I know, I know- at least two weeks without a blog post worth reading- and now two in one day- although I am not presuming that you will find these two worth reading. What can I say- when it rains it pours sometimes.
I’ve been thinking about mentoring of junior faculty- this has been in the back of my mind for about a year, and started a slow boil in the last month since my third year review. Perhaps my thinking about this topic has also been crystallized by the fact that a close friend who didn’t get tenure left this institution very recently. Some of the reasons for tenure denial were reasonable, some were gray, and some were just inexplicable. I had a front row seat to this and it was extremely difficult- I’m sure some of you have also had this experience. I can’t help thinking that a department should be 100% behind the faculty that they hire. Signs of weakness shouldn’t be used to identify who can be easily killed off- they should be corrected by effective teaching and mentoring early on. Departments are making big-ass (DrMrA says I should stop cursing) investments in junior faculty- and it is, in my humble opinion, partly a reflection on the department when one of ‘theirs’ doesn’t get tenure. I’m not taking responsibility off the junior faculty members- but I don’t think that they should be considered in isolation.
So, mentoring junior faculty. What does this consist of, what SHOULD this consist of? A couple of days ago there was a post over at Drugmonkey and some of the commenters (notably Odyssey and Whimple) to the post got into it over a couple of cases where faculty didn’t get tenure, the reasons, and the cost for this.
First- this from Whimple (comment #15 )… his thoughts on the two who didn’t get tenure in Odyssey’s dept..:
Also clear cut is that your department was shortsighted and mismanaged. You paid about $2M for those two new faculty members, invested five years of effort with attendant grad students and staff, and then threw up your hands and bailed when it didn’t all just magically work out. Some effective new faculty mentoring could have made a dramatic positive difference for both them, and your department.
Yeah- that’s all very nice and I get it, but WILL SOMEONE PLEASE DEFINE ‘EFFECTIVE’ new faculty mentoring… I’m not sure I know the components of this- and as junior faculty I’m probably not alone. Seems to me that in many places junior faculty mentoring consists of being told to: 1. get grants, and 2. publish, and basically leaving them alone to work this out. Furthermore, giving these instructions kinda seems like telling junior faculty what they ALREADY KNOW. So, I’m asking you- what is real, bona fide ‘effective’ new faculty mentoring??
Odyssey provided quite a thorough description of how junior faculty are mentored in his department. (comment #23):
All junior faculty members in my department are assigned two faculty mentors. This responsibility is taken very seriously and mentors tend to meet with their mentees at the very least quarterly. Usually more often. The chair of the department holds progress meetings with each junior faculty member twice a year. In addition, most of the faculty will voluntarily act as unofficial mentors and offer to read proposals and manuscripts.
Junior faculty are evaluated by the tenured faculty every year. They are given extensive feedback after each evaluation. The evaluations at years 2 and 4 are mandated by the University. We do additional ones in years 1, 3 and 5. The last is just prior to tenure. We do these because we think the extra feedback is valuable.
This seems like a reasonable way to go about things. But again- I say- if the ‘mentoring’ consists of 1. get grants, and 2. publish… then mentoring ‘committees’ are masters at stating the obvious. In places I’m familiar with, formal junior faculty mentoring consists of 1. assigning a mentor (these may or may not be helpful and very much depend on the skills of the mentor), 2. an annual review sometimes by a panel of faculty, sometimes by the chair and usually after the faculty member has turned in some sort of summary of their important events of the last year (grants, papers, teaching,service), 3. then there is a formal third year review. Junior faculty can seek out senior faculty at any time for guidance. Otherwise there is a void unless particular and gifted senior faculty take an active interest in a junior faculty member .
Tell me what you think constitutes effective mentoring of junior faculty- what works, and what doesn’t work. If you have examples from particular places you have been I’d love to hear them…