New Faculty Guilt: Transitioning from Practitioner to Professor

Faculty of student affairs preparation programs represent a unique path to the professoriate in that most, if not all, have worked full-time as practitioners in various student affairs roles prior to moving into full-time faculty roles (McCluskey-Titus & Cawthon, 2004).   In other fields, such as English or History, it may be acceptable to progress through graduate school directly into faculty roles without gaining professional work experience outside the classroom.   Student affairs professionals collaborate daily across various functional areas on campus and do not work in isolation.   They help countless students every day.  Their work is intense, essential, and working from home is not usually a realistic option.  To become a faculty member in higher education, an individual must have a doctoral degree, teaching and research experience, and solid understanding and experience in student affairs functional areas.  However, going from practitioner to professor holds both expected and unexpected transitions.

What is Guilt?

Guilt is defined by Merriam-Websters Dictionary as “feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy.”  Survivor’s guilt was first observed among Holocaust survivors from those who survived while others perished.  Since then, survivor’s guilt has been attributed to other situations, though usually to less horrific circumstances.  In the employment world, survivor’s guilt can be understood to mean “a guilt that results from one’s awareness that so many qualified individuals are experiencing working conditions so much worse than one’s own” (Austen, 2011).  There is scant literature on employee guilt in higher education.  However, Faflak (2006) described the concept of academic guilt, which can be the feelings experienced when a professor in a department earns tenure while others in the same department are denied tenure.  Though less academic, doctoral students or those who have left academia have written blogs relating to academic guilt. One example of this was when a newly minted doctoral student was offered a tenure track position at the debatable expense of former cohort members (J.J., 2012).

Though little is known concerning faculty or staff guilt in higher education, guilt may impact students in certain ways.  For example, first-generation students can experience the guilt of leaving their families behind as they pursue education.  Guilt may also present itself when these students struggle to live simultaneously in two worlds (the academic and family of origin), not quite feeling at home in either (Lubrano, 2004; Navarrete, 1993; Rendón, 1996; Rodriguez, 1974).  First-generation students who eventually move into faculty roles (Rodriguez, 1974) or white collar positions (Lubrano, 2004) may continue to struggle with the guilt the gift of education has bestowed upon them—a belief that others express, including family members and friends back home, who may see them as haughty, self-important, and having abandoned their roots.

New Faculty Literature

Developments, in Volume 7, sponsored a five-part series to help new faculty learn more about their roles.  Two of the series’ contributions (Marshall, 2009; Owen, 2009) are particularly helpful in informing this article, but unfortunately, as a student affairs practitioner considering a faculty role, I was unfamiliar with Developments.  More literature is needed to assist student affairs practitioners who aspire to move into faculty roles (McCluskey-Titus & Cawthon, 2004).  As Marshall (2009) aptly stated, “there is no ‘guidebook’ for making the transition and those who want to do so often have limited information.”

An internet search for “administrator to faculty” assumed I erred and recommended, “Did you mean faculty to administrator?” Curiously, more has been written about faculty moving into administrative roles, including a volume of New Directions for Higher Education (Henry, 2006).  These articles and books are often written by senior level administrators who began in faculty roles, and are replete with advice and cautions as to what one should expect in the transition.  New faculty books (Boice, 2000; Menges, 1999) offer useful advice on how faculty might establish themselves in terms of teaching, scholarship, and service in addition to the very important and practical skill of learning an institution’s culture.  Boice (2000) also cautioned new faculty members regarding negative thinking and self-doubt.  However, these publications do not address feelings of guilt.

My Experience

Prior to my current position I had worked the better part of a decade in different student services capacities, Monday through Friday, 8:00 A.M.  to 5:00 P.M..  Problem solving, helping students, working with parents, understanding and interpreting campus policies, and collaborating with departments across campus, among other things, were both expectations and daily occurrences.  As a faculty member, the expectations changed considerably to where my physical presence was only required for classes, meetings, and office hours.  I am certain my jaw dropped when I was told I only needed to be present for 10 office hours per week.  It seemed as though there were no rules on campus.  I was unleashed to a new world of ideas, autonomy, and independence.  I was, as Jacobe (2013), also a faculty member, so fittingly stated, “free to go about my business as I saw fit.”

