The Fall 2014 newsletter continues the discussion regarding employment by focusing on first year “do’s” and “don’ts” of new professors. We approached this topic by gathering student perspectives (written by Janne Gaub) and perspectives from senior faculty across the listserv (written by Jordana Navarro).
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this column!
From the Perspective of Senior Faculty
1) Several faculty commented that the two examples provided over email (i.e., for assistant professors to temper themselves or for assistant professors to be themselves from the start of their time in the department) were not incompatible, but rather a “tricky balance.” As one member stated, “a new faculty member should take some time to learn ‘how things work’ before jumping in and giving opinions…that’s really true for any new employee anywhere, not just university faculty.” However, if faculty did “lean” one way or the other, most noted that the new hire should be himself/herself and that the department hired “you for you and your work.”
2) Relatedly, numerous faculty members commented to avoid “on-going wars” within the department. As with any conflict – as members pointed out – you will alienate the opposing camp and those individuals may even hold it against you at the crucial tenure vote. Instead, several faculty noted that new assistant professors should attempt to be a bridge — or at the very least, not get drawn into the conflict that preceded them.
3) It was also suggested that new assistant professors seek mentorship both inside and outside the department. Not only can the “outside” colleague assist the assistant professor with navigating any department conflicts, but can also assist new faculty in becoming acclimated to the institution. Similarly, it was suggested new faculty members also establish networks of other scholars interested in associated research areas as these individuals can help junior faculty with publishing and securing funding.
4) The service load of assistant professors was also frequently brought up by senior faculty. Although some noted that it was important to get involved – in order to become acclimated to the institution and meet colleagues – it was also noted that assistant professors should not underestimate the demands associated with teaching and research as well. Thus, it is important to limit the amount of service a new faculty member takes on in order to allow ample time for adjustment to the role itself.
From the Student Perspective
1) There are instances when assistant professors want to distance themselves from graduate students, especially first year professors and later year students, so as to culturally acclimate to being a “professor” rather than a “student.” This is a crucial distinction for first year professors, so it is completely understandable; however, it is vital that new professors remember that their perspectives on the graduate experience — for example, comprehensive exams or the job market — are the most recent, and therefore the most valuable for students in many ways. Finding a line between being “friends” and being a mentor is important, but don't completely distance yourself from the graduate students in your new home university.
2) It can be easy for professors, especially first year professors, to forget what they can reasonably expect from students. Be willing to teach your research assistant (or students you are mentoring) new skills such as data coding, statistical methods, or writing skills. Also, have realistic expectations of both research and teaching assistants, and clearly communicate those expectations from the beginning of the term. It is extremely disheartening to a student to hear at the end of the term all of the things they had done wrong throughout the semester without being given opportunities to make changes, especially if the “problems” were more the result of an unrealistic expectation on the part of the professor rather than anything the student had done wrong.
3) Professional distance with students is important, but forming a professional relationship with students, especially assigned research or teaching assistants, has benefits for both the professor and the student. Students, even those who are normally hard workers, are generally more willing to go the extra mile for the professor who takes the time to get to know them and cares about their well-being holistically, rather than the professor who treats everything as a business or professional transaction. That doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, or be friends outside of school, but that professors care about how students are doing as people.