Your department has just hired a new tenure-track professor, and for them, it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Now what? New faculty joining a department may feel an array of emotions—excitement, anxiety, curiosity, and trepidation—all of which contribute to uncertainty and stress (Sun & Simon-Roberts, 2020). They may be unsure of their new identity and voice as faculty and have questions about student engagement. Dealing with those multilayered uncertainties can be challenging, especially when protocols and resources are unknown.
Formal university-sponsored and organized events yield limited meaningful connections, and assigned mentors have limited impact on helping new hires establish themselves within the institution. But chairs can lead department faculty in creating a welcoming and supportive environment for new hires (Fleming et al., 2016). There are several actions senior and seasoned faculty can do to support and guide new faculty. All begin with a friendly conversation. New faculty have not yet experienced the complete dynamic of the department. They do not know who the power players are or who to ask for help. Current faculty can help.
While a faculty handbook is helpful (if the institution offers one), a face-to-face conversation is more powerful. The conversation needn’t be a lecture or laundry list of tasks; a quick check-in and an offer to preview the upcoming calendar will do. From that calendar review, several teachable moments may emerge. For example, new faculty may not be aware of the faculty senate or its charges. They may not know which college or university meetings are required and which are optional. This is particularly important in institutions where there is a hidden culture of expectations.
Faculty and staff guides published by the institution can be overwhelming and not terribly helpful when one does not really know the organizational structure. A general “who’s who” cheat sheet does a better job of helping new faculty get acclimated (Figure 1). The cheat sheet could share university contacts, including department administrators and staff along with their roles and preferred ways of communicating. Sharing contacts of personnel in the dean’s office and explaining which contact is appropriate for a particular task could also be helpful. For example: Who is the contact for professional development funding? Who can the new faculty member contact if their office is not cleaned? Who organizes and plans the teaching schedule?
|Contact Name||Contact Office||Expertise/Help With . . .||Way to Contact|
Creating a home for all the stuff new faculty will need is useful and will help orient new faculty to the institution and help them begin to feel organized and self-sufficient. A Google Drive or LiveBinder account with pertinent department and university information is a self-contained place to start (Figure 2). Along with basic information, the same area could house a chronological list of due dates for required tasks, examples of tasks, and ongoing or special assignments. Some universities have this information readily available, but having to find it repeatedly can be taxing and places an undue burden on those still getting their bearings. If a simple, condensed document (Google Drive/LiveBinders) contains the required information, new faculty can explore it at their own pace and feel part of the institution as they see both the micro and macro of university operations.
Organization and self-sufficiency are important, but conversation can be more meaningful. University events provide networking opportunities but miss the mark in helping new faculty—especially faculty of color, female faculty, and faculty with families—build support networks (Perry et al., 2019). In the beginning, new faculty members do not know what they don’t know. Seasoned faculty can help. Simply introducing department faculty and their roles during the first faculty meeting is a nice place to start. Give new faculty an opportunity to introduce themselves as well. Advanced notice would be nice so they are not caught off guard. During this introduction, give the names of two or three faculty willing to field questions the new hire may have. These contacts would be interested in responding to texts or phone calls with an aim of support and maybe even a sense of humor. We were all there once. Possible connections for the new faculty members could include a colleague who shares similar content expertise can field coursework questions about syllabus organization and unspoken university culture pertaining to content delivery and class meetings. Someone known to be highly organized and thorough can field questions about faculty obligations regarding meetings, tenure and promotion requirements, and annual faculty review requirements. A third faculty member could serve as service liaison who helps the new faculty meet people beyond the department. This contact might invite the new person to shadow them at a college or university meeting. By being introduced in small committee meetings, new faculty widen their institutional connections while simultaneously learning about the underpinnings of service and how meetings are run at the university before taking on a committee assignment.
Finally, how about a cup of coffee? It can be hard to be the new person. Determining the “right” number of contributions the department seeks in terms of departmental work, collegial brainstorming, and interactions at faculty meetings is tough. New faculty do not want to overstep, nor do they want to be perceived as overbearing or underperforming. If you are going to get a coffee, invite the new faculty member. Converse about life beyond the university. Making personal connections helps new members feel part of the institution. That connection may be part of their decision to stay or leave the university. Colleagues can be mentors, collaborators, and even friends. Welcoming new faculty with conversations, tips, and tricks for success will help them feel like valued members of the department.
Fleming, S. S., Goldman, A. W., Correll, S. J., & Taylor, C. J. (2016). Settling in: The role of individual and departmental tactics in the development of new faculty network. Journal of Higher Education, 87(4), 544–572. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhe.2016.0018
Perry, A. L., Dean, S. R., & Hilton, A. A. (2019). New faculty transitions and obstacles: An auto-ethnographic exploration. Journal of the Professoriate, 10(1), 43–72. https://caarpweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/New-Faculty-Transitions-Spring-2019-PP.pdf
Sun, W., & Simon-Roberts, S. (2020). New faculty preparation, adaptation, and retention. Journal of Faculty Development, 34(2), 81–88.
Melissa Parks, PhD, is an associate professor of education at Stetson University. She believes in the power of positive and engaging classroom experience. Her research interests include elementary pedagogies and curriculum and environmental stewardship.