter and university, but keep in mind, you are also serving the field of psychology. By becoming a Psi Chi officer, you have become a part of something much larger than your chapter.
- Don’t underestimate the influence you have with your peers.
We need you to represent the student perspective. One of the easiest ways to increase participation and interest members is to create events that you would want to attend; you have a unique perspective that is invaluable when we think about how to best serve students. You also are our best form of advertisement. You know your peers, including the most popular mediums for communication. Talk to your classmates about chapter activities, make announcements about events in your classes, and use technology to advertise. Begin advertising Psi Chi membership as early as possible, remembering to get information to first semester freshmen and transfer students as well as currently eligible students (see Weaver, Marsland & Whitbourne, 2009). Personally invite departmental faculty to attend chapter activities. If people know that you care about their presence, they are more likely to participate.
- Connect with the Central Office.
The Central Office is a wealth of resources for officers and members and is staff ed by people who are committed to helping our chapters succeed. In addition to a newly-renovated website (http://www.psichi.org), the Central Office sponsors Psi Chi Digest, Eye on Psi Chi, and the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research. Search, learn, and contribute to these outlets. For example, send photographs of your chapter in action for posting on the website, share chapter news and activities with Chapter Submissions (you must login as chapter administrator, select chapter reports, activities report), or submit a manuscript to the journal (link no longer exists). The Central Office also organizes the Psi Chi hospitality suite or other opportunities for interaction at your regional conference. Each hospitality suite affords conference attendees the chance to network with peers from around their region. Consider volunteering your members to serve as hosts, or at the very least, drop by to visit with your Psi Chi peers. Another option is to attend leadership programming at regional conferences when possible. These sessions are open to all Psi Chi members and faculty advisors. In a safe and supportive atmosphere, participants have an opportunity to network with other chapters, share concerns, and brainstorm ideas. Last but not least, nominate excellent leaders for the Board of Directors (including your regional vice-president), vote in Society elections, and take notice of Constitutional changes. Act locally, while simultaneously having an international impact.
- Take advantage of grants and awards.
Psi Chi has a wide range of financial awards available, ($336,950 allotted to this program) including recognition for outstanding chapter websites, officers, undergraduate research, and graduate research, as well as money to fund research projects and research conferences (see HERE). Your Society dues support these awards and exist for your benefit. The Central Office is proud of its Psi Chi scholars and has established these awards to formally recognize the work that you are doing. Letting fellow Psi Chi members know about these awards is a wonderful way to connect your chapter to a broader community of scholars and helps new members understand the purpose of membership fees. In addition, participating in Psi Chi’s award program is one of the eligibility requirements for receiving a Model Chapter Award. Applying for an award is good for you and for your chapter.
- Nominate your chapter president or faculty advisor for an award.
The Kay Wilson Leadership Award is designed to honor your president for outstanding chapter leadership (see HERE). Th e application deadline is April 1 of each year. Your nomination is a formal way to recognize your fellow officer’s effort and may be a valuable addition to his or her resume or graduate school application. In addition to serving your president, your nomination reflects well on your chapter and your university. Outstanding chapters breed superior officers, and superior officers create outstanding chapters. Your advisor’s work can be recognized with either a Regional Faculty Award or the Denmark Faculty Award nomination (see HERE), due by December 1 of each year. Winning is a noteworthy accomplishment in an advisor’s career; however, the nomination itself is a meaningful honor. We do not receive additional pay or benefits as a result of our service to your chapters. Thus, a nomination may be one of the only tangible reminders that we are appreciated and may spur us to a new level of commitment and motivation. In addition, recognizing your advisor is also a celebration of your chapter’s accomplishments. One does not exist without the other.
- Remember that we are not mind readers.
As with any relationship, there are going to be times when we confuse, disappoint, or frustrate you. Don’t let these situations derail communication. If something is bothering you, practice professional communication skills by sharing your perspective. Being honest about your feelings gives us the opportunity to clarify our position, share our own perspective, or grow and learn as an advisor. Verbalizing your thoughts may also help you better understand them. In the same way, allow us to communicate openly with you. Take it as a sign of respect when your advisor thinks enough of you to initiate tough conversations. People who don’t care, don’t communicate.
