Friday, September 2, 2011

Climbing the ladder

Somehow, years have passed and I am no longer an institutional "newbie" -- I now find myself answering a lot of questions from newer faculty members. This includes questions on tenure, retention process, service, and institutional policies. Just this week, I had newer colleagues seek information on the deadline for our annual retention packets, had others seek to review mine from last year as a sample, and was asked to "discuss managing writing and teaching" by two who are newer to the institution. I was shocked. Have I really become a less-junior faculty member? Have I moved out of the "new junior faculty member" phase to the "old junior faculty member" phase. Is there such a thing? I go up for tenure next year and though I often write about the pressures,  joys, and the issues related to tenure track life, I was surprised to be so heavily sought out these first two weeks of the term.

When others come to me, I share my successes and those important lessons that I had to learn on my own no matter how many folks told me (protect your writing time is a prime example). I avoid a laundry list of problems or struggles, resisting negativity and 'venting' about the process. These are new faculty, so I try to offer them meaningful assistance. I focus on techniques and avoiding pitfalls. I found myself repeating a few references and tips often enough that I think they merit mentioning here. I hope you or your colleagues may find them useful as the new semester moves forward:

Lora's lessons:
  • Craft your campus communication carefully. Whether inter-personally in a face-to-face setting or via email, be aware of tone and image at all times.
    • Communicating in the culture of higher education can be tricky. There are multiple audiences with a variety of personal and professional stakes in your addition to the faculty/department/institution. Go slow and steady until you get a feel for your department and institution.
  • Find a person OUTSIDE of your institution, but familiar with academia, to use as not only a mentor, but a relatively objective outsider. Bounce off issues that are too political or personal to bring to the institution. Use this person as a sounding-board.
  • Seek out a mentor INSIDE the institution. Do this carefully. Explore research efforts, grant writing, observe collegiality, and then determine if that faculty member could work as a good mentor for you. Schedule regular meetings that have clear goals to help you with areas that are a challenge...I even kept a little running list of things to ask my inside/outside mentors such as: How do I say 'no' to committee work? What committees should I serve on as a new faculty member? Will any of XYZ activities count toward tenure? What should I improve upon?
  • Schedule that writing time and protect it as you would any meeting in your calendar. This is an on-going struggle for me, but it is something I strive for at the beginning of each day. 
  • Put on your research-colored glasses. View EVERYTHING as an opportunity to begin a new research project. Keep something in the research pipeline at all times. Follow up regularly and stay active. 
  • Reach out to your students. Show them you want them to succeed and that teaching is a valuable part of your day. If the students are a continuous joyful part of your daily life then the rest of faculty life becomes much easier and colleagues begin to see you as a long-term part of the department.
  • Explore the institution's history (and the area's history if you are new to the region). This can not only inform your activities, hobbies, and social activities, but it can add a lens to any research and help you to understand students and institutional culture.
 Readings: (These are tried and true--I often revisit them!)

  • Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.
  • McKeachie, W. (2010). McKeachie's teaching tips, 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 
  • Schoenfeld, C., & Magnan, R. (2004). Mentor in a manual: Climbing the academic ladder to tenure. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.
  •  Smith, J. O. et al. (2001). Peer networking as a dynamic approach to supporting new faculty. Innovative Higher Education, 25, 197-207.

Share your tactics by commenting on this post: what advice do you have for new or junior tenure-track faculty? What lessons have you learned as you journey along the tenure track?

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