Research shows the success of a bacterial community depends on its shape.
In response to student comments on upperclass advising, the Baker Foundation has issued a series of explicit guidelines for faculty, undergraduate students and departments to clarify and improve students' relationships with their advisors.
When students declare their major after their freshman year, they get an advisor in their department (either by request or assignment, depending on the department). While looking at the results of several student surveys, "we noticed that not everyone was really satisfied" with their advisor interactions, said Baker Foundation chair Samir Thadani (SB '96), a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science. "Students often don't expect much [from their advisors], and some advisors don't know what level of involvement their students want from them."
The Everett Moore Baker Foundation, named after the dean of students from 1947-50, is a student group that works to improve undergraduate life at MIT. It presents an award each spring to recognize outstanding faculty teachers of undergraduates.
Among the expectations of advisors, according to the new guidelines, are that they take the initiative to meet with advisees, particularly during sophomore year; get to know students and their records well enough to give informed assistance in case of academic difficulties; and direct them to the appropriate offices for help in formulating post-MIT plans. Advisees should expect their advisors to be available at least by appointment throughout the regular academic term and assume a gradual increase in responsibility for maintaining the relationship. They should feel comfortable in talking about non-academic issues but shouldn't expect their advisors to become close personal friends, the guidelines say.
The guidelines also ask departments to make every effort to match interests of advisors and students, make it clear that students have the right to change advisors if they wish, have some sort of orientation for incoming sophomores toward the end of their freshman year, and monitor students' fulfilling of degree requirements, among other things.
Mr. Thadani and the Baker Foundation started working about two years ago to draw up a set of guidelines, which were recently endorsed by the Faculty Committee on the Undergraduate Program and distributed to all faculty members through their departments. The complete set of guidelines is also available in the office of Peggy Enders, associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs, in Rm 7-133.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 11, 1996.