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Making the Most of Your Chapter Advisor

Posted By Bradley Cannon, Psi Chi Central Office, Monday, September 16, 2019


Local chapter faculty advisors are the backbone of our Professional Organization. Although student officers come and go each year with their own unique ambitions and plans, your local advisor (or advisors) make sure that each student transition is successful. Advisors provide invaluable guidance to student officers. They serve as a meaningful connection between students and other faculty. And they help students obtain unique and hands-on educational experiences outside of the classroom. Of Psi Chi’s 1150+ chapters, I think it is safe to say that almost every single good chapter has a great advisor!

And yet, did you know that your advisor faces many challenges with regard to leading your chapter? Fortunately, as a student officer or member, there are ways that you can help to increase your local advisor’s support and communication with your chapter. This article addresses possible challenges that your advisor may be facing, as well as five specific steps that you can take to increase their support of you and your chapter.

1. Time Takes All

In a 2018 survey taken by 37 advisors, 43% identified “time” as a major challenge for their chapters, and an additional 46% identified it as a moderate challenge. This was the top challenge identified, which really isn’t too big of a surprise. As you can see in this recent magazine article, teaching is only the “tip of the iceberg” of responsibilities that faculty members possess. They also often chair honors theses, supervise student conference presentations, write educational articles and books, write letters of recommendation, and so much more! Fortunately, there are many ways that you and your chapter could help to alleviate your advisor’s time.

First of all, you could always offer to help your advisor with her other priorities. For example, perhaps your chapter members could get together to assist in data collection for one of your advisor’s research projects. This will give student members useful experience that they can put on their CVs, plus it will also help your advisor see how managing your chapter can be rewarding for her too, not just a distraction from her other duties.

Second, some chapters also create specific officer roles designed to reduce advisor responsibilities. For example, if your advisor spends a lot of time organizing an induction ceremony each fall, then perhaps your chapter could establish an Induction Officer position. A Membership Coordinator, Elections Cooredinator, or Social Media Voice could each also be useful student positions to support your advisor.

2. A Little Inspiration Goes a Long Way

Sometimes, an inactive group of officers or student members during a previous academic year might have caused an advisor to think that her efforts were not appreciated or useful. In fact, in the same survey mentioned above, 35% of advisors identified “motivating officers” to be a major challenge and 43% identified it as a moderate challenge. This was the second-highest challenge identified.

One thing you can do to correct this is to simply visit your advisor and let her know that you appreciate her support of your chapter. Perhaps you could even take this a step further by surprising your advisor with a small award or gift recognizing her good deeds for Psi Chi.

Another way to inspire your advisor is to lead by example. So if you would like to see your chapter become more active or tackle a specific project, then offer to help “get the ball rolling” instead of simply requesting for your advisor to do all of the heavy lifting. For example:

3. Ask If You Can Host a Meeting

If your chapter doesn’t already host regular meetings, then ask the advisor if you could put up some flyers in order to promote a meeting. Attendance at this meeting will help you to quickly gauge interest in having future chapter activities and establishing student leadership positions. It is possible that your advisor will also be able to tell you of other specific communication strategies (e.g., an available email list) that you could use too; be sure to ask about this too!

If your chapter already has officers, then you will want to check with them too and seek their support if possible. Or, if your chapter doesn’t have any officers, then that’s definitely something you should discuss at your upcoming meeting. Your advisor will know who the current officers are and how to best reach them.

By the way, to identify your advisor, visit Psi Chi’s Chapter Directory Search, select your chapter, and then choose “Staff.” Often, any current officers will be listed here too.

4. Other Faculty Can Help

Faculty advisors sometimes feel a little isolated and indicate that they don’t have enough support by other faculty and their psychology department. In the recent advisor survey, 22% indicated that motivating other advisors was a moderate challenge, 5% indicated that department support was a major challenge, and 19% indicated that it was a moderate challenge.

So, another way to support your primary faculty advisor is to involve other faculty and gain your department’s favorable opinion of your chapter. For instance, invite various faculty members to present about their personal research interests or their graduate programs at your upcoming meetings. Here’s a full article on obtaining Departmental Support for Your Chapter. Enjoy!

In time, one of these faculty members might even be willing to become a coadvisor for your chapter—you should ask them! Many chapters have a coadvisor or two, each of whom will take on certain duties related to running your chapter. Having a coadvisor is obviously incredibly helpful for alleviating your primary faculty advisor’s workload. And also, advisors often have fun collaborating with one another, which results in increased engagement by both individuals (for example, see this magazine article about coadvising). Having a coadvisor also ensures a smooth transition when the primary advisor eventually steps down.

5. Let Them Know You Want Their Feedback

Because Psi Chi chapters are primarily led by students, some advisors may be intentionally “staying out of the way” so that students can gain leadership skills and so forth. Indeed, there is a sort of art to facilitating student leadership without actually running student leadership. An entire magazine article about this is available, appropriately titled, “Student Advising: A Compromise Between Homer Simpson and Josef Stalin."

Therefore, if your advisor has been kind of “hands off” with regard to leading your chapter, then perhaps she is simply attempting to give you adequate space to make your own decisions and grow as a leader. However, every student is at a unique stage in life and has unique skills, so if you have questions, then don’t hesitate to reach out to your advisor for additional support. In almost all cases, your advisor will be more than happy to support you on your journey.

In conclusion, there is great value in supporting and nourishing a professional relationship with your chapter advisor. Your advisor is a key source for maintaining your chapter and pointing officers in the right direction each year. Together, there is little that your chapter members and advisor cannot accomplish.

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Note. This article was inspired by feedback provided in the “Leadership in Community: Ideas for Strengthening Your Chapter From the 2009 National Leadership Conference” article published in the spring 2009 issue of Eye on Psi Chi.

Tags:  Chapter Life  Psi Chi Related 

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