Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jane the advice columnist

In the comments to my recent post about the third-year review gone awry, both skookumchick and PhD Mom asked if I had any advice for new faculty and/or faculty going into mid-tenure review. Knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently?

Well, first, I probably wouldn't have taken the job if I had known what I was in for...but that gets more into questions of "what questions should I ask on an interview, and of whom", which is an entirely different post. But let's remove that possibility, and assume that I would have taken this job anyway, known warts and all. In that case, here's what I've found to be most valuable, and/or realize now was infinitely valuable, in no particular order.

* Forming a network of women, both senior and junior, outside my department. The junior women are vital because some of them have become very close girlfriends, and because it's been such a sanity check knowing that the crazy things that happen to me are also happening to my female junior colleagues in other disciplines. The senior women are vital because *they can be advocates*. They can lean on people and get things done and help you get perspective in a way your male colleagues can't or won't give you.

* Identifying at least one trusted colleague in your department who can and will be straight with you. This person will help you navigate the tricky politics. S/he will, ideally, also let you know early on if you are screwing up. This is one thing I thought I had that I clearly didn't, and it definitely hurt me.

* Be persistent about obtaining mentoring and feedback from colleagues. Again, this was something that I was actively doing that didn't end up helping me, but I still maintain that this is the best thing you can do for yourself. If you are seen as someone who is eager to learn and to improve and can take criticism, that is valuable.

* Find and use available resources. If your school is big on teaching, make friends with the learning and teaching center people, utilize classroom observation programs, etc. Even if you think your teaching is just fine, do it anyway. If your school is big on research, make friends with the grants people, and/or a really prolific researcher in your field or in a related field. Figure out how your school can help you do your job. Because often, the resources are there.

* Document, document, document. Make sure your chair knows what you're up to. Make sure your colleagues know when you've published something, or when you're serving on an interesting and important committee. Meet with your chair once a year. Keep a folder of every little thing you've done that might count for tenure.

Those are the main ones. I would love to hear suggestions from others in the comments! Anything you would add that I've left out? Anything here you disagree with?


Wanna Be PhD said...

Make sure that your colleagues know when you've published something: how? By sending them email? By giving them a copy of the paper?

Jane said...

Good question! If you have a colleague whose work is close to yours (or whom you consider a mentor), giving them a copy is a good idea. Otherwise, an email is fine; they can always ask you for a copy later if they want. I usually post a copy of the paper on my bulletin board, so that my colleagues can glance through it. (Students will sometimes do this too, while waiting for me.)

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Along the lines of getting to know senior women, I'd say it helps to have allies in the Dean's office, too.

Jane said...

Definitely! excellent point, profgrrrrl!

Miriam said...

1) I'm at a school where Teaching Counts. I made sure that I had documented classroom observations from my colleagues every year, as well as letters from students.

2) Continuing the documentation theme: if service is important, get letters spelling out your contributions to any university-wide committees you happened to be on.

flybigd said...

A must-read: the May 23 issue of Chronicle of Higher Education article "Formula for Equality." Lots of discussion about what female academics face in their science departments.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked to read this in your recommendations:

Forming a network of women, both senior and junior, outside my department.

This is clearly sexist and divisional in intent. For example, if males were to write, "find males, both senior and junior, outside of the department" they would be called sexist, patriarchal oriented men. While I agree that there is an argument to finding other people who share your own experiences, e.g. motherhood, etc., I find it shocking that you so clearly tell women to side with women. I do understand that there are less women in the sciences, and this might constitute a problem for some women, but you might explicitly address this in your advice so as to not sound so sexist. Although I wouldn't agree with that argument if it were offered: if a women is trying to get tenure in a highly male environment, she might try to secure friendships with men instead of women, which woudl counteract the argument that women of science should try even harder to find women of science.

