Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

My Research Methods & Research Questions on PAFing

My autoethnography and study will allow me to reflect on my role as a Peer Advising Fellow, a position I have held for three years, and think about ways that the PAF program can improve. Peer Advising is a relatively new addition to the Harvard advising structure, having been introduced in the 2006/2007 academic year, so it is worth using this project as an opportunity to reflect on how the realities of peer advising now aligns with the expected goals and aims of the program when it was founded. This would provide more information for Harvard administrators and leaders of the PAF program about pluses and deltas of PAFing, and perhaps help them redefine or reconsider the programs aims based on what members of the Harvard community think of the existing program. Building on my findings from my Literature Review, I will fit my autoethnography and research into findings on college student development and college advising structures in the realm of Sociology scholarship.

My specific research questions for this project are as follows:

  1. How do PAFs find purpose and value in the PAF program? Why do they PAF and what do they feel their contributions are to the Harvard community?
  2. What observations do PAFs have of advising at Harvard and what do they think the strengths and weaknesses of the PAF program are?
    • What are the benefits and advantages of peer advising for PAFs, their students, and for Harvard as an institution?
    • What are some of the challenges and weaknesses of the PAF program?
  3. How do students who are PAFs reconcile their role as students with being a PAF too?

In order to consider these specific questions, I have developed a survey to ask PAFs. I emailed this to all 192 PAFs and received 26 responses. These are the questions that the survey contained:

In the survey, I also asked all PAFs to contact me directly if they would be willing to be interviewed in person and share further thoughts on the PAF program. From these in-person surveys (which are confidential and kept anonymous throughout this Scalar book to protect the identity of the PAFs) and the online survey I administered, I found a number of key themes and trends which shaped my final Action Research question.

My Action Research Question on peer advising at Harvard evolved into:
What do PAFs at Harvard see as being particularly unique about peer advising at Harvard, compared to other forms of advising, and what challenges do they face as PAFs? How do peer advisers reconcile their role as students with being peer advisers too and how can the PAF program better support or prepare PAFs in these roles?
Through interviewing other PAFs and reflecting on my own experiences and perspectives being a PAF, this research project will think about the purpose of peer advising at Harvard compared to other forms of advising here, such as residential advising by residential proctors, academic advising from non-residential first-year advisers, and faculty advising. My project will seek to understand how different advising structures at Harvard work together and how the existence of other advisers in a freshman’s advising network can define and shape how peer advising works here and how PAFs think of their own role as a part of that network.

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