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Deets on declaring: Methods to finding your Barnard academic adviser

For the sophomores who are still scrambling (it’s OK, I fall into this category, too), there are just a couple weeks left until you have to ~officially~ declare your major. (For reference, both Barnard’s and Columbia’s deadlines will be in late February/early March.) For Barnard folk, that means it’s time to start thinking about finding an academic adviser. (For overzealous prepared first-years, you can start thinking about this, too.)

One of the differences between Barnard and Columbia is that Columbia students don’t have to choose a new adviser once they declare their major. Not Barnard though. Nope, in addition to making one of the biggest choices of your life, you’re also tasked with finding your academic soulmate. No pressure, right?

The idea of approaching someone and asking them to guide you through the jungle of academia might seem initially daunting, but don’t make it a super big deal. If you’re still struggling to find an adviser (or if you first-years are thinking about what you might do next year), there are three foolproof methods that you can try.

Method #1: Finding a professor via course history

The most obvious method: choosing a professor that you’ve previously had a class with. This will give you a talking point when you go to their office hours and request their ~guidance~. (“Hi, I’m blah blah blah, I was in your [insert class name here] class last fall!”)

However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t choose your adviser just because you’ve been in a class of theirs. Maybe you hated the course material—that’s an indication that even though you respect the professor, your interests don’t match up. Maybe you hated your professor’s teaching style—that’s an indication that you don’t match up, period.

Also, it will be a good idea to get some input from other students before you commit to the long term. Say you were in a class, you liked the subject material, and you thought the professor was cool. A match made in heaven, right? Usually, but not always. People who are great teachers aren’t always great advisers, and people you may have previously overlooked might turn out to be great sources of advice. Via social networks and asking around, figure out who’s an advisee for your person of choice, and get all the deets on them—the good and the ugly.

Method #2: Finding a professor via similar interests

You don’t have to have taken a person’s class in order to ask them to be your adviser—many people have chosen faculty members that they hadn’t even met prior to major declaration. However, if you do this, you need to have a legitimate reason for selecting them (i.e., your interests have to match up).

Whatever your major is (here’s a handy dandy list with clickable links for convenience), go to the department’s website. We’ll use the example of political science. For most (if not all) majors, there will be a page on the left-hand sidebar that’s called “Faculty and Staff” (also with clickable links to more info about all professors). Click around on that page, and read up on all of the faculty within that department. (Also important to note: At Barnard, you can chose any faculty member within your department to be your adviser—it doesn’t have to be a full-fledged professor, it could be an associate, adjunct, etc.)

Professor pages for Barnard faculty are really in-depth, which is a godsend for those trying to make heads or tails of the adviser-finding process. It lists their academic focuses, the courses they’ve taught in the past, publications, and awards they’ve received. (Some even upload their CVs!)

Finding an adviser this way will take some time. (After all, if you want to be thorough, you’ll have to click through every professor within the department.) It’s worth it though. Once you’ve found a professor whose interests are similar to your own, send them an email. Introduce yourself (and mention your class year, major, and interests) and set up a time to meet with them in person.

Method #3: Finding a professor via recommendations

Say you decided on your major late and haven’t taken too many courses in the department. Maybe the person you were considering is going on sabbatical, or for whatever reason isn’t accepting new advisees. Then you revert to method three: When all else fails, find an adviser via recommendations.

But who should you ask for these recommendations? Friends, other professors, your current adviser, etc. We’ll go off of an example from the previous paragraph: Say you were going to ask one professor who shared similar interests as you, but they’re not accepting new advisees. That doesn’t mean that you can’t go to their office hours and ask about their recommendation for a person who might be your academic soulmate. Since your interests already jive, the professor you were initially going to ask should also be acquainted with other faculty members who might suit you well.

Taking recommendations from friends is also an option, especially if that friend has the same major as you and is an upperclassman. They should have taken a lot of classes from a lot of professors. They can tell you about their own adviser, and they can even point you in the direction of other students majoring in what you want to do in order to recommend a faculty member. The possibilities here are endless.

At the end of the day, this is just another little thing that you’ll have to do in order to become the shining academic that you are. Don’t make too big a deal out of it—professors like to meet people who share similar interests as theirs. Here’s hoping you find your match.

Have any other tips to finding an academic adviser? Send them to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat @CUSpectrum.

Veronica Grace Taleon is Spectrum’s editor and a Barnard sophomore, meaning that she’ll be declaring soon, too. She is literally the example from Method #3, as the person she was considering asking is going on a sabbatical of sorts next year. Recommend a new adviser for her by reaching her at veronica.taleon@columbiaspectator.com.

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