Questions to Ask (& Answer) When Onboarding New Faculty

Image description: photo of the author wearing an autumnal outfit with a red sweater layered over a red plaid shirt, with dark blue jeans, and leather boots. The camera is angled down, highlighting leaves on the ground and a white cane.

Hello! I hope this finds you and yours safe and well. I am writing from the beginning of the Fall semester (Year 3 on the Tenure Track for me). Today’s blogpost is more or less a reflection on what I wish I knew as a faculty member in Year 1.

This blogpost is both for new, incoming faculty and for Departments that wish to successfully onboard their new faculty members. The perspectives represented here are those of a non-tenured faculty member on the tenure track at a public School of Public Health.

In a nutshell, the below is a condensed list of what new faculty members may need to know upon arrival. They are organized by “teaching”, “research”, “advising/mentoring” and “service.”

Teaching

  • Deadlines for submitting course outlines and draft syllabi for the purposes of course scheduling
  • Campus resources for faculty who teach, which might be housed in a “Center for Teaching Excellence” or similarly-named Center.
  • Departmental or School requirements for assigned Teaching Assistants
    • Number of students enrolled
    • Course format (lab/lecture/discussion section, etc)
  • What platform does the Department/School use for courses? (e.g. Sakai, Blackboard, Compass, etc)
  • Is there a specific syllabus template or format that must be used?
    • If so, where can it be found?
  • Is there the option to revise the Course Evaluation survey to get more tailored feedback?
  • Are faculty in your role allowed course buyouts if they get a grant?
    • If so, how does that process work?

Research

  • Who handles graduate research assistant (GRA) appointments?
    • What are the deadlines for GRA appointments?
    • Are pay rates negotiable if budgeted in a grant? (e.g. beyond the suggested pay rates for NIH and NSF)
  • Departmental, School, or Center supports for grant-writing and submission
    • Contact information
    • Timelines for pre-submission and submission processes
  • The process for internal pre-submission review of grant proposals
    • Which office handles this?
    • How long does the process take? Put another way, how much cushion should be built in for a timely grant submission? E.G. At UNC-Chapel Hill, it is preferable to build in 10 business days for the Office of Sponsored Research to review proposals prior to submission.
  • Is there an office of research development that maintains contacts with Program Officers at major funders?
  • Is there a mock review panel for the funders in your field?
    • This can include the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and private funders, like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)

Advising/Mentoring

  • What resources are there for new advisors?
  • Are advisors matched with prospective students during the admissions process? Or does the ‘matching’ process occur after the student arrives on campus?
  • Is co-advising incoming students an option?
  • Is there a formalized mentoring process for faculty at all ranks? E.g. faculty mentoring committees composed of more senior faculty from within (and outside of) the Department?

Service

  • Are there any immediate service obligations for incoming faculty?
  • Is it possible to have protected time- including exemption from service obligations, like committees, in the first year?
  • What are the time commitments for the various committees? And how are they distributed across the terms?
    • E.g. the Admissions Committee may be busiest at the end of the Fall Semester or Winter Quarter, which competes with the year-end holiday break and January grant deadlines
  • Is more weight assigned to School/Division or University service versus Departmental service?

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start! I welcome any further suggestions for this list in the comments. :)

All my best,

Arrianna

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