Saturday, August 31, 2013

Recognizing the Achievements of Assistant Professors

The new academic year is upon us and it is so exciting to see the students moving into their dorms!

With the new year we also welcome new faculty to the various colleges and universities and they bring new perspectives, new research ideas, and lots of terrific energy!

Colleges and universities are built on the faculty and the most junior faculty are those who have received their PhDs within the past 5 or 6 years and they are called Assistant Professors.

In this blog, I periodically write what might be construed as an "advice column" and for many of these posts I get special thank yous. I have written on leadership on many occasions (even acknowledged by various Deans) and also on being an advocate for women. The latter was picked up by the WORMS President, Dr. Laura McLay, who recently gave an invited presentation, Five Observations on Women in Engineering,  and referenced my post. She told me afterwards that the males especially appreciated the advocacy suggestions that I had suggested.

The Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst has hired several new faculty and  I have been very much enjoying meeting several of them over the past several weeks and getting to know then. They are terrific!

Yes, I may be a bit "nostalgic" and am thinking  back to the time when I was an Assistant Professor, fresh with my PhD from Brown University.  I was very lucky, although, in those days, there was no formalized parental leave (so I had a child after becoming a Full Professor, but, through hard work, that promotion came only 8 years after my PhD and promotion to Associate Professor with tenure only 4 years after my PhD). There were also no teaching load reductions per se and I taught extra classes as an Assistant Professor w/o any added compensation, but to be a "good citizen" and because I was asked by my chairman at that time.

However, I had support from senior colleagues, even in other departments, who would congratulate me regularly and, with their sense of humor, make it fun to come to work. We had regular newsletters that were disseminated to faculty so we were informed as to the goings-on. I very often would be one of the first to arrive in the building, having breakfasted in the Newman Center,  whose opening I awaited at 7AM.

Assistant Professors, who have not yet achieved promotion to Associate Professor, and tenure, work very hard and, in academia, typically, achievement in the three pillars of research, teaching, and service is what matters for promotions.

But Assistant Professors do need support and kind words and collegiality can go a long way!

In addition, Assistant Professors (and don't we all) also want to feel part of a community in which their hard work is valued and when they achieve, their achievements should be recognized.

For example, administrators could and should send a congratulatory email note not just to the individual, but copy to the department and even to the school! It may take awhile to update websites and achievements ranging from getting grants, receiving best paper awards and other professional awards, and even press and media coverage, should be noted!

Why is this so hard to do for some in the Internet Age?!

Assistant Professors are ambassadors for academic programs and if they feel valued and recognized they will say positive things within the building and to the professional communities that they are part of. Happy Assistant Professors  are more likely to stay and to not seek employment elsewhere.

Given university investments in new faculty in terms of salaries and startup packages, is not recognizing the achievements of Assistant (and other) Professors a small price to pay?

Besides, when faculty do outstanding work, the reputation of the institution grows and everyone benefits.

Truly, don't you think that over time, those who feel recognized will do more for your programs and institutions?

As an Assistant Professor recently told me, a university cannot thrive if we are all islands.

So celebrate the achievements of Assistant Professors!

Some suggestions:

1. Disseminate good news regularly, including in personal messages that are copied to all faculty and even staff. This will bring smiles on the faces of many.

2. Do write a  personal congratulatory note -- I have a collection in my offices, which are posted -- they continue to inspire me and to lift me up.

3. Send a small token of appreciation -- I have written about a former Dean of mine, Dr. Tom O'Brien, who was amazing in this way and he was so good at development (not surprising)! Bouquets of flowers would arrive at my door -- sometimes at home and sometimes at my office, accompanied by chocolate chip cookies for my daughter.

4. Announce faculty achievements at public venues and don't forget to:

5.  Communicate the goods news to others outside the institution, including alums,  as appropriate, and through the right channels regularly.

6. Celebrate when Assistant Professors get promotion and tenure by broadcasting to the whole school!

And as the UMass Amherst Chancellor recently stated:

Let's build a community that will be the pride of the nation.

If my readers have other suggestions as to how to support and recognize Assistant Professors, please let me know -- Thanks!