Full-Time Advisers Make Economics Department More Intimate

As freshmen interested in Economics flood the department’s Advising Fortnight events this week and next, they will interact with a department whose system of advising looks very different than it did five years ago.

While the College’s largest concentration has tended to receive low marks on the advising portion of the annual senior survey, those scores have gradually risen since the department made changes to the way it advises, according to Economics Director of Undergraduate Studies Jeffrey A. Miron,

Before Kiran Gajwani was hired as a full-time adviser in 2010, the department relied on graduate students for its advising. Now five full-time advisers with economics Ph.D.s, like Gajwani, oversee advising.

The Littauer Center for Public Administration Building is home to Harvard’s Economics Department.

“They’re both people who have more experience in advising [and] people who have more of an investment in advising as opposed to a graduate student,” Miron said of the advisers.

While each adviser is assigned two or three Houses that they visit several times during the year, students can contact any of the advisers and attend drop-in office hours every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m..

Gajwani, who is assigned to the Houses in the Radcliffe Quad, said she has been able to interact more with students because of the House assignment system.

"We have the House designation because we actually go to the Houses certain times of the year and we try to engage in House activities,” Gajwani said. “Because of that, I think we tend to get to know the students in our Houses a bit better and that’s sort of the idea."

In addition to the hires, Miron said the advising program has created more organized activities for concentrators with the aim of improving their experience. These include a annual end-of-year picnic, alumni panels, and catered lunches for small groups of concentrators and faculty members.

While these resources exist for the department’s many concentrators, according to adviser Anne N. Le Brun, they are primarily opt-in.

"It is a large concentration, and we have the resources and the desire to connect with the students, but we’re not going to drag them out of their room and say ‘you have to have an advising conversation with us every week,’" she said.

Economics concentrator Samarth Gupta ’18 said while he has found the advisers very helpful and accessible, having such a skewed ratio of students to advisers is challenging.

“It’s harder for them to reach out and really make the concentration a transformative experience for each of the students and it’s easy for students to kind of skirt by and that’s where you get the stereotype of economics being pretty easy, because you can make it easy,” Gupta said.

Gajwani said grouping concentrators in smaller subgroups helps make the concentration feel more intimate.

“Because we’re a large concentration, something we've tried to do is think about communities of our concentrators,” she said, citing as examples senior thesis writers and groups of students in the same sophomore tutorial.

Both Gajwani and Le Brun stressed that the new system allows for greater consistency in a student’s advising experience.

“There’s a certain feeling of continuity and commitment to the job that is not necessarily there when you have just grad students doing it,” Le Brun said.

-Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at Follow her on twitter @miackarr.