The Online Mentor: Essential Guide for Assistant Professors
As an Assistant Professor, you are undoubtedly concerned about ways to manage your career to your greatest advantage.
Advice from Faculty Here and Elsewhere
There's good information in this page. Beyond that, you should read the Essential Guide for All Faculty that contains some sound career advice that has a lot to say about your responsibilities, teaching and research resources at USC, and other things that will be helpful to your career success. Also helpful is this Essential Guide for Assistant Professors that offers advice specific to the probationary period and tenure process.
We hope you have one or more senior colleagues to advise you. To supplement that, here are four online mentors. If you read their advice on what to do and what you should know, you'll be off to a good start:
- See, for example, Some Unofficial Advice for Tenure-track Assistant Professors
- Don't miss the article Personal Goals by Martin Krieger, Professor at the School of Policy, Planning and Development. He also records his thoughts on success in an academic career in his ongoing blog.
- For another point of view, read An Assistant Professor's Guide to the Galaxy by eminent USC roboticist George Bekey, who is Distinguished Professor Emeritus.
- And professors elsewhere have published advice for you. For example, take a look at Open Letter to 2010-11's First-Time Tenure-Track Professors.
If you are new to Los Angeles, we also encourage you to take advantage of the information about the city at the Essential Guide for New Faculty. If it's relevant to you, take a look at the Essential Guide for Non-Tenure Track Faculty and/or The Essential Guide for Health Sciences Faculty.
Understanding Research Expectations
- Make sure that you read the Manual on Appointments, Promotions and Tenure --UCAPT Manual-- (you can print out a copy from the web site) that details:
- The criteria for Tenure and Promotion
- Explanation of the tenure and review process, including deadlines
- Help for interdisciplinary candidates
- Information on the preparation of dossiers (teaching, research, service, external referees and letters, etc.)
- Ask your department chair, mentor, and other senior colleagues to help you understand:
- The emphasis that you should place on highly-competitive research proposals to acquire grant funds (e.g., R01s with you as the P.I.)
- The relative importance of books vs. articles, long articles vs. short ones, peer-reviewed articles vs. book chapters, and single vs. multiple authored publications.
- The expected quantity and rate of publication.
- Which premier outlets for publishing will count the most.
- How important it is to present your research at other universities or national meetings.
- It is critical that your research be regarded as high in quality, creativity and impact.
- To understand national expectations, look at the records of people recently tenured at the leading departments in your field, as shown on their university websites.
One of the biggest tasks you will face in your first year is teaching, particularly if you have not taught before. Do not be surprised to learn that teaching takes longer and is more tiring than you think it will be. James Lang's book "Life on the Tenure Track", which chronicles the first year of an assistant professor's life aptly illustrates this notion.
To prepare yourself for the challenge, consider reading books on teaching, such as Wilbert McKeachie and Graham Gibbs' book titled "Teaching Tips".
- For help on teaching, talk with senior colleagues. You can ask to observe teaching by faculty colleagues, and ask them to observe your classes. Try to learn from the research on teaching, for example, by defining teaching objectives, and finding ways to measure teaching outcomes rather than just "testing."
- Talk to your chair about whether you are expected to mentor doctoral students.
- Look at the Learning tab of this Faculty Portal, and the many resources provided by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and its website.
You will have several sources of advice, and it is helpful to seek mentoring from a number of colleagues, both inside your department and across the university, as well as from colleagues at other institutions. All assistant professors benefit from having a mentor in the department.
- Ask your department chair whether your department has a formal mentoring system and whether there is a mentor who has been assigned to help you. If not, ask some in your department with whom you are comfortable to serve as a mentor.
- Ask your mentor and other faculty members, particularly those who are know to be excellent teachers, if they are willing to share resources related to teaching strategies, successes and resources.
- Ask your mentor or other colleagues to observe you teaching so that they can provide tips on how you can improve.
- The Center for Excellence in Teaching and the UCSD website provide very useful information on mentoring.
- Ask your department chair if he or she can hold one or two department meetings each year to discuss aspects of teaching, such as teaching-related problems and solutions. Alternatively, invite a CET fellow to help organize it.
- Use student evaluations to initiate a discussion with your mentor about how your teaching performance can be improved.
Work, Family and Life
- Many policies are set out in the Faculty Handbook, including Section 9, on Academic and Family Life Balance. See also the resources for dual career couples.
- USC recognizes the importance of balancing work and family responsibilities. For provisions about excluding time from the probationary period ("stopping the clock" on tenure decision) because of childbirth, parenting responsibilities, or other good reason, see the Faculty Handbook, . Documentation should be submitted by the individual, through the chair and dean, for Provost's consideration as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This guide is for information only and is intended as a helpful set of links. It does not constitute official University policy, nor do linked pages, except for the Faculty Handbook and the Policies web page. Send suggestions for additional resources you would like to see listed to the Office of Faculty Affairs.