If multiculturalism and egalitarianism is to work in the academy, narratives of "finding your own" should end. Although I think that this proves, to me at least, that women form their own exclusive groups to gain political power unqually. Ultimatly, when women gain political power (which they are the dominant undergraduate population and near even in most PhD programs, which willl affect the structure of universities in the future), they will not relinquish the reigns of power. But then again, this brings out questions of elites, leadership, and the biological structure of society that egalitarian narratives are meant to swipe by the wayside. Nonetheless, without questioning the structure of todays universities or political systems, I find your arguments offensive, illogical, and sophmoric.

Jane said...

Miriam, those are excellent suggestions! I'm not sure if I can get anyone in my department to commit to writing down anything, but it's worth a shot. I'll try that and see how it goes. I am going to have a special student observer in one of my classes in the Fall, and I'm interested in hearing the feedback from that student too.

Flygirl, thanks for the link! It does sound like a must-read.

Anonymous, I'd suggest you go back and read my original post about how my review went horribly, horribly awry in my male-dominated department before you start telling me with whom I should and should not be aligning myself. :) Trust me, us womenfolk are in no danger of usurping the white male power any time soon. If that offends you, tough cookies--rather than seeing it as "divisional", try seeing it as "supportive", because that's what it is, and it's no different from what men have been doing for a loooong time now in the workplace and in academia.

skookumchick said...

Thanks for the advice, Jane. I appreciate the post. :-)

Anonymous said...

External visibility.

I have seen a few cases in which being recognized as doing important research by people outside your own university but in your field made the entire case. That is the key thing to achieve. Teaching, service, all those things were much less relevant once the external visibility hurdle was reached (at least on the margin). Of course no one would make that argument quite so cut and dried. But that is the way the discussion went.

I work at a research focussed school-and being viewed as good by credible outsiders has a lot of weight. If your colleagues hear from other researchers at conferences and seminars ‘Jane is doing great work.’ they take that really seriously (at least in my field). Keep track of which people outside your school like your stuff.

So, external networking is really helpful, and much more important than I had ever realized.

This is based on my experiences at a school in which research is the focus, where everyone at the school agrees that research should be the focus. Probably a lot of cross-school variation in this.

Focus on anything that helps you improve your research visbility while letting you to reach the teaching and serivce requirements. Doing work for the group? Designing new programs? etc. Not so much. Those things seem to be easily forgotten relative to that external recognition. Even teaching ratings (the only way that teaching ends up being measured where I work) help, but much less than research visibility.

Early in your career, there is much less output to evaluate, and so I think that the external recognition carries a whole lot of weight.

Of course you gotta meet the bar on service and teaching, but that is lower.

another anon

(sorry if this is obvious to everyone. But it wasn’t to me when I was mapping out strategy for myself.)

Clyde said...

One of the things I'm ambivalent about blogging is having to deal with comments such as shocked anonymous'. Not so much that there are people who think and say such things, but just dreading having to deal with hostile and unhelpful comments on top of the already hostile and unhelpful environment - the additional emotional drain. I've been appreciating (and learning from) your calm and patient responses to those comments. And maybe I'm also being gradually desensitized because I found myself being amused by shocked anonymous' rather amateurish attempt (imo) at a "turning the tables" analogy. Your blog is a service on so many levels and in so many ways!

Ianqui said...

Sigh. I'm so tired of people commenting anonymously when they want to attack a blogger. Even if that person doesn't have a blog of his (probably?) own, I'd bet he only comments to trash someone.

Back to the topic on hand. I don't mean to be cynical, but it seems to me like one way to ensure a good 3rd year review is to get a big grant. That insulates you like nothin' else.

Amelie said...

Thanks for all this, Jane! Do you think that the points you thought you had, but did not, hurt you more than those issues you did not expect?

Jane said...

amelie, it's hard to say, because in my mind the two were really strongly intertwined. And I think most of the unexpected things came out of the areas where my colleagues told me I was doing "just fine". But it's a really good question!

Ianqui, don't think I'm not thinking about that for tenure time! :)

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