Keep in mind that there are many causes of academic difficulty, including:
Difficulty in course material, including socialization into a new field, difficulty balancing new roles of student and teacher/researcher, and limited experience writing for new scholarly audiences.
Diagnosed or undiagnosed disability issues (attention deficit disorder, learning disability).
Mental health concerns (depression, anxiety, etc.).
Cultural, family, or personal concerns.
Many students appreciate an instructor taking the initiative to express concern about their academic performance. Faculty may be able to help a student with content-related difficulty, or may wish to refer to the resources below for these and other concerns.
BE CLEAR about what you can and cannot do.
RESPECT the student's value system and culture.
RESIST the temptation to be a hero or savior.
Recognize the limits of your role and refer to other professionals when needed.
Refrain from making promises you cannot or may not be able to keep.
If the student or others are in danger, you will need to act; so be cautious about promises of confidentiality.
Doing something in response to a student’s concerns is almost always better than doing nothing.
Students may be in a new and potentially disorienting day-to- day cultural context while some students also feel disconnected from their normal support groups.
Concerns Related to the Advising Relationship
The relationship is dynamic and is defined by the expectations, needs, and interests of both student and adviser.
Conflict is often a part of the advising relationship. Engaging constructively in conflict can provide for diverse perspectives and positive outcomes.
Clarifying expectations early in the relationship can minimize misunderstanding.
Graduate assistant employment is often integrally related to a graduate student's success in the graduate academic program and to financial resources, such as tuition benefits. When things go wrong at work, there can be damaging ripple effects that can derail an academic career.
Graduate students are exploring new roles within the academic environment that can create frictional challenges.
Steps you can take to reduce conflicts during the semester for Graduate Assistants (TA/RA/Graduate Fellows) include:
Communicate clearly before the semester about work responsibilities and the work relationship.
Establish a method for mutually communicating throughout the semester about any adjustments, changes, or concerns that impact the workload, expectations, or relationship.
Coordinate schedules at the beginning of the semester between work responsibilities and the graduate student’s other responsibilities, e.g., academic deadlines and religious observances (e.g., Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah), ideally at the beginning of the semester.
Consider in advance the professional development opportunities your graduate assistant will engage in to successfully function in their roles.
General Guidelines for Taking Action
ENSURE PRIVACY when you talk and choose a time when you are not preoccupied or rushed.
LISTEN to the student in a sensitive, non-threatening way.
DEMONSTRATE your understanding by repeating the essence of what the student has said. Try to include both the CONTENT (“So you are new to this campus...”) and the FEELINGS (“...and you are feeling overwhelmed”) as appropriate.
ASK QUESTIONS to get a better understanding of the scope and nature of the problem.
EXPRESS CONCERN in specific, nonjudgmental, behavioral terms. (“I noticed you haven’t been to class in three weeks,” not “Where have you been lately?”)
COMMUNICATE HOPE by reminding the student that there are always options, and things tend to look different with time.
RECOMMEND RESOURCES appropriate to the situation. Take the time to consult the resource ahead of time if you are unsure or would like more information on how they might be helpful in a particular situation. Remind the student that using resources is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness or failure.
FOLLOW UP in a reasonable length of time.
CONSULT with other professionals by contacting any of the offices listed above, especially if you are concerned about your safety or the safety of others.