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Junior Faculty Mentoring
The expectations most universities have of a new assistant professor are often daunting (e.g., Sorcinelli, 2000; Berbe- ret, 2008). He/she is expected, among many things, to obtain funding, conduct research, publish papers, teach undergrad- uates and/or graduate students, mentor graduate students (and possibly postdocs), train undergraduates, advise, serve on various department committees, possibly participate in campus-level activities, and provide service to the scientific community.
The trouble is that, very often, the new assistant professor will have been prepared for very few of these roles. Indeed, even when the individual is trained to do excellent research, he/she may not have had opportunities to set up a lab, hire (and fire) personnel, organize a lab group, etc. And, although the new faculty member may have been a teaching assistant, very often there has been no formal training in pedagogy.
Because new assistant professors lack much of the skill set required or at least have had few opportunities to practice much of the skills, the academic position often becomes overwhelming and the faculty member may suffer and pos- sibly fail. Thus, many institutions, faced with the possibil- ity of failure by an assistant professor in whom they have invested a good deal of startup funds and time, have begun to realize that requiring mentoring of junior faculty by more experienced senior colleagues is imperative to help ensure success and granting of tenure. These mentoring efforts in- clude new faculty programs, online resources (e.g., https://, and the assignment or selection of a se- nior mentor.
Although beyond the scope of this article, mentoring for ju- nior faculty is complex and has some interesting “twists,” most notably that the mentor may also eventually vote on tenure for the faculty member and/or even be the person’s chair. More- over, the mentoring may often go beyond reviewing papers, observing and advising on teaching, and standard academic issues. Indeed, major issues for junior faculty are time man- agement and balance of home and work lives. Often, the fac- ulty member (perhaps with guidance from a chair) will select his/her own mentor(s), and a best situation is when at least one mentor is from outside the mentee’s unit so there can be conversations about working within the unit itself.
Alternative Careers
Although the majority of doctoral students and postdocs have aspirations of working in academia, only a minority
eventually enter an academic career track. Thus, it is essential that mentors, graduate programs, and universities provide their students with knowledge of and the ability to compete for high-quality jobs in nonacademic careers. This is, how- ever, not trivial because many of these careers require other or additional skill sets that the mentor may not have or may not focus on while training a student to pursue academic research excellence. For example, interviewing for a position in government, industry, and a consulting firm is very differ- ent than for an academic position, and what constitutes suc- cess in an academic position may differ considerably from what constitutes success working in industry. Additionally, although clarity in written communication is paramount in nearly all science or engineering jobs, the technical memo- randa common in industry differ greatly in style, length, and content from a thesis or journal article.
Mentoring students for alternative careers may require sig- nificant effort on the part of the mentor. First, the mentor should seek opportunities to directly incorporate important skills into research or coursework. For example, mentors could teach mentees to write clearly and concisely, in a style appropriate for consulting or industry. Second, if the mentor has no expertise in preparation for various careers, he/she should support the mentee in seeking out others who can provide the needed mentorship. This leads to the third point, that of assistance with networking. The interested mentor is continually expanding his/her professional network, not al- ways for himself/herself but rather for the sake of his/her students. By taking students to conferences and including them in his/her expanding circle of colleagues and contacts, the mentor gives them access to professionals in a variety of related disciplines.
Advice for Prospective Student Mentees
Selecting a Mentor
In talking with students at various universities, it is clear that most would-be mentees select an advisor primarily based on interest in the research program. Consequently, the student mentorship experience varies widely; some happen on excep- tional mentors, whereas others are in nonideal relationships that turn sufficiently toxic that the student seeks a different mentor or changes degree plans. In fact, there are simple but crucial approaches that a student can take to maximize the likelihood that his/her graduate experience will not only be productive in terms of research but that he/she will also be working in a mentored learning environment that will en- able him/her to excel.
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