Economics and Government Take Different Tacks on Advising

In a report on advising, a faculty committee wrote, “One quarter of the student body commands a considerable amount of attention from individual members of the faculty; the remaining three quarters got relatively little attention.” The biggest problem, the committee found, rested in the largest departments at the College, like economics and government.

That assessment might sound familiar today. But the report was written in 1950.

Much has changed in the past six decades and even in the past handful of years. But students and faculty in the social sciences division—which houses the College’s two largest concentrations, economics and government—still point to a divide in the strength of the advising students receive that pivots on the size of their departments. While smaller concentrations offer more personalized guidance, larger departments still struggle to find the best advising program for hundreds of concentrators.

“When you have a small department, the type of system to advise them, by design, is very different from a large department with many students,” economics concentration adviser Kiran Gajwani says.

REFORMING THE BIG SYSTEMS

Economics and government, historically among the largest concentrations in the College, have each taken steps in recent years to reform their advising systems. Their approaches are nearly opposite, one moving advising away from the Houses and one moving it into them.

In the economics department, administrators have shifted focus from a House-based advising framework to a centralized program within the department’s headquarters. Gajwani, who joined the department in 2010, was the first hire as a Littauer-based concentration adviser. Unlike the other concentration advisors, who are graduate students, Gajwani is a lecturer-adviser who completed her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2008.

According to Jeffrey A. Miron, director of undergraduate studies in economics, the department will phase out the current graduate student advisers and replace them with more lecturer-advisers like Gajwani.

“There’s a lot to be gained from somebody who already has their Ph.D.,” economics department chair John Y. Campbell says.

Miron says that the post-Ph.D. advisers will foster “more stability [and] more continuity” so that more students can remain with the same adviser throughout their time as economics concentrators.

“By necessity, we need to come up with tools to make advising work for large number of students,” Gajwani says. “We’ve made changes in the past few years.”

So has the government department, with a bevy of reforms in the past year including a new faculty mentorship program and the addition of sophomore tutorial teaching fellows as advisers to supplement the House-based system. These changes will go into effect beginning with government concentrators in the Class of 2015.

“The big change is to make sure that when students declare their concentration, they get the advice they need,” government Director of Undergraduate Studies Cheryl B. Welch says.

This latest revision is perhaps the most comprehensive in an ongoing series of changes in the department geared toward making resources more accessible to students. In 2010, the department assigned advising responsibilities to House tutors and to upperclassmen concentrators to bring resources closer to student life. These changes to advising create distinct tiers of advisers and mentors, ranging from full professors to fellow students to satisfy different needs for government concentrators.

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