"A meek endeavor to the triumph" by Sampath Jayarathna

Monday, February 16, 2015

Hedge Your Bets (Monday Motivator for Faculty for the Future)

This is an excerpt from the Monday Motivator Program of Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. Please find the original document here. The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity is an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community of over 71,000 graduate students, post-docs, and faculty members.

Last week's Monday Motivator ("Get Out There and Shake It!") definitely pressed some people’s "personal responsibility" buttons! I heard lots of immediate reactivity, but I also heard from people who decided to take new steps forward by setting up lunch dates, asking someone to read a manuscript, focusing their regular conversation with a colleague on research (instead of departmental gossip), and one person simply decided to approach one of her crankiest colleague in a whole new spirit. Bravo!

The fact of the matter is that most departments aren’t set up to support your success and yet, YOU HAVE TO SUCCEED ANYWAY! So, congratulations to all of you who acknowledged that as your reality and stepped out in a new way last week. And since I'm on the general topic ofShaking It, let's move on to the next common mistake new faculty members make: Putting All Your Eggs in One Institutional Basket.

I realize that it's incredibly difficult to get a tenure-track job these days and some of us were in graduate school for so long that we feel extraordinarily grateful to our institutions for simply employing us. In addition, many of us were trained under faculty mentors who spent their entire careers at ONE institution and taught us this was "the way things are" in academic life. Regrettably, the result is that some new faculty members behave as if their very life depends on that tenure decision. They bend over backwards to please everyone at their institution, invest large amounts of time in long term institutional projects, and accept poor treatment out of a desperate hope that they will be deemed worthy and allowed to stay. In other words, their identity and self-worth are so wholly dependent on winning tenure at their current institution that failing to do so would be utterly unbearable.

The problem with this approach is twofold. First and foremost, you don't know whether your current institution is going to make a long-term commitment to you (via tenure and promotion), so why invest 100 percent of your emotional energy, identity, and self in that outcome? More importantly, this desperate stance puts you in a powerless position because you are, in effect, handing all the power over your future to your employer (instead of assuming some control over it yourself).

How your senior colleagues will vote on your tenure case is out of your control, but there are several important factors that are fully under your control: 1) your research productivity, 2) your emotional investment in your current institution, and 3) promoting your work beyond your institution. Below I outline just a few concrete ways that you can protect yourself from the possibility of future loss, by identifying your power today and using it to invest in your productivity first.

Cultivate a Professional Attitude
One of the best ways that you can hedge your bets is to shift your reference group from the faculty at your institution to the broader national arena of your discipline. By understanding yourself as "a scholar who currently works at ______ college/university," you will begin to understand the necessity of not only "shaking it" with your departmental colleagues, but extending your network to get out there and shake it with the other scholars in your discipline. By proactively extending your network and maximizing your research productivity, you increase the possibility that you will be marketable in your later tenure-track years and then have the ability to decide whether or not you want to stay at your institution (as opposed to whether or not others will allow you to stay).

Make a Top 10 List
The best advice I received as new faculty member was to make a list of the top 10 people in my research area and then make it my business to connect with them during my five years on the tenure track. Developing your Top 10 list is critical for two reasons: 1) this is the most likely pool of scholars from which your external review letters will be requested when you come up for tenure review, and 2) these are the scholars that your work is in conversation with (a conversation that can't happen if they are unaware of your published work). Even if you are at a college where teaching and research are equally valued, your institution will still solicit external reviews of your scholarship and they are likely to be drawn from the pool of well-known researchers in your area.

Extend Yourself
Once you have identified your Top 10, figure out how to connect with these individuals. You could invite them to give a talk at your institution, approach them at conferences, send them your recently published article with a personal note, etc. Some will be pleasant and approachable, and others will completely ignore you. What's important is that you begin proactively connecting with people in your discipline who matter to your future success -- as a candidate for tenure and as a scholar. Additionally, feel free to do whatever you think will help introduce other scholars in your field to your work, such as giving talks at your friend's institutions and other local colleges, giving great presentations at conferences, and letting other people know when you have published something they might find useful. The point is to let as many people know about your research as possible, while making targeted efforts with those who are likely to be asked to write your external reviews.

If You Are Unhappy, Go on the Market
Nothing puts your current situation in perspective like dipping a toe in the water! If you have published prolifically in the first few years of your current tenure-track job, then you are a far more attractive job candidate then you were ABD, and you are likely to generate more interest than in your previous job search. Sometimes visiting another campus makes you value your current institution in a whole new way, and other times it can make you wonder why on earth you have worked there so long. Either way, it can be a valuable experience to help you make the mental shift from institutional dependency to independence as a scholar.

