Advice for New Faculty Members

February 11, 2008

Advice for New Faculty Members

I’ve just finished reading a book by Robert Boice entitled, Advice for New Faculty Members. It came heavily recommended, particularly as I’m planning to transition from postdoc to new faculty member soon. The subtitle of the book is Nihil Nimus (loosely, “everything in moderation”) which is about a succinct a summary as one can devise for Boice’s book.

Boice spent years studying new faculty and identified the characteristics which set apart what he calls “quick starters” (only about 5% of all faculty). Unlike most new faculty, these quick starters were able to produce enough proposals and papers in their first 2-3 years to be in fine shape for tenure. The main difference in the two groups is that quick starters are better able to balance conflicting demands and quickly establish productive working (and networking) practices. This book (published in 1999) was written by Boice explicitly to provide practical advice based on his (and others) years of research.

The book is structured around three sections, entitled:

  1. Moderate Work at Teaching (chapters 1-8)
  2. Write in Mindful Ways (chapters 9-18)
  3. Socialize and Serve with Compassion (chapters 19-21)

covering the three major facets of an academic career. As I’m currently a postdoc, I read the middle section on writing with the most interest. It is also where I think I can begin to apply Boice’s advice immediately. His advice on teaching and faculty service will no doubt be more useful once I’ve got a faculty position. Operationally, on a first read through I took away this grossly simplified set of guidelines:

  • Limit classroom preparation time. (Most new faculty over prepare).
  • Spend 30-60 minutes EVERY workday on scholarly writing.
  • Spend an hour or two a week discussing research (and/or teaching) with colleagues.

The underlying principle to all three sections is working with constancy and moderation, hence he refers to it as the nihil nimus approach. I must admit that fifty pages into the book I was wondering if Boice is a Buddhist (he is) … as there is a clear emphasis on being mindful in all things. In general, his advice is mostly about process rather than product. A good thing, in my opinion, as there are many other sources for product advice (which is also more field specific). The process can be broken down into ten simple steps:

  1. Wait, reflect, and learn — rather than rush, impatiently and impulsively.
  2. Begin early at important tasks, before feeling fully ready.
  3. Work in brief, regular sessions.
  4. Stop in a timely fashion, before diminishing returns.
  5. Balance preliminaries with formal work.
  6. Moderate overattachment and overreaction.
  7. Moderate negative thoughts.
  8. Moderate emotions.
  9. Let others do some of the work.
  10. Limit Wasted Effort.

There were interesting parallels to the advice recently presented at a life coaching workshop I attended. For example, both sources talk extensively about moderating or eliminating negative self talk. They both also discuss moderating emotions and overreactions. Ultimately focusing instead on being proactive, tenacious, and balanced. Finally, Boice’s mindful approach is directly in line with the life coach’s suggestions to author your own life. They nice complemented each other.

I’ve oversimplified a book packed with advice, interesting studies, and inspiring quotes. It is a must read for those aspiring to academic careers. I will probably be rereading sections periodically for several years.


One Response to “Advice for New Faculty Members”

  1. […] Enligt en recensent ska Robert Boice vara buddist vilket kanske inte kommer som en överraskning med tanke på de likheter ovanstående råd har med zen-koncept som mindfullnes och ickedömande observationer av jaget. […]

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