“So… do we give him tenure or not?”

in Articles from our Newsletter

Relationships with Academic Colleagues

Some day, hopefully, someone will be asking that tenure question about you. As you look around that meeting room, is there anybody looking gleefully ready to answer, “No!”?

In the academic system, the idea of never burning bridges must always be remembered. That colleague that you are so glad to leave behind when you take a better job at the next university might be second cousin to your new job’s department chair. You will never know to whom the tenure committee will be sending letters in order to find out about your professional reputation.

Let me point out some areas that you need to keep in mind.

Know Your Territory

This phrase is repeated throughout one of my favorite books on getting tenure, Mentor in a Manual, by Schoenfeld and Magnan.

What does “know your territory” mean? Here are examples of essential questions that you should be able to answer:

  • Who are key people in your department?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Who are the people who tend to be troublemakers?
  • What are the social norms of your department?
  • Who would make a great role model for you?

Know what the expectations are in the department, for socializing, speaking up in meetings (at the junior professor level), for making friends with staff, etc. This sort of knowledge can help prevent faux pas or fatal mistakes.

Know Yourself

Here are some essential questions you should be able to answer objectively about yourself:

  • What are my strengths and weaknesses as a leader?
  • What aspects of my personality do I need to work on?
  • What feedback have I gotten on my social skills?
  • Are there any relationships that I should improve?

These and other questions may be painful to consider, but the more you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses and the more you work on your interpersonal skills, the less likely you will be a victim of someone else’s anger when it matters most to you.

Get a Mentor

This is one priceless piece of advice that I cannot emphasize enough. If you are able to find someone, either in your department or elsewhere, who can be a mentor, you will be much better off.

Volumes have been written about getting along with academic colleagues. I will be addressing this issue in more detail in later issues of my newsletter. Stay tuned!

Graduate Students: Mending Relationships with your Mentor

Last week I wrote about the problems that some students have with their advisors. This week I’ll give you a few ideas for making things work with difficult advisors.

I wanted you to have the opportunity to review what I wrote above for professors, since the same caveats apply to you. Within those constraints, however, there are a few things you can do.

You Have Rights!

Yes, even if you are completing your dissertation far away from your advisor, even if you are more than a few years ABD, you still have rights. You pay to have your name kept on the list, and what you are paying for is advising. You should not feel ashamed to ask for help.

Realize the Following:

  • Most professors don’t like advising
  • Professors get little incentive to advise well.
  • It is, however, in your advisor’s best interest that you finish.
  • You may know more about your dissertation area than does your advisor
  • This is an unequal power situation. Don’t burn any bridges.
  • Your advisor can (and should) help you get your career started.

Concrete Actions You Can Take

Here are some steps to take:

  • Be assertive. Not aggressive. Be professional, polite and respectful, not like a meek mouse.
  • Persist. If your advisor does not answer your emails, it is truly OK to call.
  • Communicate clearly what you would like from your advisor.
  • Butter your advisor up! Be aware of his preferences, follow her recommendations, thank her for her comments.
  • Keep records of your interactions. This could include a written summary emailed afterwards to your advisor stating “Here is what I got from our session. Thanks you for your help.”
  • If you’re not getting enough help from your advisor, find a shadow advisor or mentor.

Again, I could write volumes on this subject. More techniques for dealing with difficult academics will be forthcoming!

© Gina Hiatt, PhD.
Gina is a dissertation and tenure coach. She helps academics, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing, to reach their goals more quickly and less painfully.

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