Write Everyday
I should have started with this item, because everything else I've said is predicated upon your ability to publish your research. Publications are the currency in the academic market so maintaining research productivity will fulfill you as a scholar, increase your marketability, give you some measure of power over your own future, and provide you with the opportunity to make choices. In short, be sure you are writing every day and doing what you need to do to publish your research.

The Weekly Challenge
Write every day for at least 30 minutes.
Try creating your Top 10 list (if you don't have one already).
Brainstorm ways you could connect with the people on your Top 10 list.
Consider what it would mean to think of yourself FIRST as a scholar, and SECOND as a "junior" faculty member at your particular institution.
If you feel reactive to imagining yourself beyond your institutional walls, gently and patiently ask yourself WHY?
If you find yourself feeling "disloyal” by this type of thinking, remind yourself that your institution will quickly and easily cut you loose if you are denied tenure. Then consider how you could adjust your emotional investment in your institution to MATCH their investment in you.

Life on the tenure track can frequently leave new faculty feeling powerless, vulnerable, and at the mercy of subjective criteria for evaluation. I hope that this week brings each of you to clarity to claim what power you have in your academic career, the imagination to see beyond your immediate campus, and the peace that comes from knowing your future is in your hands.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Monday Motivator for Faculty for the Future: Get Out There & Shake It!

This is an excerpt from the Monday Motivator Program of Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. Please find the original document here. The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity is an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community of over 71,000 graduate students, post-docs, and faculty members.

This term, I’m focusing on the most common mistakes that new faculty members make. I learned last week that there are a whole lot of folks Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places!And that's OK, because the purpose of pointing out the most common errors is to become aware of them, consider alternative strategies, and make changes that will move you closer to the goal of winning tenure and promotion. In the spirit of progress toward positive change, let's move on to Mistake #5: Being reactive (instead of proactive) in your professional relationships.

In a perfect world, new faculty members would be warmly welcomed into their departments and actively nurtured by enthusiastic mentors. Colleagues would ask you to lunch, offer to read your work, initiate stimulating conversations, notice your stress, become your mentor, and offer to collaborate on projects. In short, you would be embraced and supported by members of a vibrant intellectual community so that your transition from graduate student to professor would be efficient and effective.

Unfortunately, most academic departments are far from perfect! So if you passively wait for others to initiate interaction, you are likely to be sitting in your office alone and isolated a great deal of the time. It is also the case that when you don't extend yourself, others may negatively perceive you as aloof, disengaged, or un-collegial. Most importantly, you may be missing out on important relationships, access to critical networks, professional opportunities, and the mentoring you need to thrive.

To be clear, new faculty members should not be single-handedly responsible for initiating relationships and integrating themselves into their new departments. But this is often the reality, especially for women in mostly male departments, and faculty of color in predominantly white departments. If this is your situation, you cannot sit back and reactively wait for senior faculty (who will be voting on your tenure and promotion) to reach out to you and include you in their networks and activities. Instead, your goal should be to proactively initiate relationships with your senior colleagues so that you are spending time each week discussing research and/or teaching with them.

Moving From a Reactive to a Proactive Stance in Your Professional Relationships

For me, moving from a reactive to proactive stance was one of the most difficult challenges of life on the tenure-track. I was that new faculty member sitting in my office, waiting for the welcome wagon to arrive, and indignant when an entire semester had gone by without a single invitation to lunch or coffee. When I complained to one of my mentors, his advice to me was: "get out there and shake it!"

Needless to say, I was horrified (at multiple levels). But I had to ask myself why -- as a generally outgoing person -- was I finding it so incredibly difficult to initiate relationships with my colleagues? I realized that: 1) I thought it was their responsibility to initiate a relationship with me, and 2) it's hard for me to connect with people who are inter-personally awkward, unpleasant, cranky, salty, don't share my politics, and/or made it clear that they didn't want me hired in the first place. Acknowledging the problem was half the battle, but let me share with you how I moved from weeping quietly in my office to "out there shaking it".

1) Adjust Expectations
While it should not have been solely my responsibility to build relationships with my senior colleagues, that was my departmental reality. So recognize the reality of YOUR environment (whatever that may be) and go ahead and take the first step in establishing professional relationships. I realized I didn't have to like everyone, but these were my colleagues and it was critically important for me to be proactive in developing positive and healthy professional relationships with them.

2) Ask Someone to Lunch
One of my mentors advised me to invite one person per week to lunch during the following semester. If lunch feels like too big of a commitment, then try coffee. If you can't even fathom the idea of coffee with a crusty colleague, then promise yourself you will linger for five minutes in their doorway and have a focused conversation. This will get easier each time you do it, and you can build from doorway to coffee, and coffee to lunch, over time.

