Academic common room
Inundated with students seeking support- anyone else?
GameOldBirdz · 01/02/2018 13:37
I'm a nice, approachable, young, female academic. I enjoy interacting with students and I've always been happy for students to seek me out for academic (and occasionally pastoral) support.
I'm a "constant" face for students. I am in charge of recruitment for our programme so they see me before the even get to university. Then I teach in all three undergraduate years. So, most students know me.
This year something very odd has happened and I've been completely overwhelmed with emails and visits from students seeking my support. On Tuesday, for example, I had 8 students booked in for meetings from 9am-1pm and I had a further 6 turn up unannounced.
Most would fall under my jurisdiction- my academic advisees, my third year dissertation students, students taking one of my two modules or students asking about guest lectures I've given on other modules. So, I can't turn them away though I do send them away to make appointments.
However, there are others who are coming at me from elsewhere in the University. Today I have received emails from two students from outside of my department. One of them wants me to meet with her to talk about a research proposal for PhD study (not with me, not at my university) and another has asked for some book recommendations. I've never met either of these students before. I suspect they've been recommended to talk to me based both on my research/teaching areas and on their friends' endorsement that I'm a friendly face.
My senior, male colleagues don't get half as much of this as me (and other young, nice, women) and so have time to get on with publications which will get them promoted faster than me.
How do I deal with this? Ican't restrict student meetings just to my office hours (Tuesday mornings) because there are just too many students wanting to see me. And I can't just flatly refuse to meet them at all.
It's a result, and symptom, of the marketisation of HE of course. Students are paying tonnes of money for a product and feel entitled to get the best "value" for that.
I think for 2018-19, I just need to be stern, standoffish and unapproachable
Does anyone else have this issue or similar? And how do you deal with it?
TulipsInAJug · 01/02/2018 13:44
I think you should restrict meetings to office hours, that's what office hours are for. As a student I wouldn't have dreamed of expecting a lecturer to see me outside of office hours.
If you're inundated, you're going to have to simply turn some away. Start with those who aren't directly under your supervision.
You sound far too nice.
BeachyUmbrella · 01/02/2018 13:48
It sounds like there is a need that cannot be fulfilled by just you. Therefore I would put a proposal to the department or university that one or two other friendly members of staff are trained up for pastoral and support requirements and all of your names circulated to students.
You've unwittingly unearthed a very real need and it would be great if you could manage to orchestrate a proper response from the uni.....
NotAnotherJaffaCake · 01/02/2018 13:58
Don’t fall for the trap of doing the donkey work of sorting out alternatives for these people, it’s not your problem and junior female academics do enough unrecognised and unrewarded donkey work as it is. Is it really your job to ensure everyone has appropriate pastoral support?
If they aren’t connected to you, Just Say No. Enforce appointments during your office hours. Yes, some students will have to wait, some may even sort out their own problems first. If you are too easily accessible, it stops them thinking for themselves as they just default to the easy option. You may need to stop being so nice.
NotAnotherJaffaCake · 01/02/2018 14:00
Or if you really do want to share the load, reply saying I am far too busy I’ve cc’ed in Senior Male College who I am sure will be delighted to assist
HolyShet · 01/02/2018 14:02
Refer them back to your own supervisors and tutors and to pastoral teams.
See "your" students in pecking order of your responsibility to them. ie those who have been to "guest lectures" need to do their own reading around the subject. Fix bookable slots on 2 different days per week and an hour for 10 min drop ins first come first served.
Set firm boundaries in place and stick to them unless you can identify that someone is in urgent need.
You will end up doing other people's work for them otherwise.
GameOldBirdz · 01/02/2018 14:08
I like that suggestion, @NotAnotherJaffaCake
@Beachy* While I understand your motivations, I'd be reluctant to do this. Ultimately, the nicest friendliest academics are going to be young women and I don't want to perpetuate the inequality we suffer.
Suggestions of a pecking order for students is great, thanks.
When students email and say things like "Could you recommend a book about..." or "Do you know any good papers on...." How do you reply? I want to say "Fuck off and find it yourself" but obviously I don't and by the time I've thought about how to diplomatically respond, I might as well have just answered their bloody question anyway so that's what I end up doing.
NotAnotherJaffaCake · 01/02/2018 14:15
Questions like that I would probably just ignore. They’re undergraduates and perfectly capable of using Google. I presume you’ve already provided reading lists etc as part of lectures/tutorials anyway.
