The SGPS Student Advisor Program is a confidential support, referral, and advising service available to all SGPS members. As a resource for student support on campus, the Advisor program is not alone. There are many great offices offering a variety of specialized forms of support to Queen’ students: the Ban Righ Centre, the Chaplain’s Office, the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, the Human Rights Office, the International Centre (QUIC), the Ombudsman’s Office, the Sexual Health Resource Centre, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, the SGS Cross-Cultural Advisor, Student Academic Success Services, Student Wellness Services – the list goes on. These are all excellent services, and I encourage all Queen’s students to familiarize themselves with what they have to offer. However, as a Student Advisor going on three years in the program, it is my view that the Advisors offer a particularly important service for graduate and professional students. There are two main reasons for this.
First, the Student Advisors is a peer-to-peer service; we are all graduate students ourselves. This means that we bring to our roles first-hand knowledge of the graduate student experience. We know what it’s like to struggle to negotiate a relationship with a supervisor, to balance conflicting academic and financial demands, to wrestle with the black-box of university policies and procedures, and to doubt our own abilities to succeed in our programs. So when you visit the Advisor office in the bunker in the JDUC to meet with me, Emma, or Sarah, you can be sure you’ll be talking with someone who shares many of your experiences. Indeed, in all likelihood, either we, or one of our friends, or one of our other clients, have faced challenges much like yours at one point or another in our academic careers. And even if we haven’t, we’re still deeply familiar with the context in which these challenges arise. For that reason, we’re some of the best sympathetic ears around campus.
Second, the Student Advisor program is a fully general support service. That means that no matter what kind of challenge, concern, or issue you have, we are available to talk through it with you, and to help you identify strategies for addressing it. Often, this will mean directing you to relevant resources on campus which are designed to meet specific needs. Other times it might involve helping you to craft sensitive emails to a supervisor, working with you to compile materials for an academic appeal, or accompanying you to formal meetings with department or university officials. No matter what, though, we always begin by sitting down and listening to you. And if that’s all you want – a chance to talk things over confidentially – then that’s great too; we love to chat.
Because our mandate is so wide-open, there is no issue that is too big or too small to bring to the Advisors. We see everything from the simplest of administrative inquiries (“How do I switch to part-time status?”), to complex procedural questions (“How do I go through the appeal process when I’ve failed my comps?”), to cases of harassment and discrimination (“My supervisor treats me inappropriately, what should I do?”). And although we can rarely offer simple solutions, we can usually help you develop a plan of action for whatever you’re facing, or at least point you in the direction of someone else on campus who can.
For many grad students, it can be daunting to make contact with a service like the Student Advisors. There is a prevailing sense, I think, that we should be able to handle all of our problems on our own, or that by bringing an issue to some kind of official advisor, we make them real in a way that they weren’t before. Part of the explanation for this is that there’s a strong pressure in graduate studies for each of us to appear to everyone else as though we’ve got things fully under control. This has the unfortunate consequence of making each of us feel like we’re the only ones with any problems. But this is false. The issues we see in the Advisor program tend to be ones that are shared – to a greater or less extent – by all graduate students. And in general, the best way to address these issues is by taking advantage of the resources that are on offer.
With all that in mind, if you’re an SGPS member struggling with some issue – whether it’s super-serious, or you have no idea whether it’s serious or not – please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll hear back from me, Emma or Sarah, and we’ll set up a time to talk it over.
Jeremy Butler is a Student Advisor at the SGPS Student Advisor Program.