The Age Old Question

By Mairead Kiernan

“Explain the difference between supervising and advising.” There’s some question like this one in every entry level Student Affairs interview. I always thought I had the perfect answer because I didn’t have a ton of experience with either one. Now that I’ve had experience with both, I’m pretty sure I’m a good supervisor, but I’m still on the fence about this advising business.

Both last year and this year, I directly supervise 8 CAs and co-supervise a team of 22 CAs.  This year, I added supervising 2 Student Assistants (our desk workers).  Last year, I advised our Complex Council, but in retrospect, I superadvised them. Yes, I made that word up. I call it superadvising because the majority of our students who join Complex Council are looking to become CAs, so while it’s still advising, we also treat it a bit like supervising at times. This year I’ve taken on advising the Student Staff Leadership Council, our student staff advocacy and recognition group, and I just returned from advising a student staff delegation at the SWACUHO-RA conference.

All of this has taught me one thing: Advising is hard, y’all! I always thought, “Oh yeah, advising gives the students more leeway and I can sit back and be less involved.” Not. AT ALL. The case. Last week, we sat in an SSLC meeting and listened to the students argue about food going into care packages for 25 minutes. I turned to my co-advisor and asked if I could stop them, and he was like, “Nope, let ‘em figure it out.” My co-advisor from this weekend described advising as, “Letting students duke it out over a question to find an answer you already know."

Now please don’t think I’m poo-pooing anyone who primarily advises. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! I’m impressed at the patience you exude and, at the end of the day, I think you have to be really invested and committed to advising in order to be a good one. I recognize that it’s only October, and I’ve got seven months of advising left, so I’m going to do my best to really invest myself in the group I’m working with for the duration of the year. With that being said, hats off to all of you who are primarily advisors!

P.S. I’m looking to possibly present on this topic at ACUHO-I, so if you’d be interested, get in touch with me because I’d love to have another opinion and a co-presenter!

Student Affairs - the First Years

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