Faculty mentoring still varies by department

One year after Yale launched an effort to create stronger mentoring programs for non-tenured professors, departments are implementing a wide array of initiatives and a few have elected not to launch new programs at all.

Non-tenured professors from several departments reported very different advising experiences, from formal programs that assign multiple mentors to each junior professor to no formal mentoring. Last October, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler asked all departments to discuss and develop model mentoring programs for 2005, but a formal review process will not begin until this spring.

Mentoring provides junior faculty with advice about which avenues of research and publication will be most valuable for their careers, Salovey said. Mentoring can help young professors focus on their productivity and scholarship instead of their understanding of the conventions of academia, he said.

“Good mentoring can level the playing field a little bit by allowing everyone to work to their full potential,” Salovey said.

The Women’s Faculty Forum conducted a series of interviews with junior professors who left Yale for other institutions, said Religious Studies Department Director of Undergraduate Studies Paula Hyman, who is a WFF Steering Committee member. Their survey, while unscientific, indicated dissatisfaction with mentoring and support at the University, she said.

The departing professors who were “least bitter” about their experiences said they came to Yale primarily to take advantage of its resources — such as its libraries — and reputation, Hyman said.

“Several people told us, ‘The Yale name was the best thing about Yale,'” she said.

Butler and Salovey said next year’s review will allow for a sharing of best practices across the University, but individual departments — where junior professors may have very different needs — will not be required to use the same plans.

“Everybody has to be mentored in the way that’s suitable to their discipline,” Butler said.

In the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department, junior faculty are assigned two mentors, one to advise research activities such as writing grant applications and another to guide academic and lab management issues, Department Chair Thomas Pollard said. Pollard said he designed the program, which has been in place for about six months, with input from junior faculty.

“They were getting a fair amount of ad hoc mentoring prior to this, but it’s good to have all the pieces in one place so we can make sure no one is getting left behind,” Pollard said.

David Wells, an assistant professor in the MCDB department, said he had a close relationship with two professors before the formal program was implemented, but he thinks the program would be particularly useful for incoming junior faculty to ensure that they find mentors.

In contrast to the MCDB Department’s structured mentoring, the Anthropology Department has not implemented a formal program, said David Watts, the department’s director of undergraduate studies. Instead, informal mentoring occurs within sub-fields such as biological anthropology or sociocultural anthropology.

“It’s not something we’ve forgotten about,” Watts said. “We have had some casual conversations about it this fall, but it hasn’t been a big topic.”

Celia Schultz, an assistant professor in the Classics Department, said she attended a meeting with her department’s chair last month to review her research and discuss where she should concentrate her work. Such meetings between junior faculty and the department chair comprise the Classics Department’s new mentoring program, she said.

“I didn’t really learn anything I didn’t already know, but I did get reassurance that I am on the right track, a rare thing here at Yale,” Schultz wrote in an e-mail.

History Department Chair Paul Freedman said mentoring is linked to many other issues that affect the tenure process, which is currently under review by a nine-member committee co-chaired by Salovey and Butler.

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