Preparing to Begin Your Faculty Career

By Helen K. Ezell (adaptedĀ from Guide to Success in Doctoral Study and Faculty Work(2002).

Preparations Before Arriving on Campus

Once you accept an offer of employment and sign a contract, your work can begin. Generally, the more you prepare for your job prior to arriving on campus, the faster your transition will proceed and, consequently, the less overwhelmed you will feel. This section will suggest some ways to get started.

Teaching Plan

Preparing to teach classes will probably be your most immediate concern, especially if you have never taught before. Even if you have some prior experience, you may need to prepare for courses that you have never taught. You can count on lengthy preparation time in either case. The following suggested steps may help you begin.

Obtain a list of your first year of classes and request syllabi

At the time you sign your contract, you will probably know the courses that you are expected to teach in your first year.

  • Once you know the courses you will teach, request a syllabus for each one.
  • Course syllabi will provide you with a starting point for planning each class.
  • Seeing which text has been selected, what content has been emphasized, the nature of the assignments given, and how the course was organized will give you ideas for how you might teach it.

Develop syllabi and plan readings or text to use

When creating a syllabus, it is suggested that you provide as much information to your students as possible so they will understand what is expected from the outset. They want to know from the very first day how the course will proceed so that they can mark important deadlines on their calendars and plan their work accordingly.

  • What exactly should a syllabus include? The syllabi that are provided by your department may serve as a guide. Also, you could check with the director for any further guidance on this matter.
    • course name, catalog number, registration number and term, meeting time, days, building, and room number
    • instructor's name, office number and location, telephone and e-mail address, and office hours
    • objectives of the course and all prerequisite classes
    • a listing of all reading assignments and required texts
    • complete description of all assignments and how much each contributes to the final grade
    • an explanation of your grading system
    • your attendance policy
    • a statement about the university's academy integrity policy
    • a tentative itinerary that gives a schedule of the topics to be covered and when examinations are to occur
  • The course syllabus represents your contract with your students for this particular class.
    • It says what is expected and how the students will be graded. Therefore, you are obligated to abide by the syllabus once it is distributed.
    • Making changes later in the term is not recommended. It is recommended that you finish the course as written in the syllabus and make the appropriate adjustments the next time you teach the course.
  • Selecting reading material and/or a required text is important because it will determine much of the content of the course.
    • Examination copies and desk copies of books that you order for a course are available by calling or contacting the website of each publisher.
    • Select your texts carefully by examining the table of contents and reading one or more chapters.
    • Whenever possible, select a book for undergraduate students that is reader-friendly and intended for those who are new to the field. More technical texts can be selected for graduate students who may already have background knowledge of the topic.

Prepare lectures

Preparing lectures and class activities will require significantly more time than creating your syllabus.

  • As a general rule, it is estimated that 3 hours of planning time are needed for every hour of class lecture, but there may be times that you will find this to be a gross underestimate, especially when you need to do a substantial amount of background reading to master a new area before you teach it.
  • Being well prepared will improve your classroom performance, enhance your credibility as a new instructor, and improve your self-confidence.
  • As for what to plan in your lectures, the complexity of your content will probably dictate how each class proceeds.
  • Students seem to understand best when you provide general information followed by specifics that are highlighted with visual aids, such as writing on the blackboard or projecting information from an overhead projector or computer. As specific information is presented, examples should be offered that help explain the meaning.
  • Provide students with hands-on experiences whenever possible. Students not only like the change of pace, they often understand the concepts more thoroughly when they have to solve a problem or apply new knowledge.
  • Sometimes a lecture presentation can incorporate a group activity or individual exercise with a question/answer or class discussion follow-up. This can help identify gaps in students' knowledge and subsequent areas for further instruction.

Research Plan

Most new faculty come in with a vague idea of the research they intend to conduct, which is usually a follow-up study to their dissertation. However, even when you have a study designed and planned, it will take considerable time to get your laboratory established and ready for data collection. Thus, if you can begin to lay the groundwork before you arrive on campus, you may be able to decrease your start-up time. A few suggestions in this regard are provided.

