Friday, September 24, 2010

How to be an effective mentor

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with my colleague, Mary, who is in her third year of a tenure track position. As we were waiting for our food to arrive, I asked Mary about her progress on her book project. In our conversation, I pointed out two things: 1) You can submit your book prospectus to multiple publishers and 2) It is advisable to try and publish at least one article out of your book manuscript to draw attention to your work and to gain credibility in the field. Mary lowered her voice and said to me “Tanya, I can’t believe no one has ever told me this before.”

I couldn’t believe it either. I asked Mary who her assigned mentor was. She told me about Jane, a gregarious associate professor who often invited Mary over to dinner and told her how fantastic and brilliant her scholarship was. Jane was providing one kind of mentoring – support and encouragement – but was not giving Jane all she needed to succeed. Jane was depending on this one mentor for all of her needs when, in fact, she requires a variety of mentors to help her on her path towards tenure. In this post, I will explain some of the kinds of help mentors can provide. This information is intended to help both new faculty see what kinds of mentoring to seek out and senior faculty to think of kinds of mentoring they can provide.

1. Support and encouragement. Tenure track faculty need to feel valued, included, and supported. It is crucial for mentors to let new faculty know what their strengths are and to help them build those strengths. This kind of mentoring is particularly important for under-represented faculty who may feel excluded in their departments.

2. Feedback on work in progress. It is essential for academics to have people in their field to whom they can send work for feedback before sending it out for review. Mentors can offer and provide valuable feedback on articles and manuscripts in progress.

3. Advice on professional development. It is often unclear to new faculty just what they need to do in order to be successful in the areas of research, teaching and service. More senior colleagues can explain how to achieve and demonstrate excellence in these areas.

4. Clear expectations for research productivity. Very few junior faculty are clear on just what they will need to achieve tenure. Mentors can help junior faculty to understand what the expectations are in their department, at the university, and at the national level.

5. How and where to publish. It is not always obvious to junior faculty which outlets are most suitable for their research. In some departments, book chapters in edited volumes count for very little, for example. It is important to help junior faculty figure out how and where they need to publish as soon as possible in their career.

6. Strategies for success. Successful new faculty write every day, limit their teaching preparation, and seek out advice from their colleagues. These are strategies that can be learned, and mentors can help new faculty to implement these and other strategies for success.

7. Role models. New faculty need to see successful people similar to them to envision their own success. Faculty of color will do better when they have successful role models who are also people of color. Women faculty can benefit from seeing successful women in their department. Parents with children can learn how faculty with children balance life and work by learning from successful role models.

These are just some of the ways that mentors can be helpful to new faculty. No mentor can or should be expected to take on all of these roles. For this reason, new faculty must also seek out several mentors to ensure that all of their needs are being met. And, senior faculty should provide mentorship in their own areas of strength.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Five kinds of mentors new faculty need

In Robert Boice’s book, Advice for New Faculty, he points out that successful new faculty share a few crucial characteristics. Successful new faculty:

  1. spent three hours or more per week on scholarly writing.
  2. integrated their research into their undergraduate classes.
  3. did not spend major amounts of time on course preparation (after their first semester, they averaged 1–1.5 hours of preparation per lecture hour).
  4. lectured at a pace that allowed for active student participation.
  5. regularly sought advice from colleagues, averaging four hours a week on discussions of research and teaching.

In this blog, I want to focus on #5: Regularly seek advice from colleagues. When I first read that suggestion, I thought to myself that there was no way my assigned mentor would be willing to talk to me for four hours a week. I was right about that. However, what I did not realize is that I needed to expand my idea of what a mentor was. There are at least five types of mentors new faculty need to be successful:

1) Departmental mentors: These are senior colleagues in your department who can help you to understand and navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of your department. They can do this both by providing advice and by coming to your defense behind closed doors. To do this, they need to talk to you. It is crucial to meet with your departmental mentor at least once a semester.

2) Institutional mentors: These are senior colleagues at your institution, who may or may not be in your department. They play a similar role to your departmental mentor, but are particularly savvy about the way the College and/or University operate and can provide you with crucial guidance. I suggest you meet with your institutional mentor at least once a semester.

3) Teaching mentors: These are senior colleagues who are dedicated to undergraduate and graduate education and can provide you with important feedback on your teaching, as well as ways to become a more effective teacher. This person likely will be in your department, as your departmental colleagues are most familiar with your curriculum. Many universities and colleges require Assistant Professors to have peer reviews of their teaching at least once a year. Whether or not this is the case at your institution, it is important for you to meet with a teaching mentor to discuss your teaching at least once a semester.

4) Peer mentors: These are your junior colleagues or people that you know from graduate school or conferences who are at a similar career stage. These relationships are often easier and more casual, yet can be just as important as those with your senior colleagues. Your peers can provide you with feedback on your work, help you to overcome emotional difficulties, provide you with publishing and speaking opportunities, and lend a sympathetic ear. You should meet with one of your peer mentors, by phone or in person, at least once a month.

5) Disciplinary Mentors: These are people more advanced in their careers that are in your subfield, yet not at your institution. As a new faculty member, you need to make contact with people in your field outside your institution both so that they can know who you are and so that they can inform you of important publishing and speaking opportunities. These are people who you eventually will ask to write letters of recommendation for you, and who may serve as external reviewers on your tenure case. You will need to provide a list of about ten people to serve as external reviewers for your tenure file. I suggest you make that list now, and make a plan to meet, in person, or over the phone, each of those people between now and the time you go up for tenure.

