Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thoughts on third year review

My boy-was-this-way-too-long third year review is finally and mercifully winding down. There is one final meeting with the dean and the chair and then we can put this one in the books. I have a home here for the next few years, but I'll also have to put in a lot of hard work if I want to be here after that. It's not the outcome I was hoping for, but I'm focusing on the positive and trying to figure out ways to improve and to get the help I need (ironically, it's the teaching that is dragging me down overall) so that I can be here---if I choose to do so---for many years to come.

Looking back on the process now, I can say that I was not prepared for how stressful and how difficult this process would be for me, and that the process was not at all like what it was presented to be by the senior faculty and administration. Going into this process, I felt very confident; coming out of it, I feel demoralized and with little of my self-confidence intact.

There are several reasons for this. First, I feel like the process was misrepresented from the start. It was sold to us as a checkpoint, a chance to gain valuable feedback from senior colleagues, a chance to reflect on the first couple of years on the tenure track and assess where you are and where you want to be and how you are getting there from here. The administration, the senior faculty, your students, everyone wants you to succeed, and will do whatever they can to help you do that.

That sounds wonderful! The reality, though, was quite different. Feedback only helps if your colleagues are willing to be honest with you about what's working and what isn't. The whole system, in fact, is predicated upon this. Yet I found that my colleagues would say one thing to me, and a totally different thing behind closed doors. It's hard to take advantage of feedback if it's not freely given, or not given at all. It's hard to correct weaknesses when the weaknesses are only spelled out to the tenure and promotion committee and not to the candidate herself.

Second, I have been extremely proactive about seeking out mentoring and advice from my senior colleagues. I have been burned in the past before by "falling through the cracks", and going into this job I was determined not to let the same thing happen. I have taken them to coffee, made a point of seeking them out after they observed my classes and asked for specific feedback, adopted one senior colleague as a formal mentor, and taken the time to learn who knows what and gone to them for advice on various things. All of this work has earned me....nothing. I have done everything that a junior faculty person should do, and I was still blindsided by the outcomes of my review. This should not have happened. But it did.

Third, after this whole experience I feel less sure of my department's desire to see me succeed here. I trust my senior colleagues much less than I did going into this year. I feel as though they have let me down, by not respecting me enough to be honest with me. I will need their help in order to get to where I need to be, but to be honest I'm not sure if I trust them at this point to help me do that. And that's a really icky feeling to have--that those who should be looking out for you, aren't.

So as not to be totally negative, I do think that I learned a lot from this experience. I got a better idea of which students I'm reaching best with my teaching style and which are not receiving it as effectively. I've had some personal insights about the persona I project, and how I unwittingly project totally different personas even within the same class. The things I have to change about my teaching, now that I understand what they are, should not be that hard to tackle, and in fact I already have some great ideas on addressing a few of them (that should yield the biggest payoff, too). And I finally have some clarity about "how much research", which is a big relief.

The next few years should be interesting. While the review was disappointing (and somewhat infuriating) overall, I am determined to prove to myself and to my school that I can do better. I am excited to get back into the classroom and try out some of the insights and ideas I now have, and to figure out how to better structure my classes. I'm less excited about dealing with my department, and I suspect that I will have to seek out advice from outside the department in how to deal with them and how to make sure that I get the feedback and mentoring that I need.

The million dollar question, of course, is do I want to stay around long enough for that?


Scooter said...

Brown-nosing? Stumbling about? Desiring to sit at the feet of the masters?

When I read your post, it seemed clear that the intent was the third, but when I read the parts of what you did (how you did it), the other thoughts came into my head. I don't know if these were how things were interpreted.

It's late, I'm tired and not sure if I have real clarity. Do you have a mentor whom you truly trust? Talk to them.

Part of my take on this is that you're a woman in a male culture. Sharing and many other "feminine" traits are often seen as weakness. I have a suspicion that this is a big factor (and I recognize that I may also be way off base - I'm trying to read into your post, from a world far outside - if you feel I'm way wrong, just ignore). Maybe you need to "man up" in your personal style. Act tougher, behave tougher, don't share. Maybe WWCED should become your motto (CE is Clint Eastwood).

Another academic blogger said...

I am posting anonymously to avoid any chance of someone figuring out who I am. I am also a woman in a male-dominated discipline.