And, yes, their fees may have gone up to £9000 a year but my salary hasn’t increased by any serious amount, nor has my contract changed. And until I get vastly more money and a different contract, I’ll carry on as I did when they were charged £3000....
GameOldBirdz · 01/02/2018 14:18
I get that NotAnotherJaffaCake but we have a 2-working day email policy where all student emails have to be answered within this time frame. I've raised the issue of stupid questions and was told, nope, still have to answer them
I completely agree re. fees going up but our pay not. Problem is that all students see is that they pay more fees for the same service. I can understand where they're coming from.
Inthedeepdarkwinter · 01/02/2018 14:21
I would do a few things - get rid of any who aren't your business first of all by suggesting they go to their own tutors, then I'd have two different office hours a week and suggest everyone come in those (so that will halve attendance) and then ones asking about course/module issues, I produce a 'frequently asked questions' list and put everything in there (word count, what should I do if I can't find a reference) and tell all students to read it BEFORE emailing me (ok, not all do but it's dramatically reduced my 'silly questions' pile).
The odd email off people who are inspired by you/want your recommendations/to chat to you about their dissertation even though they are not your student/want to work for free are just par for the course as you become a more senior/known academic (hopefully alongside some nice professional opportunities), so I just get rid of these emails in a couple of friendly lines. I wouldn't spend any great time on them 'yes, this is an interesting area, I find the book by X great, best wishes'.
I think you are conflating some of the necessary management of your courses where you do have to be accessible to students (at set times for a set period) with the other crap. Segment it out and tell them what's reasonable.
AethelflaedofMercia · 01/02/2018 14:22
For those wanting reading suggestions, can you devise a standard reply with some general hints for sourcing reading material? (Like using Google, as a pp suggested!) When I was a student (pre internet) we were taught to pay attention to footnotes and bibliographies in books and articles we read, as they could lead us on to further reading.
They really should be doing this for themselves.
InappropriateUsername · 01/02/2018 14:30
You need to stop answering or have stock responses. Do you allow questions at the end of your lectures? You could always tell them ask in class, if they're not in your classes then when they respond say you should speak to your lecturers/academic supervisor then. I am helpful to a point, if someone emails me to get me to do the research for them I reply with a question, where have you looked so far and/or what did you find when you looked. They usually don't email again and if they do it is because they genuinely need assistance. I find I get inundated with emails but few can be bothered to visit, probably because they can get the answers on their own but it's quick to fire off an email and reassuring to get confirmation. The question is, do you want to end up not having time to deal with anyone rather than helping those that really need it. I assume you are also meant to be publishing and carrying out research, as you've noted the academics promoted faster will focus on this and not pastoral care. I really doubt those quickly climbing the ladder give much thought to replying in a given timeframe but I know lots of bitter academics frustrated with lack of promotion when all their time goes on students and class planning. It's depressing but true.
Other ideas could be open mornings/forums or online meet ups where you will take lots of questions and everyone can see the answers. Then just be strict with appointments and maybe even have an online booking system so the students can see how busy you are.
As for external students contacting you, I would wager they are emailing everyone in the faculty and just changing the name of the addressee. I always ask if they have contacted anyone else or why they have contacted my department as opposed to their own.
user369060 · 01/02/2018 14:35
As one of the few females in a male dominated department/research area, I get inundated with students asking for pastoral and academic support.
I point students to their own tutors/lecturers when appropriate.
I also restrict heavily the office hours in which I am available on the grounds of other teaching and management commitments. If a student wants to meet at another time, I politely reply that I cannot because of "existing teaching and management commitments" even if I do not have contact hours/meetings at that time.
And I wrote polite non-committal replies to those wanting help with PhD applications, those wanting to discuss my research etc.
Popartist · 01/02/2018 14:41
Can you refer book recommendations etc to the relevant subject librarian? They are usually very helpful and can recommend research sources available to students. Library professionals are often overlooked and by students and it would be good if colleagues could highlight their value.
GameOldBirdz · 01/02/2018 14:43
This is all really excellent advice, thank you.
@Popartist That's a very good suggestion, thank you. Unfortunately our subject librarian seems to view being asked to do anything remotely helpful as a massive infringement on his time.
GeorgeTheHamster · 01/02/2018 14:46
..."massive infringement on his time."
Well, yes. He's a bloke isn't he.
Inthedeepdarkwinter · 01/02/2018 14:48
I also produce a one slide explanation of where to search for extra literature which is in the first lecture of each module. I explain that they are being evaluated on their ability to search outside lecture/seminar readings and so I will not be doing this for them. I provide set readings, and an 'additional' reading list anyway with all accessible texts for the module. This stops most of the 'I can't find...' questions, I do still get a few for more obscure topics which is manageable.