All of that said, I will make one final recommendation. Meeting with colleagues is important, but can also be time consuming. To make time for regular meetings in my busy schedule, I try to schedule most of my meetings over meals, especially lunch. I take time to eat lunch every day anyway, and having lunch with a colleague can both be enjoyable and a way to fit meetings into your busy schedule. I also schedule meetings right after teaching, as I generally am not very productive on any other fronts right after class. As for phone conversations with colleagues at other institutions, I often schedule those at times when I can talk while taking my afternoon or evening walk.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ten ways you can write every day

If you've been following the posts this semester on how to have a productive semester, you have already made a plan for the Fall Semester, and blocked out time in your calendar for writing every day.

If you have been writing every day this semester, congratulations! If you haven't, ask yourself "why not?" If you need some ideas on how to actually write every day, then this post is for you!

Write every day” is fabulous advice. But, how do you actually do it? That was my question for a long time before I finally convinced myself to give it a try. Now that I have been writing every day for four years, I can share with you a few ways to make that possible, and explain to you why I do it.

Lettres de Lou

Why you need to write every day

I decided I needed to try to write every day when I found out that scholars who write daily and hold themselves accountable write nearly ten times as much as others! In Robert Boice’s book Advice for New Faculty Members, he explains the virtues of writing every day. Boice describes a study where new faculty were divided into three groups:

  • The first group did not change their writing habits, and continued to write occasionally in big blocks of time; in one year they wrote an average of 17 pages
  • The second group wrote daily and kept a record of their writing; they averaged 64 pages
  • The third group wrote daily, kept a daily record, and held themselves accountable to someone weekly; this group's average was 157 pages (Boice 1989:609). 

Once I read that, it was clear which group I wanted to be in. I was convinced I should at least try daily writing.

How to write every day

Once I decided I needed to be writing every day, my greatest challenge was to figure out what it meant to write every day. I asked myself, "What counts as daily writing?"

Over time, I came to realize that writing means a lot of things and that there are lots of ways to write every day.

Here are ten ways you can write every day:

  1. Write on a blank page
  2. Line-edit something you have already written
  3. Restructure a paper that you have been working on
  4. Pull together pieces of older documents you have written into a new paper
  5. Check references and footnotes for accuracy
  6. Outline or mind-map a new project
  7. Summarize or take notes on something you have read recently that might be relevant to present or future research projects
  8. Make a revision plan for a rejected article or a “revise and resubmit”
  9. Make tables, figures, graphs, or images to represent visually concepts or trends in a paper
  10. Create an After-the-fact or Reverse Outline
If you think of writing as only #1): Write on a blank page, it will be hard to do that every single day. However, it you are open to other kinds of writing, it will be possible to do at least one of these kinds of writing every day.

I try to do at least two kinds of writing each day, starting with the blank page in the morning. I am at my best early in the morning. I use those early, fresh moments of the day to free-write and to create new material. Once I run out of steam, I might turn to editing something I have written or to checking references. If I get stuck, I will pull out a mind map and brainstorm ideas.

My routine each weekday, then, is to begin the day with writing or writing-related tasks. On a good day, I can concentrate for two hours. Usually, however, my mind drifts after an hour, so I take a break to check email or have some coffee, and put in another hour after my break. I keep track of the time I have spent working on writing so that I can be proud of my accomplishments, and so that I know when I need to stop.

I know that many academics reject as ridiculous the idea that one could or should write every day. To them, I would gently ask if they have ever tried it. And, I would add that it is not only important to try writing every day, but to commit to trying it for at least a month to see if it works for you. It is also important to have others to whom you are accountable and with whom you can share your struggles.

If you do try writing every day, let me know how it goes! If you are a seasoned daily writer, let me know why you keep it up!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Schedule your writing into your week

One of the best ways to become a prolific writer is to write every day. If you write every day, you will make progress on your manuscripts, you will become a better writer, and it will become easier for you to write. To ensure that you write every day, however, it is crucial that you schedule it into your calendar.

Yes, I mean, literally, take out your calendar for next week and set aside time for writing every day. I am sure you are a very busy person with many responsibilities. However, if you are reading this blog, then you likely are looking for ways to be more productive. And, one of the best ways to become more productive is to schedule your writing time and treat it just like any other appointment. Here is how.

Schedule writing every day. Take a look at your schedule for next week and figure out when you might have between 15 minutes and two hours to write every day for five days a week. I prefer to work Monday to Friday, and to leave the weekends to spend time with my family. If, however, you absolutely must work on weekends, it still is advisable to write for at least 15 minutes during the week so that, come Saturday afternoon, you do not have to spend all of your writing time re-acquainting yourself with your manuscript. Spending at least 15 minutes a day with your manuscript means that it will always be fresh in your mind.

Schedule at least 15 minutes but no more than two hours. If you think that there is absolutely no way you could make any progress in 15 minutes, I encourage you to try to think of something you could do in 15 minutes. For example, I imagine you could proofread your introduction, free write, update your references, or revise a footnote in 15 minutes. On a previous blog I listed “Seven Ways You Can Write Every Day.” I also suggest that you do not schedule your writing for more than two hours at a time. If you do have a day with no other obligations, it is likely more productive to schedule two hours of writing, followed by two hours of reading than to try to schedule four hours of writing. After reading and writing for four hours, schedule in a long break that involves food and exercise and try to go in for another round. Alternatively, you can take the afternoon off, knowing that you have just had a very productive morning!

Treat writing like any other appointment. This means that, if you have scheduled writing from 8am to 9am on Monday, and someone asks you to meet at that time, that you have to say, “No, I can’t meet at 8am, how about we meet at 9am?” You, after all, will be very busy from 8am to 9am, working on your manuscript. If you are nervous about claiming you are busy when you are “just” writing, keep two things in mind: 1) If you are at a research university, writing is part of your job; and 2) It is quite unlikely that anyone will actually ask you what you are doing when you tell them that you cannot meet at a particular time.

So, go ahead, take out your calendars, and schedule between 15 minutes and two hours of writing into your week next week.