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.

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