Mentoring Junior Faculty, part II

I asked my fellow junior faculty at the faculty ladies lunch what they wish for in ‘effective’ faculty mentoring… here’s what they said (not in any particular order, and some related):

1. A mentor who is an advocate for you, and will stand up for you. I agree with this wholeheartedly (and Neurolover hit some of these points in comments to my previous post about this). By being an ‘advocate’ we don’t mean sitting behind the desk and stating the obvious ‘write grants’ and ‘submit papers’…., we mean help in dealing with all kinds of areas from how much service responsibility you allow to be assigned to you, … to helping you decide how to handle personnel issues that might arise in your lab… staying in the loop as to the funding situation in your area and keeping higher-ups (chair people perhaps) in the loop on your situation.

2. A mentor who knows what you must do for promotion and tenure, and is committed to
passing this knowledge along in detail and helping you get there.
A shepherd to tenure- this should be obvious, the faculty ladies felt that it was helpful to have a mentor that had actually been (or is currently) on the P&T (promotion and tenure) committee- as they know what goes on in that super-secret star chamber.

3. A mentor who helps you obtain critical resources – like graduate students- for example. An example was given of a mentor who knows all the students (perhaps that person was in a grad student advisory position), and gives Jr. faculty insight specific to particular rotation students- their strengths, their weaknesses ets. This seems to me like an INCREDIBLY important thing- since we know that hiring great personnel to do the lab work is so key to junior faculty success.

4. A mentor who devotes TIME and ENERGY to their mentee. Mentoring junior faculty isn’t something that should be multitasked, it takes a real time commitment. Think of the hours that you have spent on search committees scouring the application packages of every one of 100+ applicants. Don’t the jr. faculty that you actually hire and spend $$s on deserve the same kind of careful attention… and more than that… .nurturance??

5. A mentor who actually does what they say they are going to do for you. Volunteer to help jr. faculty with go talk to the chair on your behalf about something- well, they better do it!! Volunteer to read jr. faculty mentee’s grants- well, don’t be surprised when we show up with one and ask you to read it. We won’t put off giving it to you until the last minute- but you should also be committed to giving it back to us in time so that we can incorporate your comments….

6. A mentor that is in tune with your science and can help in all aspects of this. Grant reading/editing, keeping wide-eyed junior faculty focused, telling you honest stuff that may not be comfortable to hear but is necessary. Whimple made a couple of excellent comments about this on his comment to my last post- junior faculty need to stay focused and sometimes it takes the help of a wiser person who as actually been there- to make this happen.

I know that many of you would probably like #6 to appear first- and … for those of you – you can put these in any order you like. I’m just brainstorming… I guess I also think that all of these qualities may not be in any one mentor. I know jr. faculty that have an excellent mentor in 1-5, but that person doesn’t know their area of science very well. Ok, fine- so a second mentor that knows the relevant science would be in order then.
Also- I’m sure that there are some that I am lacking- please feel free to contribute.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Mentoring Junior Faculty, part II

  1. Actually, I disagree with number 6. I think it is close to irrelevant that your senior faculty mentors understand your science in detail. It is also frequently unrealistic to expect in a broadly focused department.

    Scientific guidance is something that one gets from one’s colleagues through peer review, attendance at meetings/conferences, multi-lab group meetings at one’s institution, and other interactions.

  2. PP- I don’t think it is necessary for your main ‘scientific’ mentor(s) to be in your institution- mine are not.

    I do think that someone in your institution should be aware of what is going on with your science/your field/ etc, your lab etc- because when it comes to tenure time and you are the only one in your department sending grants to an institute with a funding line at the 0.001 percentile- it is going to be hard for your colleagues- who apply to some other institute with a funding line in the 30 percentile to understand WHY you didn’t get a grant and WHY you might still be tenure-able. Completely hypothetical example.

  3. “it is going to be hard for your colleagues- who apply to some other institute with a funding line in the 30 percentile to understand WHY you didn’t get a grant and WHY you might still be tenure-able.”

    PP’s other comments suggest that PP might be actually applying a simpler standard — you aren’t tenurable if you don’t get the right grant. That’s Odyssey’s point, as well, at his institution. I think it’s an institutional choice to make that standard (though I might disagree with it) as long as the institution realizes that it means your tenure standard will be influenced by something as unrelated a the Iraq war and makes it perfectly clear to their faculty (and doesn’t hide behind mealy-mouthed words).

    I agree with your list (and also think it’s true for grad student/post-doc mentors, though it’s easier to get #6 for that). But, I think it’s hard to create within an institutional structure. Some people get it, but how do you make it happened (say, as an institution, or as a department chair) if it’s not happening naturally? And I say this knowing that it’s harder for it to happen naturally for a woman or minority.

  4. Neurolover-

    It’s not just PPs standard- that is pretty much the standard EVERYWHERE in major academic research institutions. But the thing is that the tenured faculty that make the tenure decisions …many of them got started in earlier times at much MUCH higher funding percentiles… I don’t know if anyone in the community with which I am most familiar has EVER been below the 10th percentile themselves. But now this is the funding line in the institute our grants go to..so I guess based on the current standard they are going to have to deny tenure to everyone that can’t get below the 10th percentile (and there will be many)…. even though they have never been competing at that level… I just fail to see how departments are going to keep any faculty in the pipeline that way.

