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Archive for the ‘Tracking the Transition’ Category

Since my days in graduate school I have sought opportunities to learn some new information. Whether this is attending a presentation, joining a reading group, or signing up for a workshop, I’ve done a lot of things not because they were particularly important to my success but because they sounded interesting or fun. (The fact that I have a high tolerance for boredom also works in my favor, since the snippets of useful information are often surrounded by useless information.) This semester, though, I think I have found the limits of demands on my time. Between preparing for class, meeting with students, grading, writing, and trying to get a new research project started, I have finally reached the point where I literally do not have time for a lunchtime discussion of teaching or a book discussion about gender.

Luckily, student meetings are winding down just as midterms are ramping up. I would look forward to spring break if I didn’t have so much work to do during it! In the future I may have to reduce some of my teaching efforts in order to increase my sanity (and, you know, the chance of getting tenure).


 

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At my previous institution, a few peer-reviewed publications and evidence of continued “scholarly activity” (such as conference presentations) were enough for tenure. These publications could be on any topic in any publication as long as it was peer-reviewed. At my current institution, the picture is considerably less clear.

The major change is in what counts and how much. As at many institutions, all peer-reviewed publications are not created equally. Nobody is expected to publish in ASR or AJS but things like impact factor are considered. The type of research also matters. As one colleague stated, publishing in outlets like Teaching Sociology is like a cherry on top of a sundae, but it isn’t the sundae. They also like to see progress in these areas, so one high-profile publication followed by three lower-ranking publications is not as desirable as the reverse would be.

All of this makes the publication gauntlet that much more daunting. There is also uncertainty, though, about when one wants things to be accepted and published while moving along the tenure track. The third-year review, for example, is less of a formality and essentially the same in practice as the tenure review (requiring the exact same documents). This means that publications are essential for passing the third-year review but there are cases in which individuals with a few publications at this point neglected to tell the tenure and promotion committee about a paper that had been recently accepted so that it would be seen as “new” at the tenure review.

The final issue that I’ve encountered is a lack of information about what actually counts as “published.” Accepted papers do not seem to have the same weight as those that have actually been published (indicated in the fact that they are not requested as part of the review). “Published,” though, encompasses a wide variety of things today. Some journals have long lead times before publication in print, others have long lead times but “online first” availability in the meantime, and others have short lead times (or even all-online publishing) but questionable impact factors.

Together, these factors make a process that I breezed through at my previous institution much more stressful (I haven’t even had time to work on my time machine!).


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A recent discussion on campus alerted me to the fact that mentoring has changed. Models with a single assigned mentor (or anti-mentor) are no longer preferred. Instead, everybody should have lots of mentoring relationships in which all partners mutually benefit. The result is “mutual mentoring.” According to the NEA’s summary, mutual mentoring involves:

  • mentoring partnerships that include a wide variety of individuals—peers, near peers, tenured faculty, chairs, administrators, librarians, students, and others;
  • mentoring approaches that accommodate the partners’ personal, cultural, and professional preferences for contact (e.g., one-on-one, small group, team, and/or online);
  • partnerships that focus on specific areas of experience and expertise, rather than generalized, “one-size-fits-all” knowledge;
  • a reciprocity of benefits between the person traditionally known as the “protégé” and the person traditionally known as the “mentor;” and
  • perhaps most importantly, new and under-represented faculty members who are not seen or treated solely as the recipients of mentoring, but as the primary agents of their own career development.

All of these things sound great! Who will be arranging these relationships for me?

That, apparently, is my responsibility. Here are “some good first steps to create a Mutual Mentoring network of your own”:

  • If your department already has a formal mentoring program in place, take advantage of it, but keep in mind that the mentor chosen for you, or by you, as part of this program should not be your only source of professional support.
  • Ask some key colleagues whom they think you should approach about your specific subjects of interest. Keep in mind that there are many different ways that you can “click” with a mentoring partner. Who teaches classes similar in size to yours? Who uses a particular classroom technology that you’re interested in adopting? Who seems like the best overall personality match?
  • Identify near peers (colleagues who are close to your career level). Near peers can be particularly valuable because their experiences as newcomers are still reasonably fresh. Helpful “global” questions to ask near peers include: What do you wish you would have known when you first arrived? What is the most valuable thing you’ve done in support of your teaching?
  • Look for mentoring partners outside the faculty ranks. A talented, tech-savvy student may help you navigate a new class management system, while a librarian specializing in your discipline may be able to recommend hard-to-find resources.

