Are you supporting your pre-tenure faculty?

When I got my job, I asked as many folks as I could for advice about the first few years on the tenure track. One thing that struck me was that most people said that, at the end of the day, my university would want me to succeed. As nervous as I was about getting out papers, bringing in students, starting a research program, and negotiating the socio-political landscape at my new position, I knew I’d have people rooting for me.

Lately, I’m just not feeling it. It’s not that I’m sensing any disappointment or hostility (my Year 2 review was glowing), but I’m just not feeling that support I was promised. People are nice, and I’m well-liked (to my knowledge!), but I don’t really need nice. I need to feel like I’m valued. Here are some examples that might illustrate what I mean:

1) It took me a year and a half to get a faculty mentor. The first person I was given turned me down, for vague reasons that were never explained to me, and I didn’t learn about it until I approached the person and asked to schedule our first meeting (awkward!). The second person was a near-retiree who never met with me once, but would occasionally bluster, “Oh, we should get coffee sometime!” and then never respond to my emails. I also applied for another mentor as part of a university-level program but despite repeated follow-ups, never heard back. This makes me feel like nobody cares whether or not I have support through this process.

2) I was hired at the same time as my Male Colleague (who is great, and I get along with him really well). Since we were hired, he has been invited to the chair’s house for dinner, as well as the house of the director of a research center we’re both affiliated with. I have not. Similarly, there are a few other faculty members who have invited my male colleague and his wife to dinner, but have never invited me. This may be because my office is in a different part of campus (I have a split position), but none of the faculty in my building have invited me to dinner, either. This makes me feel invisible.

3) I’ve been getting the runaround about my lab space. Fellow TSW blogger DrMsScientist and I are planning a comprehensive post on this, but the short of it is: I was told when I was hired that there would be no renovations needed, which has turned out not to be the case by a long shot. A number of upgrades are required, some of which are basic necessities for safety and electrical code requirements. I was told to just put these on my startup, and months have gone by where various people have passed me from one person to the next. This situation has left me in tears, repeatedly (in the privacy of my office, thankfully), but I feel like I shouldn’t have to ask for advocacy here. My chairs should be going to bat for me, and they’re just…not. This makes me feel like my success is not a priority.

4) I found out I was going to co-teach a class from an email from another instructor, who had apparently met with my chair without me. He was asking what my preferences were for setting up the course, and I had never been consulted or even notified that this was going to be a team-taught course. Meanwhile, Male Colleague has had multiple successful meetings about teaching. When I tried to schedule them, I’ve been told “let’s wait and see.” This makes me feel like my opinion doesn’t matter.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and what the root is. I’ve worried that I’m taking it all too personally, and that none of this means anything, that it’s a series of coincidences, and I need a thicker skin. I figure that things like not being asked to dinner are probably unintentional. I think there are two kinds of people: those who advocate for others, and those who focus on themselves, and I probably have the misfortune of being in a department with a lot of the latter. Or, maybe because I look young, some of my colleagues are forgetting that they need to treat me as a fellow faculty member, and not as a graduate student? I wonder if they’re all assuming I’m not going to be here in the long-term, but that I’ve got one foot out the door? Maybe I just have a really shitty chair (which I’d be more inclined to think if Male Colleague’s experience wasn’t so radically different from mine)?

I know I need to be independent, and advocate for myself, but is it too much to ask to also feel like I not only belong here, but that I’m a valued member of my institution? It’s difficult to send a polite-but-firm email about my lab requirements without feeling like someone at an upper level is supporting me. I think all of these things are harder when morale is already low because of crappy federal funding rates or lack of state support for university infrastructure.

There’s a lot I can do on my own. I can develop peer mentor networks, and I can organize social events and develop collaborations and promote my research program, but at the end of the day, I’d still like to feel as though  my university values me (and if don’t feel that way, imagine how the adjuncts, office staff, and custodians must feel?). What do you think? Am I taking this too seriously? Are these expectations unrealistic? Should I bring these feelings up to my chair? Is this a cultural thing that varies across departments? Do you feel supported at your institution? Are these systemic issues that departments should be addressing, and are any of you reading this in a position to actually do something about it?


31 thoughts on “Are you supporting your pre-tenure faculty?

  1. I’m in a position to do something about it… I will try. I’m seeing some of this going on with recent hires (one male one female). M has his lab, F’s is still under construction 1 yr after hire, M has a team of old guys working for him, F gets to have lunch w yours truly once/month (not quite the same). I’m not in F’s field, but I’ll try to step up and make sure that those who are, are doing the right thing.