- Help me write your letter of recommendation.
One of the benefits of working with Psi Chi officers is that we get to know them on a much deeper level than is typically available through classroom interactions. Thus, we are often in the position to provide strong, detailed recommendations for graduate school or the job market. Letters of recommendation are not just about academic performance; they are about character, commitment, and potential. Think of yourself as a young professional while you are still a student, and behave in a way that demonstrates your abilities and character (see Norcross & Cannon, 2008). We may be asked to comment on your dependability, maturity, or organization, all characteristics that can be showcased through Psi Chi. Help us help you succeed.
Officers’ Wish List for Psi Chi Advisors
- Recruit us.
We may have a desire to serve our department, but lack the information about how, or the confidence to do so. Find us in your classrooms and encourage us to apply for an officer position. Sometimes students who are already proven leaders on campus are the most obvious choices for Psi Chi leadership, but also consider students who may have the potential for leadership. Psi Chi offers opportunities for its members to shine and for its members to grow. Seek officer candidates from both angles.
- Help us know what is expected of us.
We want to meet (or exceed) those expectations. We are competent and motivated, but sometimes we need some structure into which to pour our energy. Make sure we know about officer resources that are available online (see HERE). One of the ways that you can be most useful is to provide a supportive framework in which we have the freedom to creatively lead the chapter. Make sure to have training sessions where exiting officers have an opportunity to share their expertise with incoming officers. Consider creating officer notebooks or web folders, where useful information, such as contact numbers and successful activities, is organized and passed to each subsequent generation of leaders (see Sleigh & Nelson, 2005 for additional details). Scaffold our success.
- Help us understand your role in the organization.
You need to know your responsibilities so that you feel confident and comfortable in your role (see [link no longer exists] for useful information for advisors). We need to know your responsibilities so that we can appropriately use you as a resource. Be clear about when it is reasonable to ask for your help and when we need to work toward a solution on our own. We don’t want to burden you or appear incompetent, yet at the same time, we don’t want to operate in isolation. One suggestion is to set aside time to discuss the advisor’s role during the training of new officers. A second suggestion is to periodically connect with us and ask, "How can I help you right now?” This question demonstrates your willingness to help, is not overbearing, and opens the lines of communication.
- Make sure we know about the Central Office and the opportunities it provides us.
Sometimes, from a student perspective, it seems like we pay a lot of money to join this organization without knowing exactly where our money goes. Help us to keep track of member cards, certificates, and pins; help us to ensure that they are given to new members as soon as they arrive. Encourage us to broadly advertise the website (http://www.psichi.org), distribute Eye on Psi Chi as soon as it arrives, and keep the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research in a visible location. If you think that we qualify for an award, encourage us to apply. If you think that our research is worthy of publication in the Psi Chi Journal, encourage us to submit. The support of our advisor might be just the confidence boost we need to begin the process.
- Be with us.
Although we need to take responsibility for the chapter, we want you there beside us. Attend our officer and group meetings. Be a supportive presence at Psi Chi events. Attend professional conferences with us. If outside obligations, either professional or personal, restrict your availability, consider finding a coadvisor or stepping aside for a season. Recognizing limitations and setting priorities provide good examples to us as we develop our own multitasking skills. Just as we are role models for our members, you are a role model for us. Active, engaged membership starts with our advisor.
- Let us make some mistakes.
We realize that we may be attempting something that failed in previous years, but there is always the possibility that this time, the effort will be a success. Let us try some things, even when you have doubts. When you know we are making a mistake, consider allowing us to make it anyway. Mistakes offer greater learning opportunities than successes, and one of the reasons we became officers was to develop and improve our leadership skills. Making mistakes in this supportive environment will help prepare us for the world beyond college. We appreciate the safety of boundaries, but stay open-minded and keep them flexible.