Reading your post, I could indentify with so much of what you said. I just finished my 4th year on the tenure track and am feeling quite frustrated about how my own department is evaluating me. I also have that feeling (well- actual knowledge) that my senior colleagues are superficially supportive, but in the P&T meeting have different agendas. Part of my frustrations are related to my husband, who is in the same department. I was hired, then a new faculty line was added for him (he was a spousal hire). When we arrived, we knew there could be some resentment about his hiring, but figured after we'd been here a few years, people would appreciate the good work he does and it would not be an issue. Apparently, we were wrong. He has few allies on the P&T committee and several enemies (who are nice to his face). Even our chair (who was not chair when we were hired) recently wrote in an email to another senior colleague that he thought spousal hires are unfair. The lack of support for my husband makes me feel as if I am also not valued- if he is denied tenure, I will also be leaving, whether I get tenure or not. There's more I could explain, but this comment is getting too long already! I'll just finish by saying that I have also tried to do all the right things- attending optional functions, volunteering for committees, etc. and it has also not earned me anything (not even the optional part of my pay raise). You are not alone and I feel your frustration. Good luck with things- I feel a little better knowing I'm not alone, at least!

pjm said...

Happens I know a woman-heavy CS department which I suspect is short-handed... ;-)

(Not that I have any idea what their hiring plans, if any, might be.)

Ianqui said...

I'm sorry to hear this, Jane. My own 3rd year review was closed out yesterday with the final letter from the dean congratulating me. I hope that your letter has the same ring for you, when you get it.

Now that you've passed the review, though, you're in a better place for looking around, should you want it. At least the 3rd year review has had one beneficial outcome: now you really know what you're dealing with in your department and YOU can decide how you want to treat it.

skookumchick said...

So so so sorry, Jane! Mr. S is coming up to his 3rd year review and we are both worried about it, especially as his P&T committee apparently uses "code" that appears they have minor concerns about you but really signals to subsequent years or committees or deans or whatever that you are unsuitable. Plus someone in his department didn't get tenure this year so it makes everything very jittery. Any other advice for someone who is going up for their 3rd year review? Do you feel some (lots?) of what happened to you in the review a happened because you are a woman in a male-dom field? (Is "more senior colleagues" code for "old boys' club?)

Good luck Jane. Hope you can take a little break now...

PhD Mom said...

Thanks Jane for you post! I am extremely sorry to hear about the way that you have been treated, and I think that your response underscores the problems that women face in STEM disciplines. Don't you sometimes feel like you are in high school again? I just want to do good work and yet it feels like a popularity show. Anyway, as I am getting ready to start my first year, I was wondering what advice you might have for people just starting out. Is there anything that you would do differently now, knowing what you know?

Alfred Thompson said...

The rule in industry is that no one should be surprised at a review. The person doing the review has an obligation to make sure that feedback - clear and honest feedback - is given on a regualr basis. I guess this is one of those things that is different in the academic world. Perhaps that is because the review is more of a peer review? I don't know. But it seems to me that it is a rough thing to go through for you and for others.
I'm still getting over that there is a university that cares that much about teaching. OK that is over kill. I know a couple of universities that care but frankly many do not seem to. Those that do care often have a whole different track for people who teach but not do research. I'm not so sure that the people who do research are judged very much on their teaching everywhere.

Jane said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! As many of you have pointed out/asked, I do actually think that this is related to the culture of STEM fields and that at least some of this comes from the lone-woman, male-dominated field dynamic. There also seems to be larger campus-wide culture issues for women and minorities too; I'm not sure how common or prevalent that is elsewhere, but the more I talk to women outside my department, the more I see elements of my story being played out in their cases as well. It's a problem. Talking helps, at least to document that these issues are somewhat widespread.

Scooter--I don't think my seeking advice was misconstrued as brownnosing, if that helps. I really just think my colleagues are clueless in how to give feedback effectively.

academic blogger--thanks for checking in, and I hope things get better for you and your spouse too. It stinks to be in a situation where you are clearly not valued, and I hope your department sees the light soon.

pjm--um, keep me posted on that, ok? :)

ianqui--congrats on your successful review! You are right--having the lay of the land is helpful in plotting my future course, so that's one good thing out of this.

skookumchick--I'd advise Mr. S to take advantage of any overtures his colleagues make to him--seek them out, be very proactive in asking for feedback, make sure they are honest with him in giving feedback, etc. Not that that always works (clearly), but it's the best strategy you have. Also, read any written feedback (student evals, etc) carefully, and ask senior colleagues for help in interpreting this stuff. Good luck to him! (I may elaborate on this more in a separate post.)

phd mom--I think you just gave me a post idea!! I'll try to post something on that in the next few days. thanks!

