Junior Faculty Strategies (part 1)

Sep 20 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

One early, early lesson I learned was that most everyone, faculty or private sector, has to do service. Service is (very broadly) the stuff you do to help keep the institution going. Or the discipline going. Or the society going. It's writing grant reviews and paper reviews writ large. Nobody pays for it, yet it's necessary professional work.

My Famous, Very Important thesis advisor used to crow with delight that he avoided such things as they wasted his (incredibly important) time. Yet when you find people who knew him in his less famous youth, it wasn't always quite that way. Nice to know.

Part of this lesson, articulated best by my current (and very good) chair is that taking the bull by the horns, also known as being proactive, makes service more tolerable. Figure out what you want to do, and then say this to the person making the decsions about what you will do, and what you assignments will be.  My chair's view is that someone doing something they choose, they want, is going to be more successful for the department, for the individual, for everyone concerned, than forced or assigned to something they don't like. I admire chairs that get it right. They have a delicate job of balancing tasks that need to be done with people who might be able to do them while supporting the ones that are good enough to do things outside that list. Bad ones don't give a hoot, and care only about how it looks outside (i.e. The former chair from hell).

So, one thing for which I have always volunteered, even as a senior person who could tell the chair exactly from whence he has emanated, is tenure/professional development for jr faculty. Since arriving at almost-MRU I've made changes, some of which I made at my former MRU place, observing the success of such changes. Most things involve meeting more often with jr faculty, giving them more feedback, and showing them successful versions of other people's CV's and tenure files. Some of these changes I get credit for. Others, well there's that familiar odor of credit going to the biggest dick on the committee. In this case, this committee, I am glad that there are no dicks, but the guys often still get the credit for the work. It's just a bad smell. (aside: I truly have reached the point in my life where I Just Don't Care. Or, as folks around here say: there are no more fucks to give. My reward is seeing people move through the system, good people who need help in figuring it out, and in the end are successful. It's nice being a BlueHair).

What I don't get, are the junior faculty who ignore our  advice. It's very much "our" and "us", as I've worked towards the committee speaking with one voice. I've finished a set (of about 6) meetings, and during the course (this is the mid-year meeting, another innovation, twice a year, mid-year  is the one NOT before annual reviews, much more informal) of these meetings things that happened to us, the committee:

1) jr faculty did not bother to update their CV and file, despite being told to multiple times.

2) faculty who in discussions, go off on tangents, taking time to trash other junior faculty as "destroying their science". Really?

3) Faculty who out and out lied to us about what they have done (do you think we don't know? really?).

In general, it boils down to how you, Mx. Jr. Faculty, take our advice. I love it when your argue back with us. I love it when you say: this is what I think for these reasons. We (the committee) have changed our minds as a result of such discussions and that goes into the letter we write that goes intro your folder.

But to sit there and nod, every six months for 4 years, saying of course, and then absolutely ignore our advice? Makes no sense to me. Let alone what will happen at tenure time.


9 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    How DARE they disrespect your authoritah!??!!??

    More seriously....why? What is the issue? Are they really unwilling, or unable? Do they think that all that could ever matter is X (grant? Glam? Ten papers?) so therefore everything else you tell them to do is irrelevant?

    • potnia theron says:

      I don't feel disrespected. The committee has more or less evolved a "here's our view, take it or leave it, its your head on the chopping block" attitude.

      Different reasons, different cases. Some think that they know best, and we are merely olde fartes with an ax to grind. Some believe they have a powerful protector, and have not yet fully assimilated how Tenure Works. Some on the glam-track, and that publishing elsewhere (one of our consistent pieces of advice) is beneath them.

  • Anon says:

    Does your feedback on this panel mirror reviewer feedback you would give when looking over the biosketch of an investigator for an NIH grant?

    • potnia theron says:

      good question. yes & no.

      No, because there are different goals, and different criteria for funding vs. tenure. Teaching & service are irrelevant to proposal evaluation, but they do play a role, here, in tenure.

      yes, because the foundation of a successful research program is consistent across these things. For example, concerns about scientific and intellectual independence exist in both.

      • Anon says:

        How about evaluating mentorship?

        Specifically on a NRSA, there is not a great way to scope this out. This has been a gray zone on my first two postdocs in the lab (both came back with critiques of insufficient mentorship history, even with a senior Co-mentor on the second try) and both have now gone on to senior scientist jobs in regulatory and industry. Been relatively hard to find a gauge for this, I have a postdoc candidate interested in applying for one as she starts and I am wondering if mid-tenure review might be a good place to test the waters.

        • potnia theron says:

          We do discuss and evaluate mentorship. As for the next comment, these things vary across departments and institutions.

  • Newbie(ish) PI says:

    I'll give you my take on why some junior faculty might be ignoring at least some of your advice. In my case, I am right now doing absolutely nothing but writing grants and managing my lab. I'm not writing manuscripts. I'm not teaching any extra lectures. I'm not serving on any more committees. I'm not serving on study sections. I'm not even reviewing any papers. I've done all of these things and have lists upon lists of all of these activities. What I don't have is a five-year national grant, and I will not get tenure until I do. So what's the point of doing anything else?

    • potnia theron says:

      Tenure standards vary at institutions. At mine, consistent (even if low level) publication is as important, if not more so than NIH funding. People with R01 funding and without pubs have been denied tenure in the past.

      This committee, which is about advising people as to what to expect down the road, would not be doing its job if it did not point this out to our junior faculty.

      I encourage you to talk to people (if you do not have a mentoring committee, or some such thing, independent of the dept chair) who know at your institution.

  • Ola says:

    I applaud your pro-active attitude in trying to get these things adapted at your institution. In my place, there's some prof-dev activity, but it's mostly dealt with via institute-wide programs such as the CTSI, and there's a big variance in how different departments choose to push their juniors toward such programs.

    In my opinion (and it is just my opinion - after all that's what the internet is for, right?), I've never been a big fan of "grace" periods. I did a lot of teaching as a post-doc, and was ready to hit the ground running as a junior faculty (lectures already prepared). I therefore have issues when Jr. faculty bemoan "teaching loads" and want guaranteed protected time. What they're failing to realize is the clock is ticking, it takes 2-3 years to build up a resume of good teaching evaluations. If you're not doing major teaching unti your 3rd or 4th year, you're behind the curve. Also TBH, it's the one way to guarantee access to graduate students - you can't expect to staff your lab' with people who just happen to have heard about you or (worse) were directed toward you by a senior person. If you give a good lecture and a kid comes up at the end and asks to work in your lab - that's a keeper!

    The same goes for comittees and service. Actively asking to be excused from this stuff early on, is a sure fire way to build a reputation in the institution as being non-cooperative. It also means you miss out on all the other shit-talking that happens in committees, all the gossip and politics and other stuff that it's essential to be plugged into. That way, when big stuff happens (for example the chair resigns), you're not thrown for a loop because you heard about it last month already.

Leave a Reply