The Star Family Prizes for Excellence in Advising were established by James A. Star, AB 1983, to recognize and reward individuals who contribute to the College through their exemplary intellectual and personal guidance of undergraduate students.
Reflections on Advising at Harvard from this year's recipients:
Sarah L Duncan
Manager of IT Operations, IQSS. MDiv ’07, AB ’84 in Engineering and Applied Science
A first year adviser’s most important role is to be a non-judgmental compassionate presence. My colleagues have given lots of great suggestions about how to do that, so I’d like to address the second most important role: be a source of information for your students. In order to do that, ask for students who share your interests and passions, then scour the course catalog for introductory courses in those areas. Go to as many BFA trainings as possible. Know the resources offered by the ARC, CAMHS, and OCS. Suggest early and often that students use them. Read all of the various newsletters for students that are available to you. That will allow you to highlight opportunities tailored to your students that may get lost in the flood of everything else they’re dealing with.
Ph.D. Candidate in the Study of Religion at Harvard GSAS, First-Year Proctor at Harvard College
Much of my advising approach is simply to emulate my own amazing advisers, past and present, and take those experiences with me into my advising practice. From our first meeting onward, I aim to create a low stakes advising environment and build a space of trust in which no student’s concern is invalid to bring to the table as they begin navigating their academic journey and the abundance of opportunities at Harvard. Especially considering the pandemic, as the year progressed, it was important and meaningful to take some time during our meetings to reflect on the past months and highlight the ways my wonderful students persisted and thrived despite their circumstances.
Lawrence R. De Geest
Resident Tutor, Leverett House
College was frustrating because I was both easily enthused and easily discouraged. Mentors were all the people who understood that frustration and taught me how to see the big picture. As an adviser I try to be that person.
Resident Tutor, Mather House
As an adviser, I dispense remarkably little advice. Most of what I do is listening and asking questions – students often know what they need, and where they don’t, it’s crucial that they find their own answers. The advising relationship should be a space in which students feel heard and respected; I try to be a listener, an advocate, and a source of support.
Author, Harvard Business Review; Resident Tutor, Adams House; Research Associate, Harvard Business School
I like to think of my role as helping students uncover what they don't know they don't know—but might want to know. Often, this means spending two-thirds of the conversation listening, asking questions, and structuring the student's thoughts in my head—and then one-third playing back what I think I heard, along with a framework for how the student can approach their situation. Not all conversations will lead to a satisfying conclusion but will, instead, lead to more questions such as "what do I want for myself (versus what do others want of me)?" That's normal. Leaving students with a guiding question as a self-reflection "homework" assignment can be a great way to tee up a follow-on conversation that can help you further develop your advising relationship together.
PhD Candidate of Clinical Science; GSAS Diversity & Inclusion fellow of Psychology; Senior Tutor, Leverett House
It's a privilege to work with such motivated engaging young people and to watch them grow and thrive, so I try to communicate my respect for and belief in them. My approach is to genuinely care, encourage authenticity, and model acceptance with self-compassion and healthy boundaries around emotional well-being. I also like to quote one of my most cherished and beloved advisers, "be nice, work hard, and do the right thing."
Graduate Student in Comparative Literature
This year especially, striving to be a good adviser has meant striving to be present. Being present means letting my students surprise me, take the conversation where they want to take it, and occasionally find myself compelled to say things I never expected to. This openness to the unexpected paradoxically requires more preparation, but it has helped dispel the fog that too often sets over conversations on Zoom, and, I hope, allowed me to build relationship with my students that will last beyond their years at Harvard.
Lecturer on Molecular and Cellular Biology, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies (MCB and CPB)
Advising, like most things in life, is a balancing act. Sometimes you encourage students to challenge themselves, other times you point out they are stretching themselves too thin. Sometimes you check in with them, other times you give them space. Sometimes you have profound conversations about life, other times you talk about Pokémon (not saying that conversions about Pokémon cannot be profound, but you get the point). I continue to learn how to strike that balance better from my students, colleagues, and mentors.
Christina Ciocca Eller
Assistant Professor, Sociology and Social Studies
To me, the best advising is expansive: it extends well beyond the academic substance that has brought adviser and student together, inviting an ongoing dialogue on big ideas, emerging goals, and evolving visions of the future. While engaging in this dialogue, mutual imprinting between student and adviser occurs. As advisers, we grow and change because of the brilliance and generosity of our students, who invite us to accompany them in their intellectual and personal explorations that higher education enables. It is our job to ensure that our students feel — and know — that we have given as much as we have taken, both while they are at Harvard and hopefully, far beyond.
Paul J. Kosmin
Philip J. King Professor of Ancient History
When listening to my students, I try to catch the thrilling moment when their greatest enthusiasm or curiosity reveals itself, when a particularly strong idea or bold intellectual ambition shines through. Pausing on that site, I have come to think of my role as some kind of combination of sounding board and first audience – zooming out, pushing back in places, and beginning a discussion on content and craft.
Professor of the History of Science
At the heart of advising students is making space for concentrated listening. Over the past few years, I have been teaching courses in which I advise students on how to conduct their own original research projects. I have found a) that I truly enjoy the process of sitting with a student, listening to their ideas (as inchoate or undetermined as they may be), gauging what is the core element the student is drawn to, and working with them to manifest their ideas in a methodologically and substantially creative way that suits them. In the end, b), there is something about this give-and-take that is wonderfully gratifying -- definitely to me and, I always hope, to them.