HolyShet · 01/02/2018 14:57
Reading requests = refer to the book list supplied after the lecture and research methods, librarians
Pastoral = sympathetic opener , refer to pastoral team cc'd in here
Academic but not your area = sympathetic opener, refer to your tutor cc'd here
Own students - Online forums is a good idea for projects or assignments. So you are not answering all the same stuff many times. If people don't bother to participate and have same questions they can refer to the archived chat (insert helpful link)
weetabix07 · 01/02/2018 19:30
Oh I know how you feel. I attract them like a magnet. I don't know what it is but it can get a bit much on top of everything else. I think you are particularly vulnerable if you are female too..
MountainsofMars · 02/02/2018 10:22
I can't restrict student meetings just to my office hours (Tuesday mornings) because there are just too many students wanting to see me. And I can't just flatly refuse to meet them at all
You could, you know. Or you could say - my hours are booked up this week - please email me to make an appointment. Then be very clear about the length of that appointment.
You're going to have to triage - for example, the student from elsewhere who wants to discuss their PhD application for somewhere else. Perfectly appropriate to refer that person to the Department & likely supervisors where they're aiming to study. Indeed, they should be seeking advice there, not with you!
Stupid questions - refer to the syllabus docs, or the VLE.
When you make appointments with students, start by asking them what they want to achieve from the meeting. Set the parameters - that they have 15 minutes (or whatever). Be clear with them that they need to be SMART (that management-speak: specific, measurable etc).
iismum · 02/02/2018 10:41
There has been some interesting research recently about this - how students expect far more nuturing, care and help from female academics than they do from male academics - they put demands on women that they just wouldn't put on men. Their responses to being turned down are very different too - they push back much more with women and keep on demanding (even getting nasty sometimes), whereas with male academics they're much more likely to just accept it.
I think you have to ring-fence your time and after that tell them to talk to other academics or make appointments for future weeks. You also need to talk to your head of department/ line manager and make sure they understand this is happening and how you're handling it. It might also help to refer them to the research (will try to put a link later but you should be able to google it) to help them understand this is a generic problem they should be aware of and not just something about you.
Inthedeepdarkwinter · 02/02/2018 10:51
I also try to create the atmosphere from the outset that our meeting is about finding out the problem and creating a solution. It's not a meeting of minds, a ramble about boyfriend problems or 'why I'm not getting firsts'. If that stuff comes up, I'm sympathetic for a few moments, then I just redirect- to pastoral care, to email (with the student cc'd in) the right person, send them to study skills. I see myself more like a manager of information to give them than a counsellor/supporter in my own right.
I think it's fine to say 'my office hours are booked up, come next week' or offer advice by email with the offer of a phone call/appointment if needs be. This also frees you up to see genuine emergency students, say if they have just had a relative died or are starting to need intervention due to MH issues, although even there I usually email the right administrator to help them practically rather than just have endless meetings with me.
I think women sometimes do fall into this trap as they are polite and can't say no, I also have a colleague who loves this stuff and is totally inappropriate in letting people cry on her shoulder for hours, gives out her personal phone number and just generally transgresses those boundaries.
ghislaine · 02/02/2018 13:18
Yes, I agree with the pp who suggested putting the onus back on them. You can still maintain an aura or helpfulness but you can be more demanding with it. It will (should) significantly decrease your level of inquiries once the word gets out e.g.
Q: Can you recommend me a book?
A; Please come to my office hours with your annotated bibilography and list of search strategies to date. We can discuss.
Q: I don't understand X.
A: Ask a question in lectures/after lectures/your own tutor.
Q: Can you write me a reference - I like you more than my own advisor.
A: Sorry, dept policy forbids me from writing refs for non-advisees. If your advisor refuses, please see [dept member designated as last resort for references].
Q: How can I get a 2:1?
A: Please see the marking guidance in the dept handbook. Refer to your feedback to date. Speak to the teaching and learning centre. Book yourself on a writing course.
Definitely be strict wth your time and don't feel shy about referring students to other university support and welfare services!
GrasswillbeGreener · 05/02/2018 16:54
I get the impression my husband has a similar problem with too many student queries, some relatively trivial and inappropriate. He has I suspect built a reputation of being accessible online; with the result that I often see him working through emails /online queries at 10 or 11 pm. (admittedly he has a long commute)
It is essential for your own survival that you work out what time you can give to student support, and then draw boundaries around it. Good luck.
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