  2. I feel the same way, 1.5 years into my TT position. Last summer we changed department chairs from a M to F, and I noticed a big difference. Last year a student complained (inappropriately) about me to the dept chair, and it seemed like his immediate response was “what did you do wrong. It is your fault.” This year, when a student complained about having to take the final to the dept. chair (I had a 95% rule, and said student did not have 95% or above in the course so I told her she had to take the final and she complained), the new F chair asked me what was going on, and totally was behind me 100%. Things are better this year. Part of it has to do with the new F chair, part of it has to do with me being more vocal about what I want. There is no formal mentoring program at my Uni., either, so that’s been tricky to navigate. I think I’ve found a good, tenured, male mentor and advocate, but it has all been my doing- no support whatever from others. I’m not sure what the answer is, but good luck! In solidarity, Dr. K

    • We just got a new chair and I’m really curious how the culture of the department will be affected overall. I think it makes a difference! I need to work on being vocal, but of course we’re socialized to not want to “make trouble” as women, so that programming takes a while to undo.

      • It’s becoming more apparent to me that the Chair can really make or break a department. I used to think it was more of a figurehead position – someone pulled from the ranks who had to do all the paperwork to keep the department running. But now I’ve seen how the attitude of the chair trickles down through every decision, good or bad.

  3. Fuck the patriarchy!

    I’m sure that your sex does play a role in these interactions, or lack of interactions, but to me, this comment of yours tells a lot: “It’s difficult to send a polite-but-firm email about my lab requirements without feeling like someone at an upper level is supporting me.”

    If you want to be treated as a faculty why do you need someone above you supporting your wants/needs? I see two solutions: you keep up with the status quo and hope someone finally comes around to help you feel warm and safe and ready to do your work or, you write that email saying that it’s been 2 fucking years already and you want that goddamn power outlet upgraded. NOW! The former will probably get you no where except back on the job search in a few years, while the latter, will not exactly make you any friends, but will make others take you and your needs more seriously. Besides, if you don’t get tenure who cares if they thought you were nice.

    Best of luck. I’m negotiating TT offers now and have had some crazy interactions with sexist departments/chairs. It’s shocking

    • That’s all well and good, but there’s still the feeling of not wanting to be branded as a trouble maker, you know? That’s a serious problem. I don’t work in a vacuum and I’d rather not feel like I had to because I alienated people. My point is that I shouldn’t even be in this position in the first place. I should have chairs that go to bat for me– that’s not an unrealistic expectation.

      Good luck with the negotiations!

      • I think the sentiment of this comment is correct. Sometimes you just have to make things happen for yourself. But, FWIW, a face-to-face meeting is usually more effective than an email, especially an angry email. Figure out who you need to talk to and show up at their office. Be super nice and explain that you are a new faculty member and you need some help with…. If they’re too busy, then ask when they might have half an hour to fit you in to chat. Emails are really easy to ignore. A person in their office, not so much.

  4. Hmmm, I am a department chair and I find this deeply concerning. I’d suggest either bringing up your concerns to your chair or a trusted senior colleague in your department. (It’s probably worth having a conversation with the latter first to sort of “test the waters”.) Good luck.

  5. I’m not tenure track but worked for years as academic staff. I had zero support and was treated like I was invisible. I was also the only female in the department for a very long time which made it all the more hard. I felt like I was on the outside of the boys club and was treated like I knew nothing. The other male academic staff members were taken under the wings of the male professors and I was left alone, doing all the work, receiving none of the credit, while the boys were out having drinks and doing other social things. I don’t have any advice (I chose to leave the position for something much better after years of trying to be respected, taken seriously, advocating for myself, and feeling like I was being held back), but just know you’re not the only one experiencing this stuff and it’s not just you taking it personally. Its a real problem. The silver lining for me is that this situation forced me to become a more vocal person and really go for what I want and realize that I don’t owe the institution anything if they are not supporting me.

    • Yeah, I was thinking as I wrote this that if I feel this way, I can’t imagine how the adjuncts and support staff must feel!

  6. Thanks for sharing. I feel you on the dinner invites. Turns out my lab’s advisor only invites certain grad students and their significant others/families over for dinner. I don’t think it’s good for morale in the lab, in the same way I don’t think it’s good for morale in your department(s)!

    • My PI would sometimes invite me (female) and the other postdoc in the lab (male) out for beers. I think he went with the male PD just the 2 of them, too, but since I was included sometimes, I never gave it much thought. Male PD left 6 mo. ago, so a while back I suggested that the 2 of us go out for a beer. He seemed uncomfortable … but eventually agreed. He showed up with another male faculty friend of his, whom he obviously corralled into attending. It was then that the thought struck me that maybe he doesn’t want to be seen with me alone? He’s married (I’m not) and we’ve been working together 3 yrs, so I think this is ridiculous, but maybe he’s concerned about appearances? And now he’s got me thinking if I should be concerned, too….