Guilt manifested itself in four ways.  First, I felt guilty for leaving former colleagues with increased burden, stress, and workloads just before the new semester began.  My overworked colleagues at my last institution were still scrambling to help students adjust their schedules well into the second week of the semester with hardly a lunch break, while undoubtedly cursing Admissions for continuing to admit new students when there so few classes available.  Hardly established at my new position, my knowledge and talent were not nearly as worthwhile as they had been a short time ago.  Meanwhile, I might have had one student email in my inbox.  Sometimes I would email myself to make sure it still worked.

Second, guilt became apparent at my new institution when I worked with our department secretary.  I could come and go as I pleased, but she could not, and walking by her as I left before 5:00 P. M.  was a constant reminder.  There was one day when I was in the office for two hours due to child care issues and a doctor’s appointment.  It ate me up inside when I explained my day to our department secretary, both of us knowing that I did not need to worry or bother completing any sick or vacation leave sheets for the day’s cameo appearance.  It is disappointing that our administrative staff members work so hard and are so committed, but what is their reward? Are they recognized enough? Some work harder than faculty, but with abysmal wages and without the possibility of a lifetime appointment.  More guilt set in when I spent the winter break at home with my children when I knew other coworkers had to remain in the office.

Thirdly, realizing much of my work could be done from anywhere with an internet connection and that no one was keeping track of where I was, more guilt set in.  I felt I had to let everyone know I was still working, so I might announce my schedule, such as, “I’ll be in the library a couple of hours before going home,” in case my work ethic was questioned.  I worried rumors would spread.  I wondered if I appeared to be working enough.  Do they think I am working if I am not there? Sure I had other things I could do, but once my class preparations were in order, nothing was ‘due.’ I felt guilty that I should be doing more.  Focusing more on teaching and service (over scholarship) come naturally to new student affairs faculty (Owen, 2009).  The mindset that became ingrained by working for years from 8:00 A. M. to 5:00 P. M. and being required to let others know my whereabouts on my Outlook calendar was suddenly interrupted.  “What do you mean I don’t have to be here right now?” was the constant voice in my head.  I thought I knew what less structure for faculty (Owen, 2009; Underwood & Cawthon, 1999) meant, but I was mistaken.  “What if I am caught buying groceries at 2:00 P. M. ?” was another perpetual thought.  Faculty life was slower (Griffith, 2006).  Guilt intensified.  Impostor syndrome and self-doubt (Roche, 2013) also set in.  Did I deserve to be a professor?

A fourth way that guilt became unmistakable was when I completed a workshop for our residential life staff.  As student affairs practitioners, that is just a typical part of what we do.  But faculty have a special name for it: service. Things I normally did a semester before, like collaborating with other offices on campus, serving on search committees, speaking to student groups, or presenting at conferences gives me points now.  Seasoned colleagues instruct, “Add that to your portfolio!” I felt like a student who was trying too hard to pad his résumé.

Transitioning

Now that I have completed my second year, I no longer feel the same degree of guilt as I have adjusted better into my new role.  These issues were mostly temporary.  Some of my research interests continue in the same functional area that I worked in before becoming a faculty member.  I have kept in touch with the friends I left at my old institution and that has helped through my transition.  New collaborative efforts on my new campus continue to help establish my role, in addition to developing more courses and having more students to advise.  I work odd hours and weekends but feel fine that no one is keeping track and that no one really cares how I go about my work; I just need to do it well.  My experience with guilt may not apply to all new faculty, but hearing multiple perspectives on new faculty adjustment should be reassuring.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you experienced guilt after beginning a new position?
  2. How do you think others perceive your work?
  3. What are some things you can do now to facilitate forming realistic expectations for your next career transition?

References

Austen, V. J. (2011). Haven’t we heard this all before? Contingent faculty and the unchanging times. English studies in Canada, 37(1), 13-16.

Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Faflak, J. (2006). Whose guilt? English studies in Canada, 32(1), 1-10.

Griffith, J. G. (2006). Transition from faculty to administrator and transition back to the faculty. In R. J. Henry (Ed.) Transitions between faculty and administrative careers (pp. 67-77).  (New Directions for Higher Education, No. 134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Henry, R. J. (Ed.) (2006). Transitions between faculty and administrative careers.  (New Directions for Higher Education, No.134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

J. J. (2012, July 31). On guilt, self-blame, or magical thinking in academia [Web log comment].Retrieved from http://leavingacademia.blogspot.com/2012/07/on-guilt-self-blame-andmagical_31.html

Jacobe, M. F. (2013, April 12). Think like an administrator. Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/04/12/essay-what-its-faculty-member-become-administrator

Lubrano, A. (2004). Limbo: Blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams. New York, NY: Wiley.