Contact potential sites for research (if needed)

If you require human subjects for your research, you may need to contact various agencies, schools, or hospitals to solicit participants.

  • Although you may not be available to meet face-to-face with individuals before you arrive on campus, you may be able to make some initial contacts by telephone or e-mail to introduce yourself and your intended research project and request their assistance in obtaining participants.
  • Often such agencies require a review of your project that you could begin to prepare or submit in advance. Also, a future meeting time could be set for when you do arrive.

Order laboratory and computer equipment

Placing your order for equipment early will help avoid unnecessary delay in getting your research lab established and ready for use.

  • Be sure to request room dimensions and equipment dimensions to ensure that everything will fit properly before it is ordered.
  • Keep in mind that you will probably need to work through several people to place equipment orders such as department secretaries, the vendors themselves, and the prescribed chain of command (e.g., director, dean, and sometimes the provost) for proper approvals.
  • Be sure to place your orders with any required justification, rationale, or explanation and accurate details regarding item numbers, prices, dimensions, specifications, and shipping instructions.

Plan first year of grant writing

Conducting quality research takes money, and you will need to seek funding to support your studies.

  • If you are successful in negotiating some start-up funds from the university, you may be able to begin your first project right away, but future projects will likely require additional funding. Thus, it is suggested that you start your new job with a grant writing plan.
  • It is recommended that you complete and submit at least one grant application in your first year, figuring that you may need more than one attempt to receive funding.
  • The first application to consider is a small-scale project that could be funded through an internal competition. Applications for small-scale projects are easier to write, the pool of applicants is usually smaller than in a national competition.
  • A second consideration is a small grant competition sponsored by an outside agency. Although the competition for this grant may be higher, the small-scale project will be more workable. Also, external granting agencies may provide you with valuable feedback for improving the application if it is not funded the first time.

When developing your grant writing plan, it is suggested that you create a month-by-month timetable that includes one or more planning meetings with the university's office of research for budget assistance and time to review various sections of your application for possible revisions by yourself and a willing colleague.

Dissemination Plan

There are at least two very important reasons for disseminating your research"

  • All meaningful research should be disseminated to the appropriate audience, whether that audience includes other researchers, practicing speech-language pathologists, or the public. One of your responsibilities as a researcher is to see that your findings contribute to the scientific knowledge base and are useful for further research or clinical application.
  • Disseminating your research is to document your contribution to science for your promotion and tenure dossier.

Plan first year of presentations

Your first year as a new faculty member will go fast because you will be extremely busy, so advance planning and organization is important. It is suggested that you schedule your presentation deadlines just as you would your other commitments.

  • Professional presentations may consist of peer-reviewed competitions or invited speaking engagements. Submitting a proposal for peer review is generally done several months prior to the conference date.
  • A "Call for Papers" that is published by the conference planning committee will provide you with all the necessary forms and rules for applying.

When planning your first year of presentations, consider the time and cost commitments that will be required for each one.

  • You will need to develop your notes and create visual aids such as slides, poster displays, or overhead transparencies, as well as one or more handouts.
  • You may also need to allow time for class preparations required for while you are away, such as arranging guest lecturers or preparing class activities for a teaching assistant to conduct.

Plan first year of publications

Probably your first publication during your initial year as a teacher-scholar will involve your dissertation research project.

  • As soon as you complete all the necessary revisions on your dissertation report and have it accepted by your program, you should begin planning for its publication, targeting submission during the first term in your new job.
  • It is important to begin your publication record during your first year of employment to establish credibility as a researcher and to start you on your way toward promotion and tenure.
  • If you have other research projects still to put in manuscript form, add these to your list of manuscripts to write and submit to journals. You will find that writing while the study is still fresh in your mind will take much less time than writing when the information is cold.
  • If you have only your dissertation study to submit, you might consider writing informative articles for a different audience, such as parents or caregivers to submit for publication in a state association journal.

Establishing contacts for future relationships

It takes time to establish working relationships with others and to be integrated into the university and local community. Both positive working relationships and successful integration are vital to your success as a faculty member. Thus, it is important to take steps early to make contacts with others so that working relationships can be established.

