So You Think You Can Tutor?
“If you were going to an LGBT drag party, who would you dress up as?”
Mazen Elfakhani froze. He wasn’t sure what to say. He knew the type of answer the tutor selection committee was looking for—probably “something to show I’m not too stiff,” he says, recalling the incident. Elfakhani knew that his lifestyle for the next few years would depend on it, but all he could come up with was “Lady Gaga.”
When a different selection committee discovered that Cian J. Power was a tenor in the Dudley Choir, they asked him to prove his credentials. “I’ll sing if you’ll sing with me!” he challenged.
Elfakhani and Power, fourth-year graduate students, second-year resident advisors in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and longtime friends, were in their first round of interviews at Adams and Cabot Houses, respectively, for positions as undergraduate resident tutors.
In the graduate school dining hall after their interviews, the two laughed off the pressure of the bizarre questions with three other close friends. All five had applied to be undergraduate tutors this year.
“The dream was to all be tutors in the same House,” Elfakhani says.
The friends convened informally after each interview to compare notes, share interview questions, and ask for advice. The tutor application process was a puzzle, and they were trying to crack it.
But it wasn’t such an easy task.
With subtle differences among House personalities and expectations for tutors, and no centralized system that bridges the process, House tutor selection is far from straightforward. Each player knows the rules he or she is supposed to follow, but nobody quite understands how the game works—or what makes a winner.
Elfakhani and Power submitted applications and cover letters—one template, varied slightly for each house—to all 12 undergraduate Houses. Elfakhani was invited to interview at Adams, Winthrop, and Dunster; Power interviewed at Winthrop and Cabot.
The process starts out straightforward, but once these applications are submitted, it becomes more complicated. Each House designs its own selection system.
After Houses have narrowed down their applicant pools, they each interview a select group of candidates. According to the House representatives FM spoke to, their Houses delegate their first round of interviews to selection committees. Each selection committee focuses on an academic advising specialty, ranging from pre-med to the humanities, and is composed of a mix of students and tutors who interview candidates applying to be tutors in those fields.
According to selection committee members, the makeup of these committees differs widely from House to House. In Kirkland, for instance, sophomores, juniors, and seniors participate in selection committees. The Adams and Cabot House Masters offer committee membership to any interested students; participation in Kirkland and Winthrop committees are by invitation only.