Burt, colleagues examine how more caring advising practices could improve graduate students’ experiences

UW–Madison’s Brian Burt is the lead author of a new paper published in the Teachers College Record that examines Black male graduate students’ advising experiences in engineering — with the researchers theorizing that more caring relationships could assist students in earning their degree.

This work is important because it’s estimated that more than half of all students who begin pursuit of a graduate degree do not graduate with one. Existing scholarship suggests that this attrition is due in part to inadequate advising.

Brian Burt

Burt is an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA), and serves as assistant director and research scientist in the Wisconsin Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB). Another co-author on this paper, Joshua Wallace, is pursuing his PhD from ELPA and is a research associate in the Wei LAB. Co-authors include: Carmen McCallum, an associate professor at Eastern Michigan University; Justin Roberson, a residence hall director at Iowa State University; Anne Bonanno, an academic advisor at Miami University; and Emily Boerman, a leadership teaching fellow at Nazarbayev University in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Burt and his colleagues write: “This study and its findings are rooted in an acknowledgement that it is uncommon for faculty members and future faculty to have training in graduate advising prior to occupying their faculty roles. We sought to better understand students’ advising experiences and relationships in effort to provide insights to assist faculty in improving their practices.”

To better examine the advising landscape, the researchers developed the Model of Wholeness in Graduate Advising (MWGA). This new model is designed to characterize various advising experiences. The research itself included interviews with 42 Black men who are graduate students attending historically and predominantly white institutions (HPWIs).

The research team reports that “although some students described experiencing positive interactions and teachable moments with their advisors, others painted pictures of demoralizing encounters and public shaming practices. Still others described advising experiences they did not have but would want. Accounting for this range, the MWGA denotes an upwardly moving relationship between degrees of care (i.e., empty, partial, whole) and students’ perceptions of their advising experiences and relationships (i.e., weak, basic, strong) in part shaped by students’ expectations for their advising experiences and relationships, and their lived experiences.”

Josh Wallace

Researchers concluded that there are “theoretical linkages between students’ expectations of advising, the levels of their advising experiences and relationships, and degrees of care demonstrated by their advisors. … Creating more caring advising experiences and developing more caring relationships may better assist students in progressing through degree completion, and doing so more fully whole.”

Burt and his co-authors add: “In writing this article, we imagined that if advising practices improve for students, a newer generation — some of whom may become faculty members in the future — may advise students of their own with care and attention to wholeness. New generational cycles of improved advising has the potential to improve students’ experiences and efficacies, help to improve climates in graduate education, and assist in reducing the alarming numbers of students who leave graduate school before earning their degrees.”

For complete details, read the paper on the Teachers College Record website: “Moving Toward Stronger Advising Practices: How Black Males’ Experiences at HPWIs Advance a More Caring and Wholeness-Promoting Framework for Graduate Advising.”

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