No Time to Breathe: A DF’s Life
Kavya Gopal, Regina Marie Lee
Photo used with permission from Alyson Rozells
On a typical day, Dean’s Fellow (DF) Hao Guang meets at least one or two students for one-on-one talks and clocks in two to four hours at the Writers’ Center advising students on their work. In between, he rushes to various meetings with vice-rectors, members of the Dean of Students Office and other DFs, that can take up to two hours each day. On top of that, he has to attend lectures and some seminars with students, such as those in the creative writing module.
“Each day is busy, because DFs get pulled in many different directions,” said Hao. DFs are a unique part of Yale-NUS College compared to other liberal arts colleges, and were introduced to facilitate the growth of the college in her early years. Yet, while most know of their personal DFs as a pillar of support, not everyone understands or agrees with the rationale behind hiring them.
Other than counselling students, DFs also take up associate positions in administrative offices like Admissions, the Centre for International and Professional Experience (CIPE) and the Writers’ Center. DF Sara Amjad, a returning DF, said, “I’m working in CIPE. That’s my 9-5. Evenings are spent with programming for students, talking to them one-on-one, being around, responding to emergencies. You have to very seamlessly flow from one hat to the other. That’s the most difficult part.”
DF Jake Butts agreed, “There is no typical work day. Each one of the seven days in a week looks completely different for me. My iCal is about to break from the amount of stuff in it.”
Yet, while some DFs are very busy, there are others who are less so. Responding to questions about whether DFs get an equal workload, Hao shared, “This is related to associate positions. Some of them started two weeks ago, like the Writers’ Center, and some are just starting now.
“The DFs discussed this amongst ourselves, and we decided that everything balances out in the end. There is a rhythm of how things go — CIPE is busy with Week 7 now, while Admissions gets busy in January, for example. Everyone has busy periods that fluctuate and it’s good that some of us are busy and some of us are not, so that when emergencies happen, we can cover.”
Even as DFs do a lot of work, not all students benefit from or use them as a resource. This is especially true for those who do not rely on DFs for academic and emotional support.
Parag Bhatnagar ’17 felt that DFs are more essential for freshmen than sophomores. He said, “For freshmen I can see the point of having DFs, because they are still settling in. But for sophomores I think the role of DFs is less, because we know each other and bonds have been established. Still, I still find myself going to DFs just to talk, for support. It’s nice to have someone outside of the community, who’s not a student, but who understands what’s happening.”
DFs also play a crucial role that not even upperclassmen may be able to fulfil. Tamara Burgos ’18 said, “It’s always nice to know that you can count on DFs. Sophomores have to do the same things we do, like studying, they don’t really have the time. But DFs are especially here to help you, so it makes them more accessible.”
Molly Ma, a past DF, acknowledged the role of DFs in logistical and administrative aspects of student activities. She said, “In these earlier years of Yale-NUS the DF role is necessary, or at least very beneficial. DFs were a good intermediary between staff, faculty, and students.”
DFs contribute immensely to the college, and not just through counselling students. They help run the various offices like Admissions and the DOS office, with their input enhanced by their close interaction with students. While some may not benefit directly from interacting with DFs, they still impact students all indirectly at least.
Amjad admitted that not everyone recognises the role of the DF. She said, “Last year, we had people thinking, DFs don’t really do anything. It’s not a real job.”
“But I think for me it feels like two or three real jobs mixed together. Especially because none of my hats will know about the other hats.”