Updated On June 12, 2017 - 1:55pm

Successful Mentoring

  One of the most urgently needed, yet inconsistently observed responsibilities of all UCLA departments is the supportive mentoring of junior faculty. From their first days on campus these new arrivals require and deserve all the help they can get in adjusting to this city, learning the ropes of our campus and their department’s academic schedule. It is especially important for them to understand the expectations regarding publications, committee service, course conduct and deadlines as they pertain to their series, rank, and step. In general, they need to gain familiarity with our system of academic advancement and thereby acquire the confidence to navigate their careers. 

     Every department should assign to each new hire a knowledgeable, senior mentor. If the mentor-mentee relationship is unsatisfactory to both parties it is the Chair’s obligation to negotiate one that is satisfactory. It is advisable to allow the new faculty member time to settle into the department and meet colleagues before making a mutual decision about identifying her/his mentor. The rhythms of this sort of support and advice should not be oppressive, but they should be consistent; someone in their program must have a handle on their progress, especially in the years approaching tenure.  It is the duty of these advisors to create a comfortable schedule for periodic review of their mentees’ progress through the UC system of rank and step. They may need help in using the CALL and other official guidelines, in strengthening their Statements of Purpose and other documents during the periodic reviews, in trouble-shooting and/or updating their CVs, in applying experienced feedback for maintaining a strong rhythm of publications, and in avoiding being over-burdened by too many service assignments for junior faculty. This is especially the case during the crunch-time leading up to their tenure review. Here the mentee often needs moral support when petitioning for a lighter service load. 

     Junior faculty can also benefit from more informal chats about topics such as what constitute top-tier journals and publication outlets in their respective fields, advice about grant writing or starting up a lab, updates about how peer-review is working within the new frontier of digital publication, and tips about campus resources that might help their specific research or general career. In addition to departmental mentoring, the campus has a program available for providing assistant professors with advisors from outside the department. This program, the Council of Advisors, is especially helpful for those who may want another perspective on their dossier, or who wish to discuss the nuances of departmental politics with an objective third party. Chairs or faculty members can learn about this program on the web.

     Most important for junior faculty is a clear understanding of the CALL’s requirements and the department’s expectations for consolidating academic evidence and compiling strong dossiers towards the successful meeting of key career steps in UCLA’s system of academic advancement. If junior faculty are given clear guidelines, and periodically yet informally monitored as to their achievements in the areas of research/creativity, teaching practices, and service both on and off campus, they can be made aware of weak points, under-valued activities they never thought of,  research that might be directed in multiple directions, and improvements in highlighting their accomplishments.  They will learn what we mean by “barrier” steps, how to self-assess if they feel an “acceleration” or an “equity review” is in order,  and to anticipate the schedule for the review process so as not to be caught by surprise. 

     In a well-working department there is no excuse for junior faculty members to be surprised by what is expected of them – and how and when it is to be delivered. In the absence of a faculty ethos of general encouragement and targeted, professional support for them, sometimes, by default, departments can develop a culture of sink or swim that mitigates against open exchange and healthy counsel. That is when these “vulnerable faculty” can feel adrift, alienated, and no matter how bright or promising, they may look for more hospitable pastures.  Hence, it is not only the assigned mentor’s responsibility but to the entire program’s benefit to help these junior colleagues do their best, as researchers, educators, colleagues and, on occasion, spokespeople for UCLA.

    Good mentoring is not “hand holding.” We repeat: it is the necessary duty as well as the index of a well-functioning program. When CAP reviews dossiers of senior faculty, it looks with enthusiasm upon evidence of successful mentoring.