Marshall, S. M. (2009, Spring). Student affairs pathways to the professoriate: Perspectives on the transition. Developments, 7(1). Retrieved from http://www.acpa.nche.edu/article/student-affairs-pathways-professoriate-perspectives-transition

McCluskey-Titus, P. , & Cawthon, T. W. (2004). The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence: Making a transition from student affairs administrator to full-time faculty. NASPA Journal, 41, 317-335.

Menges, R. J. (Ed.) (1999). Faculty in new jobs. San Francisco, CA. Jossey Bass.

Navarrette, R. (1993). A darker shade of crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Owen, J. E. (2009, Fall). Student affairs pathways to the professoriate: Perspectives on teaching. Developments, 7(3), Retrieved from http://www.acpa.nche.edu/article/student-affairs-pathways-professoriate-perspectives-teaching

Rendón, L. I. (1996, November/December). Life on the border. About Campus, 1, 14-19.

Roche, J. (2013).The empress has no clothes: Conquering self-doubt to embrace success. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Rodriguez, R. (1974). Going home again: The new American scholarship boy. American Scholar, 44, 15-28.

Underwood, S. J., & Cawthon, T. W. (1999). Moving from administrator to faculty member: Look before you leap. College Student Affairs Journal, 19, 88-96.

About the Author

Rene Couture is an Assistant Professor of College Student Personnel at Arkansas Tech University.  His research interests include first-generation college students, academic advising issues, and transfer students.

Please e-mail inquiries to Rene Couture.

Disclaimer

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Surviving the First Year: Challenges, Benefits, and Tips for a Successful Faculty Experience

Surviving the First Year: Challenges, Benefits, and Tips for a Successful Faculty Experience

Megan Moore Gardner
University of Akron
Jeni Hart
University of Missouri

The purpose of this five- part Developments series is to provide insight into making the transition from student affair practitioner to student affairs faculty. Contributors discuss career trajectories, the job search process, interview experiences, transitional challenges, writing for publication and offer general advice. Additional key points include insights into the pros and cons of moving from practitioner to faculty, the value of administrative experiences, faculty job searches, negotiating a faculty position, and tips for managing the first year as a professor. Each article includes real life examples, appropriate connections to the literature, and essential information for those considering the move from administration to faculty.

Life as a faculty member is different than that of a student affairs administrator and educator. However, many of the professional skills mastered as an administrator may be transferred to enhance faculty work. Increased autonomy, pressure to effectively balance teaching, research, and service, and figuring out an entirely new and different organizational culture are but a few of the demands of faculty work. Developing a good understanding of faculty culture and expectations, coupled with the application of skills already honed in an administrative position, will contribute to a successful first year and overall career as a faculty member. In this article, we review common challenges faced by faculty in their first year, characteristics of administrative work that may be used to enhance faculty work, and conclude with suggestions to ease the transition and assist with not only surviving, but thriving in the first year.

Challenges

Professional autonomy is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of faculty work. Such autonomy, however, may also be one of the biggest challenges. New faculty transitioning from administrative positions that functioned according to a typical “nine to five” work day or that required the professional to be physically present on campus 40 plus hours per week may experience initial dissonance with the faculty time-clock. Faculty life provides opportunities to work outside of the traditional office or classroom setting with limited to no supervision of your work. This may present challenges to those who struggle to stay on task, who are frustrated by sometimes ambiguous expectations, or who have difficulty with professional self-discipline. The initial freedom is quite refreshing. This freedom allows faculty members to determine when and where they work best—which is often critical in the pursuit of research. It can also be a tremendous asset in juggling work and family. At the same time, many higher education programs offer courses in the late afternoons and evenings, which can challenge work and family integration (and perhaps the time of day when you are most productive as a writer). Even with such autonomy and flexibility, maintaining a personal schedule is beneficial in order to ensure you can effectively manage all teaching, research, and service activities.