  5. so I guess based on the current standard they are going to have to deny tenure to everyone that can’t get below the 10th percentile (and there will be many)…

    Let me start by saying I don’t have any answers to this. Obviously something has to be done or we’ll be losing a large chunk of a generation of biomedical scientists. However, I imagine that it’s very difficult for a P&T committee to respond adequately (assuming they decide to do anything). Where do you draw the line? Do you say, Dr. X’s proposal scored in the 14th percentile, but because the funding line is below the 10th this year we’ll give her tenure, but Dr. Y only managed the 16th percentile, so out she goes? I can hear the lawyers already preparing the suits. And how do you account for faculty with funding from other sources where you don’t get anything akin to a percentile score (e.g. NSF)? My bet is that the “Funded? You’re in. Not funded? Good bye.” approach will remain in place for quite some time. It’s not fair and that depresses me.

  6. An additional thought. The old farts on the P&T committees are the wrong targets for discussing how to deal with the effects of the funding downturn on tenure chances. They’re constrained by a set of University lawyer-vetted rules and regulations. I bet that your institution has something in the tenure and promotion regulations stipulating the need for “significant extramural funding.” In my experience that’s generally been interpreted to mean an NIH R01, an NSF grant or some other largish Federal grant. In a downturn like this the P&T committees might flirt with the idea of counting a grant from the ACS, AHA or another private source as “significant extramural funding,” but there is a high probability they will be over-ruled by an administration afraid of lawsuits from people who had been denied tenure in the past. This is cover-your-butt syndrome at its worst.

  7. Oddyssey — I find it highly unlikely that an institute would, university-wide, write that “significant extramural funding” was necessary since that criterion would vary among departments. Here for example, is the suggestion from U North Carolin @ Chapel Hill (in a public document): “If your field is one in which grant success is a common external measure of research quality, discuss the candidate’s success in obtaining extramural funding (other than UNC Chapel Hill grant awards).”

    Yes, a university might get in trouble for using different standards for different individuals, but they usually try to deal with that by writing their standards vaguely enough, and leaving wiggle room for the requirements. And, the departmental variation in any major research university all but guarantees that a specific grant (i.e. a “largish federal grant”) cannot be legally defined. An administration might overrule a P&T committees efforts to “count” lesser grants, but I’d attribute the over-ruling to the more direct desire for funds that come from the larger federal grants) than out of legal concerns. The only concern about lawsuits would be if a department itself used different standards, and folks would have to be pretty directly comparable for it to become a valid legal contrast).

  8. I find it highly unlikely that an institute would, university-wide, write that “significant extramural funding” was necessary since that criterion would vary among departments.

    I was too vague. You’re correct that an institution couldn’t impose the requirement for significant external funding unilaterally. I’ve forgotten the exact verbiage, but there is a line in my institutions tenure regulations that essentially says you need significant extramural funding if that’s the norm in your field. And perhaps the $’s are a factor, but I suspect that’s more at the level of the deanery. I stand by my “cover your butt” comment for the upper administration. The point is that the changes need to come about both within the administration and at the P&T committee level.

  9. On point 6: my department chair made a point of assigning me (and all the other Asst Profs) a mentor outside of my research area. That way we’re more likely to seek out additional unofficial mentoring from more closely-associated colleagues on our own, and we get more diversity of advice and opinion. Personally, I think it’s a great idea. I’ve only just arrived, though, so ask me how I feel about it in 2 years…

  10. “I stand by my “cover your butt” comment for the upper administration.”

    Odyssey — I object to your characterization because it implies that legal action is the reason, and, I think there are lots of instances in which administration acts on a CYA basis. I think, especially these days, universities have significant legal advice, and they think hard about to make themselves safe from financial harm. But, I don’t think that denial of tenure is one of them — the main reason being that rarely, very rarely, are legal challenges to denying tenure successful, and the act of denying tenure to one person, is more likely to increase litigation risk (than to decrease it). Your scenario, that the administration is denying tenure to person A, because it might increase litigation risk from person B is just unlikely. They’re more likely to do it for other reasons. And, the fact that they might do so certainly doesn’t justify a department (or P&T committee) from supporting an applicant anyway.

    (The statement that the application has to pass muster through out the system is important, though)

  11. Presumably they deny tenure mainly because they don’t want to commit to 20+ years of salary for someone who’s not going to give them a monetary return. It’s just good business.

  12. Neurolover:
    I think, especially these days, universities have significant legal advice, and they think hard about to make themselves safe from financial harm. But, I don’t think that denial of tenure is one of them — the main reason being that rarely, very rarely, are legal challenges to denying tenure successful, and the act of denying tenure to one person, is more likely to increase litigation risk (than to decrease it).

    I think there’s a misunderstanding here. I was referring to changing the ground rules for tenure. There is a great reluctance to do this because you potentially open yourself up to issues involving people denied tenure just prior to changing the rules.

    Whimple:
    Presumably they deny tenure mainly because they don’t want to commit to 20+ years of salary for someone who’s not going to give them a monetary return. It’s just good business.

    I think that’s true and has been the rationale for some time, but I also think the Academy is beginning to rethink what it takes to get tenure. As you pointed out in a comment on a different post, it costs upwards of $1M to hire someone and bring them to the point of tenure. That’s a lot of money. And who’s to say that someone who just misses the funding line in today’s funding climate is not going to have a long and well-funded career once funding levels rise a little?

  13. Whimple: “Presumably they deny tenure mainly because they don’t want to commit to 20+ years of salary for someone who’s not going to give them a monetary return. It’s just good business.”

    I’m curious to know (and perhaps someone here can enlighten me) how this monetary calculation fits into the tenure decision for other fields, e.g. English, History, Political Science, etc. Certainly, the faculty in these areas are expected to publish, but my impression was that tenure was based on scholarship rather than royalties. Anyone else have information about this? It’s obviously part of today’s business model of doing science that funding is important, but it would seem foolhardy for universities not to make some allowances for funding climate in evaluating tenure packages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s