3) Ask People for Advice
The easiest conversation starter is to ask someone for their advice. It could be something general or something quite specific, but it should be about research or teaching. People love to give advice to pre-tenure faculty and it creates a foundation for you to seek out their counsel later on when you have bigger problems and don't know how to resolve them. Asking for advice does NOT communicate weakness or incompetence; it communicates professionalism and a desire to establish a mentoring relationship with the person you're asking.

4) Talk About Your Research
For me, lunch and coffee dates became wonderful opportunities to talk about my research. By letting my colleagues know what projects I was working on, what conceptual or methodological problems I was having, and where I hoped to go in the future, I was "networking." The purpose of networking is connecting people, ideas and opportunities. If your colleagues don't know what you're doing and/or what you need, it's difficult for them to connect with you, and connect you with others. This is far more productive than using your brief time together to complain, gossip, cry, discuss personal problems, or talk about departmental politics. Keep the initial conversations focused on your work and keep in mind that ALL your colleagues (even the ones you don't like up front) can have important and helpful things to say about your research.

5) Open Yourself to Others
I learned that everyone is in my life for a purpose and has a tremendous gift to share with me. My job is to open up to them so I can receive their gift. You may think: why should I waste time chatting with some non-research-active senior colleague who can't possibly relate to the ever-escalating demands of today's tenure track? Stop and remind yourself that he/she will be voting on your tenure. Then approach that conversation with a true sense of curiosity by asking: Why is this person in my life and what can I learn from him/her? When I move towards my colleagues in a spirit of openness and hopeful expectation, it shifts the energy of the interaction and I am often delightfully surprised by the gifts they offer me.

Each of these steps helped me move from a reactive stance (waiting for my colleagues to establish relationships with me) to a proactive stance where I initiate contact, shape my relationships, ask for what I need, and focus the interactions on what matters. Using your personal power to move forward in this way will help you feel more connected to others in your department, open networks of opportunity, and help to solidify your professional relationships. And the more comfortable you are having substantive conversations with your campus colleagues, the easier it will be when you are at conferences, meetings, and workshops.

The Weekly Challenge

This week I challenge you to:
Assess your stance towards your colleagues by gently asking yourself: am I proactive or reactive in my professional relationships?
If you are being proactive, then congratulate yourself on being ahead of the game!
If you are reactive, pick one thing you can do to change your stance (i.e., invite someone to lunch, initiate a conversation, or stop by and chat).
Whatever you pick, commit to executing that behavioral change this week.
If you experience resistance to taking the first step with some of your colleagues, patiently ask yourself WHY?
If you haven't completed your semester/quarter plan, it's not too late! In fact, sharing your semester plan with a colleague is an easy way to start a conversation.
Write every day for at least 30 minutes. Daily writing will lead you be more productive and confident as a scholar, teacher, and colleague AND provide you with substantive issues to talk about every single day.

I hope that this week brings each of you the desire to analyze your relationship patterns with your colleagues, the courage to make positive change, and the true sense of empowerment that comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Monday Motivator for Faculty for the Future: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

This is an excerpt from the Monday Motivator Program of Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. Please find the original document here. The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity is an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community of over 71,000 graduate students, post-docs, and faculty members.

For the past three weeks, I've been focusing on the most common errors that tenure-track faculty make as they transition from graduate student to professor. The first three mistakes (no semester plan, no daily writing habit, and no clarity about balance) generated passionate responses, so I want to reiterate that while the Monday Motivator may feel like tough love at times, I hope each of you know that I am deeply invested in your professional success and personal sanity! If you are mired in one of these mistakes, it's okay. There is no judgment here. I am simply observing the common errors based on my work with pre-tenure faculty and my reading of the faculty development literature. And, of course, I've personally made every mistake that I describe each week and know how much freedom comes from overcoming them! That said, let's move on to Common New Faculty Mistake #4: Investing in Long-Term Institutional Change at the Expense of Your Research Agenda.

If I have seen it once, I've seen it a hundred times. A brand new faculty member (most often female and/or under-represented) decides to work single-handedly to create structural change at her institution. Full of energy and righteous indignation, she bursts on the scene fighting every battle imaginable. She spends many hours each week sending e-mails, protesting policies, serving on committees, writing reports, and/or organizing students while spending ZERO hours writing. She sincerely promises herself that she will devote her breaks to writing.
But when the breaks arrive, her energy has been so consumed by departmental drama and campus conflict that she needs that time to physically and emotionally recover. As a result, no writing occurs. By the end of her first year, no articles have been completed and nothing has actually changed at her institution. Let me be clear, working for change is not problematic in and of itself, but it is an error if you are doing it at the expense of your research and writing (or teaching if you are at a college where teaching is a significant component of your tenure evaluation). I understand the desire to work for change where you are, but if you fail to win tenure and promotion, any progress you've made will likely follow you right out the door.

