Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Orienting new faculty

In honor of all those new faculty currently drowning now that the school year has started, I've been thinking about new faculty orientation, and how inadequate it is. For Prodigal U's new faculty orientation, we were bombarded with information about teaching resources, University governance, research VPs given speeches, dealing with students, policies on cheating and the like. All of this is important, and I will admit that few would actually read the details if they weren't given in a required day of lectures.

But that doesn't get to what new faculty REALLY need to know (some of which can't or shouldn't be written). So I am making a list of things to tell the next newbie to join my department at Prodigal U. FWIW, I can't even imagine how overwhelming all of this would be if I didn't already have some clue about proposal writing, research planning, and budgeting from my years at National Lab!

1. The research/grants office (first--is there one?)
How does it work? At Prodigal U, each funding agency has an assigned person. That person knows (or is supposed to know) the ins and outs of the rules and regulations for applying. Some funding mechanisms require a filled out checklist to be submitted to this office with the Department chair's and/or Dean's signature on them. It is a good idea to check the office website for a list of these.
What can they provide? This depends on the person and the agency. The frequently applied for mechanisms have someone who can proof your proposal for obvious formatting or rules errors, make sure your budget isn't unrealistically out of line with what everyone else at Prodigal U is asking for, and in general look over things to make sure you aren't making a newbie mistake. Very valuable! Of course, this requires that you finish before the submission deadline, which won't happen too often if you are like me.
What is the deal with the office deadline so far before the submission deadline? For most things, this is just if you want your proposal reviewed. If you submit at the last minute, they just send it on without looking (if it is something they send) or you submit it without them seeing it.
Who are the useful people over there? Obviously can't be written, but I wish someone had told me this!

2. The admin office
Who is responsible for what in the office? In my department the admins all have different spheres they are in charge of. I was apparently expected to learn this by osmosis, since no one told me, and I often asked the wrong person for different information and/or services.
What is the procedure for getting funds reimbursed? Super important! Find out what you need receipts to have on them BEFORE spending big bucks out of pocket.
Who is responsible for the departmental website? Important, because you want your information up ASAP so you can start attracting students!

3. Teaching
How are exams scheduled? This is important--if you need a room for a big class, you need to know this ASAP so you can make sure you have one for your exams!
When do textbook orders need to be in? I found out by luck--a good thing for my students.
How long do you need to keep student work? If your department or U has a rule, best to find out BEFORE recycling those old exams. Also best to find out if you need to shred the exams before disposal (we do for student privacy).

4. Serving on students' supervising committees
How often/how much supervision? Unlike me, try to find out before you agree to do lots of this. You can say no!
What happens at PhD defenses? Go see one in your department before you are on an examining committee. Really--do it. You never know when you will be asked to join someone's committee for whatever reason. I've already been an examiner twice. The first time could have been highly embarrassing without seeing how the examinations usually go in my department.
What courses do students in your group need to take? This may be non-obvious! At Prodigal U, professors have much more latitude in selecting courses for their trainees at than at my PhD U. I was surprised when I was recruiting and students asked about it--you shouldn't be.

5. Misc stuff
Who can you ask budget questions? You need to know how much you should charge a budget for postdoc benefits. You need to know what the overhead tax is (at Prodigal U, it varies by funding source sometimes). You need to know how much to charge for a student. Is there a difference between residents and non-residents? Citizens and non-citizens? Find out who to ask.
Where are the good/fast/cheap places for coffee/lunch/beer? You need this info ASAP!
How do the projectors work in classrooms? At Prodigal U we have a standard system with a non-obvious user interface. A nice colleague offered to show me how it works before classes started. I had no idea I needed to know this.

A partial list of things I plan to tell my next new colleague so they aren't completely lost while learning the ropes of a new place. My department is full of nice, helpful people, so I didn't have too much trouble once I knew I needed to know this stuff. I asked a lot of questions, and got a lot of help. But it seems to me I had a better orientation to my postdoc at National Lab (in terms of the practicalities) than at Prodigal U, so I know it doesn't have to be this way!


GMP said...

Great list!
It's interesting that each funding agency has an assigned person at Prodigal U; here, there is a central office of sponsored programs, but each college has its own research programs office, and every department has its own representative in that office, who does grant submissions to all agencies...

Gerty-Z said...

I WISH I would get orientated by someone that knew what was going on around here! Instead I am constantly reinventing the wheel...