      • Sounds like he is concerned about appearances. One of my (male) committee members mentioned that he tries to visit all of his grad students’ field sites but that he drew the line at visiting his female grad student overseas in Europe. He thought that as a married older male and faculty member that it would appear inappropriate to be visiting her alone. Does that mean that his student might be missing out on some of the bonding that happens at field sites? Probably. But do I appreciate that he is trying to be thoughtful and not creepy? Yes.

  7. My two cents: Administrators need to stop forcing these formal mentorship programs upon us. I get it, the surveys tell us that successful people have mentors. But I’m pretty sure they aren’t mentors who were assigned or were part of a program. Assigned mentors might be good for some occasional advice, but you’re not going to be at the forefront of their mind because they just don’t know you or have anything invested in you. I have two people that have stepped up for me as real mentors at my new university over the past four years, but it evolved naturally. The first came about because I went to offer some suggestions to a student after a seminar. This led to a meeting with her PI, which led to a really great research collaboration. Now that professor has become the person I go to for critiques on all of my grants, and he makes sure I get meetings with all the important people in our field who come here to give seminars. Had I approached him saying, “Will you be my mentor?” it probably wouldn’t have worked out this way. As a matter of fact, when I asked him to sign the stupid mentorship agreement required by our university, he told me he’d rather not be part of a formal program. The second example evolved from me occasionally asking questions and becoming friends with a woman in my department who is extremely well respected at our university. She has nominated me for committees and lectureships that I need for my tenure package, has helped my students with fellowship applications, and is my go-to person for advice on just about everything. Again, if I had cold-called her on day 1 asking her to be my mentor, I just don’t think it would have worked. It just sort of evolved because we were both often here working on Saturdays. I guess my advice is to stop stressing about the mentor thing, and wait for these relationships to present themselves naturally.

    • Well, different kinds of mentors serve different purposes. I have lots of informal mentors, and they’re great. But my point was more 1) these relationships aren’t presenting themselves naturally in my department, and I could still use a formal touchstone to discuss department- and university-specific concerns, and 2) the fact that they’re not even bothering to follow up when there IS a policy is really frustrating and makes me feel like I don’t matter.

  8. Is there an Ombudsman office in your institution? Might be a good idea to go talk to them about this since they are there to deal with exactly such issues.

  9. I’m in year 4 T-T and was lucky to have a kick-ass (female) chair in my first two years. My hiring caused political tension in the department between my chair and a senior (male) colleague, leading to some attempted bullying of my chair. I never felt it was about me as a person – I know I can contribute to the department and I was a smart hire on the part of my chair – but it did cause an unhealthy environment and I was a lot more quiet than I usually am in my first year. Since then, I have found my own mentors, since there was no formal mentorship program, but even more so, I’ve been my own advocate. When there were issues about my lab, I emailed everyone and anyone, scheduled meetings, and did my best to get things moving, using the argument that not having a lab meant I couldn’t do my job for which they had hired me. I notice a lot of my pre-tenure colleagues, male and female, are not comfortable speaking up in their T-T jobs, afraid they will be branded troublemakers and somehow denied tenure because they were difficult. At my institution, there is nothing in the tenure guidelines about being a nice person (and nor should there be). I think this is an unhealthy fear the system breeds in junior professors – “keep your mouth shut until you get tenure” – because it prevents us from both advocating for ourselves and for change within our institutions. In the beginning of my third year, I decided to nominate myself for a large, controversial, and important university-wide committee. All of my colleagues thought I was foolish to take on a public position pre-tenure, but I believed it was essential to have an assistant prof on a major committee that was examining structural problems at our institution – sometimes assistant profs have the most innovative ideas, but if we don’t support them to contribute, we aren’t leveraging that innovation. I go up for tenure review this year, so I can’t yet say if my choices have negatively impacted my tenure prospects, but based on feedback from my dean, I think, if anything, they have helped my cause. Unfortunately, young women are more likely to have to be their own advocates (even more so because we are judged implicitly on appearance – if I had a dollar for every time someone asked if I was a new graduate student in my first two years TT…) and yet are often less likely to be confident advocating for themselves. What I would say is this – if your institution is not treating you like a valued member, you are going to have to remind them that you are, hopefully with the support of some trusted peers or a senior trusted faculty member. If you feel comfortable, ask a couple of senior colleagues to dinner. They have invested in you by hiring you. It is unfair that you have to work harder than your male colleague to get the support you need, but don’t give up. I hope that once you move through the ranks, you will be able to support junior members (especially women) in your department moving forward – we do have to be part of the change, because there remain significant structural barriers to women in the academy.

    Another resource that might be helpful is if your institution has an equity committee. At least you may find some advocates and/or mentors from that group.

