Tuesday, April 1, 2008

In which school makes me cry...

I got an email saying that registration is coming up in 6 days. In order to take the introductory biology courses I want to take, I must be a biology major, so I contacted the department office manager and she referred me to three advisors/professors. I emailed one of them and she told me I should talk to an advisor...she referred me back to the department office manager. So, I called the office manager and asked to speak with or be scheduled to speak with an advisor. She got really snotty and said, "I've already referred you to advisors." I guess I should've contacted the other two professors/advisors, but I was confused as to why the first one hadn't offered to meet with me...I wanted to make sure that I was going about it all the right way.

I guess the professor I contacted doesn't want to meet with me. I guess that I'm going to get the bureaucratic, institutional runaround once again. I guess that professors are busy and are doing research and teaching and don't have time to advise. Fine. Then let's have the school hire some advisors. Or something. Because I feel like I can't get any help and I feel like I'm making important, uninformed decisions that could impact the course of my expensive education.

And lets talk about the Triceratops. Months and months and months ago, I contacted a billion people about working on a preparation project at OPU's geology museum. I asked my advisor about it and she encouraged me to talk to the guy in charge. Well...he got ill and my advisor is now in charge. And a bunch of undergraduates are now working on the project. I'm not one of them.

I feel let down. I've put a lot of work into my education this year. I've put myself out there and tried very hard to become visible to the community of people that will be my professors/mentors/advisors during the next few years. I've gone out of my way to introduce myself to people, attend lectures and departmental gatherings.

I feel invisible.


Jerry D. Harris said...

In order to take the introductory biology courses I want to take, I must be a biology major

This seems really strange to me, largely because the systems I've been more familiar with have two kinds of introductory biology classes: ones for non-majors (usually with numbers like 1010 and 1020) and ones for biology majors (with numbers like 1610 and 1620). Content-wise, I'm not quite sure of the differences, but that's beside the point -- I find it wholly bizarre that a school that requires some basic science credits for all students (which, I assume UV does as do pretty much all schools I'm aware of!) wouldn't offer non-major intro classes for this particular science...! Is is that way for the other sciences, like intro geology and intro chemistry, too? If so, how the hell is a student that isn't a major in those particular sciences (or even a non-science major!) supposed to fulfill the requirement?!? Seems to me that this is symptomatic of a much larger problem in the UV system...not that that helps you much in this situation, Amanda. Still, it's something that should be brought to the attention of the science dean at the very least!!!

I guess the professor I contacted doesn't want to meet with me.

See, that's just deplorable. Granted, universities have an annoying tendency these days to hire faculty based on their abilities to bring in grant money and do high-profile research, not based on any ability to teach or desire to actually do some good for students, and it sounds like this prof might be one of them. (I shouldn't jump to conclusions -- there may be some legitimate reasons, like the prof is out for a family emergency or something, but even so, not having a secretary or some other means of letting students know this is really, really bad form!) You have every right to be outraged, and while I generally abhore the "I'm going to go over your head" means of problem resolution, if the prof continues to be intractable, you might see about meeting with the department chair to see if either you can meet with a different bio prof or maybe resolve the issue with the chair. At the very least, the chair might know why no non-bio major versions of intro aren't offered!

I guess that professors are busy and are doing research and teaching and don't have time to advise.

Maybe, but that's a really lousy excuse. Typically, someone in the department is pegged to be the general undergrad advisor each year, and if that person is refusing to do his/her job, you are well within your rights to be annoyed, seek other avenues of solution, and let those in charge know about it.

And a bunch of undergraduates are now working on the project. I'm not one of them

Why? I mean, have you been specifically barred from participating? Or is it happening at times when you can't be there? I empathize with you and have been in numerous similar situations; just trying to get a better feel for the mechanics at work here.

I feel invisible.

Believe me, I know how this feels, and it ain't good. By no means should you be content with that -- don't just accept it! Follow other avenues -- those in charge may simply be unaware of these problems, and once you make them aware, things might get fixed. (Maybe not in a workable time frame for you, but fixed nonetheless.) You might also discover that you've just hit a couple of coincidental "hiccups" in the system (wouldn't that be nice?!?). But don't just bend over and take it, as it were...not that you strike me as the kind of person to take that tack anyway! Maybe these people like to see students pester them as a means of gauging their levels of dedication. (By way of example, one paleontologist I know never responds to attempts to contact him by people other than his own students unless they've tried at least three times...if they don't make that degree of effort, he assumes they're not motivated enough to be worth his time. I personally hate this kind of philosophy, but it's not unknown.)

So if I'm offering any advice, I'd say: keep trying to contact the advising biology prof (or at least a biology prof), and document everything that happens. If no resolution can be found, go to the department chair and/or dean and let them know what's going on (with your documentation to show what's happened). Don't do it with an angry, "I'm out for vengeance" attitude (even if you understandably feel that way), but with an "Hey, I'm interested in your perspective on this issue and how to resolve it" kind of attitude -- they'll be much more receptive if they don't feel like they have to jump in defend one of their own. Ask if they can recommend other potential solutions for you -- that is, let them know that you are interested in their learned, expert opinion (which is an ego booster) rather than request that they intervene for you (which they might end up doing, but let them come to that decision on their own). None of this might work, as it will depend on the people involved about whom I know nothing, but it's the kind of political tack that administrators are generally most responsive to, in my experience. Keep your documentation until (if) they ask for it, to show that you've got grounds on which to base your case, but it might not come to the point where you even have to use it.

Amanda said...

Thanks Jerry. It was really nice to read your comment. I contacted another professor in the biology department and I'm going to meet with him on Thursday.

Regarding the bio courses...UV has two sets of introductory courses: BCOR and BIOL. BCOR is open only to majors while BIOL is open to non-majors. The problem lies in the fact that most of the 200 level courses have BCOR classes as prerequisites. So, I couldn't take Developmental Biology unless I'd taken BCOR 103. And I couldn't take BCOR 103 if I wasn't a biology major. There are a few biology courses open to non-majors, but the courses I want to take (Genetics/Population Genetics/Speciation and Phylogeny) all have BCOR prerequisites.

About the Triceratops...I've been emailing the people currently involved in the project for months (regularly since August) and somehow got overlooked when they began the project. I just emailed them to find out if I could get involved and they said I could come see the cast/skull any time (it's in the museum) but that they're thinking about dropping the project altogether. I guess they can't figure out how to do the preparation. I got grumpy when I saw that the project had been started because I'd made such an effort to be included.

Anyway...this was just a bad day as far as school goes. I'm sure it'll all work out.

Bryan said...

I once contacted my university's office of fees and deposits regarding a billing issue, and was referred to the registrar, who then referred me to my normal adviser with my school. I then contacted my adviser, who referred me to an adviser of a different college within the university, who referred me to an honors adviser...

...after all of the run-around, it all worked out.