Contacts with faculty

As you talk with faculty during your interview, you will probably find one or two with whom you share mutual research interests.

  • Those are the first people whom you might contact for possible future collaboration. Sending a letter or e-mail message to them after you have accepted your offer of employment will indicate your interest in future involvement.
  • It is important to remember to look beyond your own department for colleagues as well. Consider obtaining information about the research of faculty in other departments through the university's website. When you see similar or related research topics, take the initiative to e-mail, write, or telephone these individuals to introduce yourself as a new faculty member.

Contacts with community professionals

Depending on the size of the surrounding community, there may be numerous professionals with whom you could collaborate on research projects.

  • People who work in hospitals, social service agencies, schools, and private practices may be willing to guest lecture in your courses, help you locate research subjects, or offer their site for you to pilot some of your research procedures.
  • Likewise, they may be interested in having you present training seminars to their work groups and parent organizations or share your expertise in some other way. Consequently, it is suggested that you introduce yourself by letter or telephone to several community professionals who may share your research or clinical interests.

Commonsense Advice for When You Arrive

Establishing a positive attitude toward your work

Even when your new job gets off to a good start, sometimes the workload may seem so overwhelming that it is difficult to have a positive outlook.

  • You may feel considerable pressure to do everything well the first time around, when in fact you will probably make many mistakes, as each of us did in our first faculty positions.
  • The realization that the tenure clock is always ticking makes the situation even more tense when setbacks occur. So, considering all these pressures, you may find it difficult to feel as though you are "on top of things" and in control.
  • Most new faculty have feelings of self-doubt that are common for anyone learning a new job. You will quickly find where your strengths lie and where they do not, and you may feel inadequately prepared. These feelings and experiences are typical and can be expected.
  • What is important to remember is that your attitude about your job is everything. A positive attitude can be your greatest asset.
  • A positive attitude promotes possibilities. When you say to yourself "Maybe I can" rather than "I can't," it creates an opportunity for success.
  • A negative attitude keeps you from achieving in your job or slows your progress. Such thinking usually results in doing less, giving up, or accomplishing slipshod work. And as you know, you are not likely to succeed when you do less, give up, or do poor quality work.
  • A positive attitude can help you succeed, and your attitude and resulting success will act as a magnet that attracts other achievers and opportunities to you.

Establishing relationships with faculty and students

Understanding that you have potential to contribute to each and every person's life is a place to start when establishing relationships in your new job.

  • For students, your contribution is likely to be to their education and personal growth. Seeing students grow and develop in their problem solving, critical thinking, and decision making is extremely gratifying.
  • If you view your interpersonal interactions with faculty in a similar way - considering what you might be able to contribute on a personal or professional level - you will have success in establishing collegial relationships.
  • When faculty see that you are open to ideas and to offering your energy and time for the benefit of other colleagues and the department, they will welcome you into the fold.

A word of advice when things seem to go amiss in your relationships with students or faculty:

  • In interpersonal relationships it is vital to keep the lines of communication open if you wish to maintain good relationships with others.
  • When misunderstandings do occur, be proactive and make every attempt to resolve the problem, rather than hoping it will subside or disappear on its own. Try to solve the little problems before they become big ones.

Learning to be a team player

If you have ever played a team sport, you realize that winning is a team effort. The same is true for working in a university department.

  • In order for the department to succeed, every faculty member must contribute. This includes such activities as conducting research, serving on committees, teaching, advising, recruiting new students and faculty, directing student research, attending faculty meetings, preparing for departmental performance reviews, and so forth.
  • Just as in team sports, there will be times that your individual achievement will need to be secondary to the team's collective achievement.
  • Unfortunately, not all faculty share this team spirit. Some may refuse to contribute to any endeavor that does not deliver a personal reward or advance their own career. And some faculty may be willing to be team players only after their individual needs have been met first.
  • Although you cannot control others' behavior, you can control your own and by doing so, you may lead others to catch the spirit by your positive model.

This information is adapted fromGuide to Success in Doctoral Study and Faculty Work (2002), by Helen K. Ezell. The complete guide is available for purchase from ASHA's Product Sales.

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