  10. I hear you on the lab front. It’s super frustrating how long all that stuff takes. I’ve had some success with the just being a pain method, but the most impressive result I’ve seen was someone who started CCing our chair on every single email he sent about his lab. Even if it was to the janitor. When our chair saw how much was going into it, there was an explosion and stuff got done. But that’s obviously extremely chair dependent. I would agree that finding someone in person is a good idea, but I would also start putting into each email, it has been two years and this needs to happen now, it is damaging my tenure chances, or something like that. Then when you put together your tenure package make sure it’s abundantly clear when your lab was actually completed and ready for you to use.

  11. So much resonates. I’m in year 7 and was granted tenure two years ago. But:

    (*) No mentor assigned in the department at all. Asked for mentor through university program, and she blew me off for lunch. Three times. Like, we had a lunch date and she just didn’t show.

    (*) I’ve had lots of folks from the dept over to my place for various social events, including holidays. Very few reciprocal invites… and only from younger faculty or the one woman senior to me. And lots of other faculty getting social invites to the Chair’s place. He can come to my house on multiple occasions, sometimes when I haven’t even invited him (he just heard about the party). But I haven’t been invited over once.

    (*) Male hired at the same time given more resources & support. Oh, including big fat raise a couple of years ago, when his record (pubs, grant, mentoring students, outreach, etc.) is weaker than mine on nearly every front.

    (*) I’m not in a lab science, but I’m sure I’d get the lab runaround if I were. Substitute that it took over six months for me to get a computer order approved, maybe?

    My reaction has been basically to disassociate myself from my department. I spend as little time there as possible. (Teaching and office hours and only meetings where *I* feel like it’s important that I attend. Someone else saying it’s important is not enough.) I’ve cultivated friends and even co-authors in other departments.

  12. Ugh, sorry! I feel your pain! And like Michelle above:

    – No mentor assigned either in my department or in the university as a whole, despite a policy saying this was supposed to happen. (The attitude is: “We’re a small department; it’ll happen organically.” My left foot.)
    – I’ve only ever been invited to the home of one other faculty member in my department (the next-most-junior, who is going through the tenure process now). When we’ve invited over other faculty, reciprocity rate has been extremely low.
    – I’m starting my third year, and my second-year review has not happened yet. I’ve started checking with colleagues and theirs seem to have happened on time. What gives? I turned in all my materials on time, but have gotten no feedback despite asking my chair about it multiple times (and receiving positive verbal feedback — “Don’t worry about it; you’re doing fine!”). If they want me to make any changes before reappointment, they’d better hurry up.

    My university has some truly lovely people in the administration, and is among the more supportive places on the whole. But I still notice carelessness/cluelessness in the way women are supported in the less woman-filled fields.

  13. Separate the social from the work figure out what you need and ask for it. In my life that would have been the lab space (I couldn’t do my work without it) but you may have other priorities, like the teaching. But you have to be forthright about what you need to do your job. Maybe male hire is just being supported, but maybe he’s being squeaky. It really is true that if you are quiet, everyone will find it easier to imagine all is well.

  14. I am a 5th year Ph.D. student in a department that changed graduate directors a few years ago. I have had less than pleasant dealings with this person as have several other grad students. My (senior, tenured) adviser told me recently that the newer faculty hires are also having difficulty with them, and that if I were to convey to the chair that this is not just a faculty level problem but one affecting the grad students as well, that it could cause a power shift that would force this person to step down. The chair doesn’t want to remove them without a majority consensus that they’ve been ineffective and difficult and in our department, grad students count towards this vote.

    I already have a job lined up across the country, and the grad director is in a totally different subfield than me, so I suspect the blowback on me would be limited. I would wait till after my dissertation defense to put together a formal complaint of any sort (likely on behalf of the grad students as a unit – I have a student government position that makes me a logical mouthpiece here). Part of me is REALLY tempted because if they stepped down, the person who is apparently poised to take the role is a MUCH better fit (pretty much the most loved person in the department). It could make things better for both new faculty and all the grad students. Or, it might not work – but I’ll be gone anyhow.

    Any thoughts on why this is a terrible/wonderful/idiotic thing to do are appreciated.

  15. Part of the issue here may also be the split appointment? I’ve heard from other faculty that split appointments as a junior faculty are really tough because you have to deal with multiple sets of expectations and you don’t always get a sense of advocacy from your senior faculty/staff (they look at it as the other appointment’s issue to deal with).

  16. I hope it isn’t too off topic to relate this to my experience as a new postdoc, instead of as a faculty member. Am I being too pushy to request an office of my own, when I was initially told I would have one? It is hard to know what to let slide. I think it would help me a lot in terms of my ability to focus.

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