Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, October 12, 2012

Conference offers advice and strategies to prepare future faculty

Faculty from several universities discussed what different kinds of institutions look for in faculty candidates during a gathering Wednesday designed to help more than 400 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars get ready for their academic careers.

  Participants in the Preparing Future Faculty conference included, from left, Theresa Lee, dean of College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Sean Decatur, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College; Theresa Braunschneider, associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University; and Matthew Kaplan, managing director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. (Photo by Ben Matheny, CRLT)

"Especially given the challenges of the current academic job market, this conference provided students an invaluable service," said plenary panelist Theresa Braunschneider, associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University, and visiting consultant at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.

"It not only offered them concrete strategies for succeeding in job searches and the transition to faculty life, but it also offered many opportunities to reflect more broadly on the meaning and importance of life in academe."

The 10th annual Preparing Future Faculty conference featured 15 different workshops and faculty panels that provided tips and strategies for both the academic job search and one's first faculty position.

Natalie Sampson, doctoral student in the School of Public Health, valued the insight into academic interviewing, job negotiations, and faculty life. "It's all a bit of a mystery, especially for those of us who are first-generation college students. The PFF conference removed some of that mystery for me," she said.

Minal Patel, also an SPH doctoral student, said, "I continue to be impressed by the high quality of professional development opportunities that CRLT and Rackham (Graduate School) provide for the Michigan graduate student community, and I walked away with valuable tips that will be instrumental as I move forward with my job search."

A highlight was input from faculty outside U-M. This year's conference included panelists from Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, Oberlin College, Ohio State University, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Toledo, Washington and Lee University, and Washtenaw Community College. They offered insights into how diverse institutions function and what they seek in a faculty candidate.

Naji Husseini, a recent doctoral graduate in the LSA Applied Physics Program, enjoyed hearing from panelists at institutions other than major research universities. "The perspective from faculty at Washtenaw Community College was one I had not heard before, and their enthusiasm for teaching was refreshing," he said.

A first-time session titled "Starting and Running Your Research Agenda" was offered in response to demand from humanities and social science scholars for a session analogous to the STEM-oriented "Starting and Running Your Research Lab." Another new session titled "What's It Like to Be a Postdoctoral Scholar?" featured panelists from multiple disciplines offering strategies for obtaining and working productively in a postdoctoral position.

Advice for the job search included academic interviewing strategies, how to develop a teaching philosophy statement, how to manage the challenges of the current job market and how to negotiate a job offer.

Ala Iaconi, doctoral student in the College of Pharmacy, said the advice will help her initiate professional relationships, write an excellent teaching philosophy, and better understand the academic job market. "As a result of attending these sessions, I am better prepared to search for my dream job and stand out in a crowd," she said.

Other sessions focused on how to succeed in one's first faculty position: tools and resources for productivity, insight into the tenure process, and faculty worklife and dual career issues.

The PFF conference was sponsored by Rackham Graduate School, The Career Center, International Center, and Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.