How do you mentor junior faculty?

Being in a promotion and tenure meeting for the first time, one learns things.

Encourage junior faculty to publish on their own — get that dissertation work out, but also start steering a more independent course from the diss advisor.  (This may vary by field.)  If in a field where multiple authors is the norm, it’s important to have papers authored with different people (as in, not just the dissertation director!).

Book-article-book-article: make a choice and stick to it.  If you can, steer the juniors towards projects that will pay off faster.  If they do choose the book option, make sure they have a realistic idea of how long (very long!) it takes for the book to be published and all the obstacles that may come in their way through no fault of their own.

Tell them it gets easier after the first semester, and definitely after the first year.  It does.  But also don’t let them think it’s ok to do nothing their first year.   Yes, designing and teaching new courses is important, but often showing improvement in teaching over time is good enough to meet the teaching requirements for tenure (and you will improve).  Giving up that precious year of getting work done and getting your name out may make your research journey more difficult in the future.  Try to help junior faculty set up a research pipeline.  Research must start on day one, or you’ll never find a way to fit it in.

Share your strategies for recruiting, hiring, and managing students, if applicable.

Strongly encourage them to write.  It turns out some of our junior faculty didn’t want to “bother” those of us with tenure, until we explicitly told them that we wanted them to come to us with questions.  We said we’d be happy to read their drafts and give feedback about writing, journals to target, etc., and they said, Really? Great!

Here at Grumpy Rumblings we’re big fans of group accountability and research meetings.  Schedule writing dates where a group will get together to work in writing for a few hours in a coffeeshop.  Or start a weekly research group or writing group where one person presents each week and gets feedback at whatever stage they need.

Talk up their work when you’re out at conferences or giving talks.  Or while talking to administrators and other important people at your university.

Tell stories about how many times your papers and grants got rejected before they finally hit.  Show them all your tips and tricks for minimizing grading time.  Share rubrics, standard email responses, syllabus rules, “secret” resources on your campus, and the names of who to ask for special favors.  Sometimes there’s unofficial money that can be used for research, travel, paying a student, etc., and you just have to ask for it.

Model decent work-life balance, if you can.  My colleagues know that I don’t work on Saturdays, ever.  You might have different rules.  Talk about your hobbies, maybe.  Tell people who are new to town where they can sign up for a belly-dancing class.  Don’t ever assume that having a baby pre-tenure is incompatible with tenure.  Or that not having a partner is incompatible with staying in a small town.  (Or any number of wrong and -ist things that are even worse.)  And stop any of your senior colleagues who suggest such a thing, especially behind closed doors in important meetings.  They are wrong and their beliefs can end up being self-fulfilling.

Defend them from student complaints, and let them know what’s going on.  Share tips to avoid the problems.

Encourage junior faculty to come to you before they take on any service activity, and steer them away from useless ones.  Someone wants you to be on a committee with contentious members that doesn’t improve your working conditions or get you a publication?  Say no!

Take them out for drinks and food; tenured people often have more money than juniors.  Help them find a cat-sitter.

Give the gift of books by Ms. Mentor.  Celebrate every time they get an article accepted.  (If you tend towards jealousy– remember, at least after you’re tenured, colleagues who are more productive than you are more likely to benefit your career than hurt it.)  Cheer their progress.  Don’t let them disappear.


Savvy readers, what did we miss?

10 Responses to “How do you mentor junior faculty?”

  1. Miser Mom Says:

    Go to meetings! Go to meetings! (Actually, on my list of advice for young faculty, that particular piece of advice is on there12 times, for 12 different reasons — to meet people in your field who can help you, to get your name out there, to remind you that there is life beyond the classes you teach, etc etc).

    I just got elected to our colleges promotion/tenure committee, so I’ll be learning about this shebang from a whole new angle soon. At any rate, I love your list.

  2. OMDG Says:

    Don’t be afraid to speak up. Your opinion is worth something too! Network with people in your department and at meetings.

  3. Flavia Says:

    Give them models: for book proposals, grant applications, etc.

    Discuss the relative merits of different publication venues–when it makes sense to shoot for a top journal/book publisher, when to settle for a mid-tier one; what kinds of specialized audiences might be appropriate for certain work; which journals are eager for new work; etc.

  4. Flavia Says:

    Oh, and relatedly: encourage them to seek out grants, fellowships, and so forth–in the humanities, junior people often don’t do this, and they can be clueless about what opportunities there are. The $$ are usually small (I’m thinking of month-long fellowships at rare books libraries, or funded special workshops or seminars through the NEH and that kind of thing), but in addition to assisting in their research, such opportunities help build a track record for bigger things down the road. They also help them to connect to other people doing similar work, look great on a vita, and generally get their name & work out there when it’s still in process.

  5. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    How long does it take to produce an academic book?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Somewhere between 1.6 and 20 years

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hahaha (at #2’s answer). It really is, “It depends.”

      But we have also learned that it takes less time for an established researcher to get to the published book stage than it does for a fresh out of graduate school new prof. The reason for this is that established researchers can start with a prospectus and maybe a chapter or two, and sometimes just with an idea, and they can lock a publisher in at that point and then proceed to write the book. Junior researchers, we have learned, basically have to start with a full manuscript to be taken seriously– they write the prospectus *after* the bulk of the manuscript is written.

      Then they send to a publisher, who sits on it and decides to reject or move to the next stage. Then to another publisher who sits on it and decides to reject or move on to the next stage, etc. Just like with articles. And sometimes they move on to the next stage and the next and everything is going swimmingly and then the publisher decides to stop because they’re no longer publishing that kind of book, or the editor changes (or dies) or they decide to send out for additional reviews, and one of those reviews is asking for the impossible, or the press loses something vital, or or or… There’s a lot of horror stories out there.

  6. Accountability now | To be tenured… Says:

    […] recently read this post  which has TONS of great tips, but the one that most strikes a cord with me at this time is the […]

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