I don’t think that new faculty should shirk the responsibility of forming networks and I also recognize that some of these are relationships that many people already have being recast as mentoring, but there also seems to be a disconnect between people saying “we’ve recognized that the best way to be successful here is to meet a lot of people inside and outside of the institution who can help you in different areas” and following that up with, “good luck finding them!” In an ideal world, experienced faculty would reach out to new faculty (who are busy enough juggling teaching, service, and research), not the other way around. I guess that all junior faculty are in charge of changing the culture now.


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Upon starting my new job last year, I noticed some things that seemed strange because they were different and gained a renewed appreciation for the mentoring I received at my previous institution. Nearly everything about my new position is an improvement from my last, but even though I’ve become more comfortable speaking up I still miss the department culture of my old institution.

This is not to say that the relationships within the department are bad. I seem to get along with everybody and everybody seems to get along with each other. The department as a whole, though, does not seem to do much together. For example, at my previous institution, it was common for several of us to walk to faculty meetings together. At my current institution, everybody heads over on their own.

Another small difference that I’ve noticed is that only a few of the other faculty members in my department say hi when walking past our doors. I’m sure that there are a variety of factors contributing to this: the desire not to interrupt colleagues when working, the division of our department among several areas of the building limits passing by the doors of others*, colleagues who are thinking about what they need to do as they walk to and from their offices, etc. Most egregious, however, are the colleagues whose offices are next to mine and who must walk close to my open doorway to approach their own office doors.

This is unacceptable, so I have made efforts to change it. Whenever I notice somebody approaching their office I now make it a point to say hello. When I am leaving for the day I make it a point to say goodbye**. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have affected the behavior of anybody other than me, but it was either this or starting a tally of how many days I could go without one of my colleagues speaking to me and that seemed like one of those “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” situations.

So I will continue to say hello and goodbye and if I can get tenure I may be able to outlast some of these colleagues and say hello and goodbye to new hires and, eventually, change the department culture. Seriously, people, you can do better!

*When my external mentor asked a colleague in my department how I was handling the transition she replied, “I don’t really know, he’s on the other side of the hall.”

**When telling one colleague to have a good night, he frequently replies, “Okay, thanks.” For the record, the correct response is “You, too!”

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When faculty members arrive on a new campus, they are often told to keep their heads down and listen more than they speak. In most cases (i.e., when the place you find yourself in is not blatantly offensive), I think that this is good advice, since it makes sense to become familiar with the campus and departmental cultures before saying or doing things that might deviate from the norms of those cultures. Although I may never feel comfortable speaking at a faculty meeting (for those of you at large institutions, this is the monthly meeting of all faculty, along with various administrators, on campus), since I never did at my previous institution, I have found this semester that I am saying more at department meetings and feeling less apprehensive when I do. I don’t think I noticed that I had felt less comfortable last year until I started feeling more comfortable this year.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. I’m also happy to assign some of my departmental tasks to you.

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When students ask what they can do to improve their grades at the end of the semester, I often think, “Invent a time machine, go back to the beginning of the semester, and start [coming to class, proofreading your work, studying for exams, etc.].” Now, in my second year of a new job, a year away from pre-tenure review, it feels like this is the semester that I would choose to return to if things do not go the way I want in the tenure process. With a paper under review, several papers I need to lightly revise and send out, and new projects in the early stages, this is a pivotal moment for my success in the coming years, even as the semester quickly melts away and, as usual, I haven’t completed nearly as much on these endeavors as I had hoped.

I have, however, made one change that I hope will pay off in the future. I installed LeechBlock on my web browser to ward off my Major Procrastination Disorder and keep time from getting away from me. In a few years, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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In most areas of my transition to a new institution I have been able to draw on my previous experience as a tenure-track faculty member. This has been similar to my mostly-smooth transition from graduate school to life as a tenure-track faculty member. There is one area, though, in which my years as a tenure-track faculty member have not left me feeling any more prepared than I did during my last transition: advising.

Although I’m still part of a sociology department, there are some major differences between my current institution and my former when it comes to advising. The primary difference is that my current department has many fewer majors than my previous department, so while I had 40-60 major advisees at my previous institution, I currently have seven non-major advisees. This is an area in which I have no experience.

Previously, I was challenged with learning the departmental curriculum and the institution’s general education curriculum in order to advise students to complete all of the necessary graduation requirements. Currently, I need to know both of those things as well as enough about each of the other majors on campus to advise students until they officially declare, which must be done by the spring of their sophomore year. Although there is a lot of guidance available in the form of quick-reference sheets, lists of courses to start with, etc., it feels like the risk of screwing up somebody’s academic career by giving bad advice is magnified.

I’m sure that I will eventually get used to this, like I did at my previous institution. Until then, I’m glad that I don’t have many advisees to ruin the futures of!

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