"Don't Act Like You're Married When You're Only Dating..."
What is a well-intentioned new faculty member to do when surrounded by things that need to change? If you are highly productive, ahead of schedule on your research agenda, and your tenure case is being described as a "slam dunk," then feel free to organize on (as long as your activities don’t make you a thorn in the side of those who will be voting on your tenure case). However, if you're working toward change, but not publishing, here are a few tips:

1) Re-think Your Attitude Toward Institutional Change
If you are an under-represented faculty member, then please understand that your very existence in a predominantly white and male department IS your contribution to institutional change. Your physical presence in the classroom, in meetings, and on campus represents an important change at your institution! Your success in winning tenure will be a further contribution toward change. And as a pre-tenure faculty member, that's enough for now.

If that doesn't resonate with you, let me say it the way one of my mentors said it to me: "don't act like you're married when you're only dating!" I was confused by this at first, but she went on to explain that being on the tenure-track is like dating. If it works out, your institution will make a long term commitment to you by offering you tenure and promotion. And if it doesn't work out (for you or your university), you'll go your separate ways. Post-tenure, your relationship with your university will change. At that point, you're married so you'll be expected to engage in the types of service and leadership activities that are related to institutional well being. It's also when you'll be in the strongest position to work towards institutional change. If you think about it this way, then doing things like chairing a department, re-structuring curriculum, and taking on long-term strategic projects (like creating a new department) when you don't know if you'll be around to see the outcome are questionable. And if you're doing so at the expense of the very activity that will win you tenure (research and writing), it's time to take a step back and reassess what activities are appropriate at this time of your career.

2) Plan Now for Your Post-Tenure Contribution to Change
I encourage you to create a list, file or box where you can keep all of your ideas for change. My list was entitled: "all the things I'm going to do once I have tenure." At the top of my list was "design a mentoring program that actually works". By putting it on my list, I released myself from the need to create that change while I was on the tenure track and instead devoted time to my writing and research. Once tenured, I set out to change the way we understood "mentoring" at my institution and created an under-represented faculty mentoring program that was later institutionalized by my Provost's Office. I also wrote The BlackAcademic’s Guide to Winning Tenure Without Losing Your Soul, started giving campus workshops, and created the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.

I was only able to do these things effectively because I was tenured, had an established research record, and could invest time in making the long-term changes I thought were necessary. I'm not writing this to toot my own horn, but to provide an example to encourage you to think of your career in STRATEGIC and LONG-TERM ways (i.e., as a book with many chapters). You can't do everything now, but you can focus your energy today on whatever it is that will allow you the stability, respect, and reputation in the future to achieve a larger set of goals.

3) Limit Current Commitments and Say "No" to Additional Requests
For those of you who are reading this and are already over-committed, list your current commitments on one piece of paper. Ask yourself: what initiative, committee, or project can I work on in a limited capacity that will fulfill my desire to make change with a minimal time investment? Pick something where your senior colleagues do the heavy lifting, risk-taking, and time-intensive labor. Let everything else go by either notifying people that you are over-committed and need to prioritize your research and writing, quietly fading out, or taking a back seat. If anyone asks you to sit on any additional committees, start a new initiative, join a strategic planning project, and/or start some sort of insurrection, just say "NO."

4) Write EVERY DAY For At Least 30 Minutes, First Thing in the Morning
I know you're sick of me saying this every week, but I can't stop! Writing every day will increase your productivity, which is important. But even more importantly, there's something about spending the first hour of your day moving that article, manuscript, and/or grant proposal forward that sends a signal to yourself and the universe that AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME, meeting your research expectation for tenure is your highest priority. Do not take my word for it, just try starting your day with 30 minutes of writing this week (before you check email) and see if it shifts your energy, your sense of yourself as a scholar, your commitments, and how you interact with others on your campus.

The Weekly Challenge

This week, I challenge each of you to:
Create a file, box, or list to capture ideas about what institutional changes you want to work towards once you have tenure.
If you are under-represented in any way, shape, or form, then stop and appreciate the fact that your very presence on campus represents change at your institution.
Take 10 minutes to make a list of all your current service commitments, highlighting ones that involve long-term institutional change on your campus.
Gently and lovingly go through that list and ask yourself: Does this make sense for me at this time in my career? Is this work precluding progress on my research? How many hours am I spending each week on this work versus writing and research? Will I be here to see this change? Is my commitment to my current institution equal to my institution's commitment to me? Edit the list accordingly.
Write every morning this week for at least 30 minutes. And by "writing", I mean any activity that will move an article, manuscript or grant proposal out the door.
If you remain resistant to daily writing, gently and patiently ask yourself: why?

I hope that this week brings you a long-term perspective on your academic career, relief that you don’t have to do everything all at once, and a sense of appreciation for all that you contribute to your campus by just being you!