- Advocate on our behalf.
Each chapter is supported by member dues and the Central Office; however, these two sources can’t supply everything the chapter needs. Be an advocate for us in finding additional resources. Perhaps the department budget can support a cosponsored social event or assist with copying costs. Think broadly in terms of resources that might be available and seek them on behalf of Psi Chi, especially when money is scarce. For example, look for unused spaces that could be converted into a gathering place or study spot. Find wall space for bulletin boards or Psi Chi posters/banners. Make room in the departmental display case for Psi Chi awards. Discuss with your department chair the possibility of acknowledging faculty participation on performance reviews, or developing undergraduate awards to highlight service to the department. In the "real world,” we might be in positions where we can’t reward our employees’ work financially, so finding creative ways to manage resources models valuable, transferable, problem solving skills.
- Help facilitate our relationships with other faculty.
Brag about us to your departmental colleagues. Like you, we are not paid, and may not perceive any external reinforcement for our work. We appreciate encouragement and recognition. In addition, suggest that we invite our teachers to our events. Chapter activities are more likely to be successful if they provide opportunities for faculty and students to interact and reflect departmental support. We need opportunities to foster relationships, find mentors, practice networking, and hear different perspectives. Help us think of ways to connect with faculty, such as highlighting different faculty each month in a newsletter, organizing faculty appreciation days, or sponsoring awards to recognize excellent teachers in the department. Build bridges between what goes on inside and outside of our classrooms. Last, protect us from departmental politics. Don’t gossip about other faculty or put us in the middle of a power struggle; show us a cohesive team of faculty who care about our well-being.
- Be sensitive to us in your classrooms.
Because of our work together in Psi Chi, we enjoy a unique, and often close, relationship. Just as we should not take advantage of that relationship, you should not either. If we are in one of your classes, have the same expectations of us that you have for any student in the classroom. We should not be expected to participate more or perform better than our peers. We are top students, and we are serious scholars; however, we are still college students who are facing the same demands and stress as everyone else. We have days when we excel and days when we fall short, and both of those are likely to happen in your class. Some of us put enough pressure on ourselves to achieve, without feeling additional pressure from well-meaning advisors. Your opinion of us might matter more than you realize.
- Support our career goals, whatever they may be.
We may not want to go to graduate school or follow a path for which you think we are ideally suited. We may be top psychology students, but that does not mean that we must pursue graduate training or continue in the field of psychology. We value your input and advice, but ultimately, we need to find our own way. Support and encourage us, and we will remember you forever. The best mentors walk with you on your path, they do not force you down their own.
Norcross, J. C., & Cannon, J. T. (2008, Fall). You’re writing your own letter of recommendation. Eye on Psi Chi, 13(1), 24-28.
Sleigh, M. J., & Nelson, D. W. (2005, Fall). Maintaining the balancing act as faculty advisor. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(1), 18-19, 36-37.
Weaver, K. A., Marsland, K.W., & Whitbourne, S. K. (2009, Spring). Leadership in community: Ideas for strengthening your chapter from the 2009 National Leadership Conference. Eye on Psi Chi, 13(3) 26-36.
Merry Sleigh received her PhD in developmental psychology from Virginia Tech in 1996. She first served as faculty advisor to Psi Chi at George Mason University (VA), where she received the Regional Faculty Advisor Award in 2003. Dr. Sleigh currently teaches at Winthrop University. She serves as the Psi Chi faculty advisor and as a reviewer for the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research.
Aimee West in a senior psychology major at Winthrop University. She currently serves as president of her chapter. In 2008, She served as the publicity chair, when the Winthrop Chapter of Psi Chi received the Regional Chapter Award. She plans to continue to graduate school in clinical psychology.
Jason Laboe is a senior psychology major at Winthrop University. He works closely with Psi Chi in his role as the Psychology Club vice-president and has been an active member of Psi Chi since 2008.
Copyright 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the
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