Alfred, yes, my school is...different...that way. :) I appreciate being at a place where teaching is valued, but at the same time there's so much mystery surrounding what exactly constitutes good teaching--a lot of junior faculty struggle with it. I have a better idea now, at least, but the first few years I did feel like I was fumbling in the dark. And you raise a good point--sometimes I wonder how much of this is due to people being uncomfortable criticizing their peers--it's easier to just say "you're doing fine" and write down the tough stuff. But that doesn't do any good, so I wonder why people persist in doing that. It's annoying, to say the least!

Dr. Shellie said...

I'm sorry the news was bad... but are you sure that you should really believe their evaluation of you? Are these the same people who aren't taking you seriously as a researcher? If so, you might take their criticism of your teaching with a grain of salt, no?

Katie said...

I was a bit infuriated for you! It's times like this that I look at faculty positions - all the effort and time and work you do - and shake my head, thinking I doubt I could pull it off. I've noticed a tendency toward superficial support with little to back it up in grad school and beyond. It's frustrating to say the least.

But! Even from your blog I can tell that you're amazing. So you'll be great no matter where you end up. I just wanted to wag my finger at your review and give a little "Yay, Jane!" in support of you. :)

What Now? said...

Jane, Ugh -- I'm so sorry that your third-year review has been such an unpleasant experience. My school had a 2nd- and 4th-year review process, which I think worked better; my 2nd-year review was something like yours sounded, but I got the chance to defend my research against the nay-sayers in the department, and we really got to clear the air; then my 4th-year review process was really positive, which helped fuel me toward the tenure application line. But I did have the same experience in my first review of realizing that my department and I were on quite different pages in a few areas -- good to know, but discouraging to find out.

Male CS Teacher said...

Jane, I'm moved by your post and by all the comments in support. I know it's probably small consolation, but in a big-picture-kind-of-way I thought I'd share this. I am a male High School CS teacher and I really try my best get girls involved in CS and to stay with it. The classes are, of course, male dominated (and also geek dominated), so even on a very superficial level I want girls in the class to keep myself sane! At the beginning of the year I have a special conference with the girl (or girls, if I'm lucky) in the class where I kind of lay the women-in-CS issue on the line. I really try to encourage them and tell them to try to ignore the male crap that they will encounter. I hope this helps the girls, sometimes I don't know. But I just wanted to let you know that there are men out there who support women in CS and I know they exist at the university level too...somewhere. Keep fighting the good fight, and show them you can do it!

Jane said...

Thanks, Dr. Shellie, Katie, What Now, and male CS teacher! WN, I'm hoping that this is a really harsh wake-up call for both me and my department; I'm glad to hear that yours worked out after the disappointing initial review. Dr. Shellie, unfortunately it seems like the department has a lot of say in whether or not I'm renewed or tenured (and I'm learning that there's a "code" here, too...someone brought that up earlier), so even if I disagree with their assessment, their assessment trumps mine or anyone else's. :( Male CS teacher, sounds like you are fighting the good fight too (and an extremely difficult one), and I salute you! Keep up the good work and the mentoring of your women students--you rock!

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Oh, gosh, somehow I missed this last week.

Sounds like a stressful situation, Jane. I'm so sorry.

One thing I'll toss into the mix -- not sure if this is true where you are, but it is true at the two schools where I've worked. I've seen departments drive people out in the pre-tenure years and/or knock them down a few pegs and make them feel inadequate and sure that they won't get tenure, but sometimes during the actual tenure year things shift a bit. The department could ultimately have pressure to tenure you, especially if you meet the requirements for tenure. Else people are going to wonder why they were not capable of mentoring you to tenure -- and you being a woman in a male dom field could make that look even worse for them. If you flip the "woman couldn't cut it for tenure" bit you get "we couldn't support a woman as junior faculty and mentor her to tenure" -- and if there is any institutional pressure re: gender balance, you've got an issue. Obviously this isn't the case everywhere, but I did see one instance of someone getting tenure this year (who I don't think deserved it, even) for this reason.

Anyway, sounds like you've got a better awareness of your situation, which is helpful even if it isn't what you would like. Hope things turn out as you wish them.

c said...

people are going to wonder why they were not capable of mentoring you to tenure -- and you being a woman in a male dom field could make that look even worse for them

Love it! Thanks profgrrrl (and Jane)! I need to remember this one. Re-framing ala George Lakoff.