Understanding the University Context

**This is part of the requirements of the Certificate in College Teaching Competency 4, details about the program can be read here**

Workshop: CIRTL Cast “Thriving as a Faculty Member” Seminar Series

Completed: March 3, 10 & 24, 2015

Description: As new faculty members in higher education, there are many challenges that we will face. This series covered three topics:

  1. Achieving a Healthy Work-Life Balance
  2. Effective Mentoring of Graduate Students
  3. Women in STEM, navigating academic careers

This series of seminars led by a range of professors from varying disciplines and institutions, helps graduate students prepare for to be faculty members in high education by providing them with advice, lessons they’ve learned from experience, and strategies they use. The skills and strategies they emphasize for becoming a well-balanced and effective faculty member include finding a work/life balance that is most productive for you, being flexible and adaptable to new situations and changing priorities, scheduling time for family and health, take an interest-based approach towards conflict, and find a mentoring style that fits with your approach and personality.

Artifacts and Rationale:

Artifact: Writeup and notes from “Thriving as a Faculty Member” Seminar Series

Rationale: During the seminar series, I identified that there were a few strategies and pieces of advice that tended to be repeated despite the different topics and speakers. These repetitive topics are ones that I am I am facing as a graduate student or that I have fears about facing into the future. I collated the advice and strategies from the three seminars into a single document, and annotated it with ways I can use this now to to be better prepared for being a faculty member in higher education. These include challenges associated with having a healthy work/life balance, properly mentoring and being a female. Included in the artifact are descriptions of the advice and strategies that were mentioned throughout the seminars, and my own reflection on how I can operationalize this advice into improving myself now.

Reflection:

As a graduate student, we are told to focus on completing our dissertation research an publish- however there are other things that we need to be doing to prepare for our careers, especially if we intend to become faculty members in higher education. It is important that we use this time in graduate school to prepare ourselves to be better at managing our time, develop skills to work in teams and be an effective leader, and learn how to navigate academia more broadly. We need to prepare ourselves not just to be researchers, but to be effective teachers, good mentors, and also to be healthy both physically and emotionally.

This series of seminars was helpful for a number of reasons, although there are two which I see as being most beneficial for me. First, it showed a personal side of faculty members that we don’t usually get to see- how they struggle to maintain a good work/life balance, how their priorities shift, the necessity to be flexible and adaptable to new situations, and how even they aren’t always sure of the right way to deal with different or new situations. It removed the fear of having to be perfect faculty member, and replaced it with a desire to simply find the best way that works for me. Second, the seminars offered a wide range of strategies for being an effective faculty member, but throughout all offered the same message that it was important to develop your own strategies that fit your personality and working style, and that this style can be flexible and change over time or with new priorities.

Graduate school in a way is a great opportunity to practice being a faculty mentor and working on balancing one’s life. It is a time when we can try out different styles of productivity, test out different teaching and mentoring styles, and find ways to maintain a healthy life/work balance. From this, I’ve learned that in order to be an effective faculty member, you really need to know yourself- know what priorities are the most important, how you can be the most productive, what is your style for interacting with those you mentor, know how to be confident as a female faculty mentor, and how to be flexible and adaptable in the face of an ever-changing institution.

These seminars have also helped me be more self-reflective about my own styles of teaching, research and service. I know that I am more productive in the morning, and should therefore front load my day by doing the hardest work first, and the easier work later. I know that my family is a high priority, but that it is ok if I make school my priority when things get busy. I know that I need to be clear with the people I mentor about my research style and expectations to prevent miscommunication and ensure a healthy relationship. I know that I need to ask for help more, and be better at saying ‘no’ when I don’t have time or energy to contribute.

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