What to Say to New Faculty Members
In mentoring new faculty members, there are common themes that make ideal conversations. The following list, adapted from Mary Deane Sorcinelli (2004), can serve as a foundation for initiating conversations with your mentee.
- You are a winner. You were hired because faculty in the department or school had confidence in you and your promise. We fully expect you to be successful, and we have an investment in your success. It’s good to reach out, ask questions, make connections, get help, and partner with senior faculty.
- Figure out what matters and what does not matter. Consult widely with your colleagues and get a variety of opinions; create the profile of the successful faculty member in your mind. Consult what is written about expectations for those in your position, whether you are on the tenure track or in a fixed-term position.
- Make a plan. Establish manageable goals for yourself and review your plan with your mentor(s), chair or dean, and others who advise you. Set out specific goals for the first, second, and third years. In making the plan, play to your strengths but match those strengths to your unit’s goals. If your unit has a strategic plan, be sure to read that document. If no strategic plan exists, ask about the current direction and how you fit into that plan. (What were you hired to do? What do colleagues expect you to contribute to the unit’s teaching and research program?)
- Set priorities and manage your time. You have to multi-task, but you also need to be clear about what must get done to move your career forward. Complete priority work first. Some people block out a period of time each day for their priority work, even if just an hour. Find out what works for you.
- Pace yourself. You do not have to accomplish everything in the first year. Give yourself time to get oriented and get started. Build a firm foundation for both your teaching and your research.
- Understand the tenure and renewal processes. The promotion, tenure, and renewal processes should not be mysterious. You can and should understand what is expected of you and what kind of documentation you need to provide at each stage of the process. Ask for and review previous successful packages for annual and third-year reviews and for tenure and promotion in your unit.
- Think mentors, plural. Even if you have a designated mentor, identify your own group of junior and senior professors who will help you in research, teaching, and getting to know the campus and the discipline. Include faculty outside your school or department to whom you can talk about sensitive issues and people outside the university who can give you perspectives on the discipline. Remember that peers, especially other junior faculty who have been at the university a few years more than you, can provide valuable support and advice.
- Connect to the faculty and life of your department or school. Be visible. Attend colloquia. Get comments on your work from senior faculty. Invite people to observe and comment on your teaching. Attend faculty meetings, and find out how new faculty are expected to participate in those meetings (e.g., where is your unit on the continuum of “new faculty members should be seen and not heard” vs. “new faculty members should be active and vocal”?)
- Have a life. Take care of yourself and your life outside of work. This might mean regular exercise, time with friends, a night out, a short vacation trip, time with family, or time alone. The key is to maintain your energy and your spirits. Being an early-career professor is very demanding, but it should not be depleting. The goal, after all, is to have a productive and fulfilling life and career.