A second challenge deals with the difficulty of balancing teaching, research, and service expectations. Particularly in the first year of faculty work, a great deal of time is spent learning about the culture and expectations of the new work environment. Many institutions allow first-year faculty to engage in a reduced course load in an effort to provide a transition period that helps create and maintain balance. Likewise, many departments try to “protect” junior faculty from service responsibilities, in order to allow you more time to focus on research and teaching. This may feel a bit uncomfortable, since many student affairs professionals have become accustomed to engaging in committee work and connecting with others throughout cmpus on a regular basis. This protection from service creates an additional tension. Most often, as a new faculty member, you are on a new campus and in a new community. Service can be a wonderful opportunity to meet others across campus—others who may become friends, colleagues, and collaborators. With this in mind, you may want to agree to service responsibilities (e.g., curriculum committees, policy committees, awards committees, etc.) in intentional ways. Accept invitations to committees that may help you in other areas of your position. For example, if your research focuses on women, agree to serve on your campus committee for the status of women. Or if you feel you need a setting to talk about teaching, agree to serve on the curriculum committee.

Creating new classes, forging a research agenda, and engaging in meaningful service could each easily be all consuming activities. It is necessary and important for you to be aware of the challenge of balance and to take the steps necessary to establish it at the beginning of your career in an effort to continue to have well-rounded professional experiences throughout your academic career. Moreover, for many new faculty the pressure to, and process of, publishing can be extremely long and arduous. Recognizing that you are a in a marathon, not a sprint when it comes to publishing is the key to surviving the publishing process. You may have colleagues in your department who are willing to read drafts of your work before submission, or you may have graduate assistant support that can take some pressure off your other demands. Do not be reticent to ask for advice and assistance, including suggestions on how to work with graduate assistants for the first time. Given the somewhat ambiguous nature of faculty work coupled with unprecedented autonomy, supervising graduate students feels quite different from supervising student affairs staff who have more delineated timelines and responsibilities.

Finally, faculty and administrative cultures are very different and the dichotomy can create some anxiety and frustration for new faculty transitioning from administrative roles. The faculty culture is one that is dominated by rank and autonomy. As mentioned in preceding paragraphs, faculty typically have a great deal of freedom of expression, time, and opinion. As such, it can be difficult to establish colleagues, find mentors, and create professional relationships. Moreover, faculty culture is often dominated by meetings; extensive discussion; and strict adherence to collective bargaining agreements, bylaws, and/or Robert’s Rules of Order. Each of these rules and regulations takes time to learn and understand, tasks that may be daunting for the new faculty member. Decisions that may be made in a top-down manner in an administrative setting are often made through group discussion, voting, and consensus in the faculty setting. This often results in longer and more drawn out decision-making processes. New faculty who are used to a faster-paced, more hierarchical decision making process may experience discord when first exposed to the faculty culture of decision making.

As a first-year faculty member, it is important to understand your role as an assistant professor and the expectations others have for those in that role. More often than not, first year assistant professors are expected to spend the year learning about the organizational culture; finding balance between their teaching, research, and service expectations; and laying the groundwork for their anticipated contribution to new knowledge and to the profession. This is the year to ask questions, find mentors, and read as many organizational documents (e.g., the promotion and tenure guidelines at the department, college, and university if you are on a tenure track; collective bargaining agreements) as you can in an effort to gain the most complete understanding of your organization’s culture.

Using Previous Administrative Experience to Enhance Faculty Work

Previous administrative experience can enhance faculty work in a variety of ways. First and foremost, student affairs administrators are educators. You have been educating students throughout your administrative career. You are well-versed in the merits of both the curricular and the co-curricular learning experiences. The understanding of the out-of-class experience and the myriad ways it can be used to enhance the in-class experience greatly benefits students and can assist you with the effective transfer of theory to practice. Faculty who have served as administrators also generally have a strong understanding of the need for establishing relationships and collaborating throughout campus, skills that are particularly important during a time of reduced resources and increased demands for accountability. As a professional versed in administration, you may have a better understanding of the need for, and benefits of, faculty-administrative partnerships and may work more quickly to build such relationships through service and teaching experiences, including developing internships, assistantships, and practica for students.

Faculty may also use the knowledge garnered from previous administrative experience when working with students. More aware of the practical challenges and expectations faced by today’s students, administrators-turned-faculty may have a more thorough grasp of the complex nature of today’s students and may be better able to create classroom experiences that engage the adult students with whom we work. Finally, student affairs educators are required, on a daily basis, to juggle the demands of various institutional stakeholders including students, faculty, and members of the community. The ability to balance a number of demands at once, coupled with the ability to discern which tasks are most important, are skills that are easily transferred and applied to the faculty requirement of balancing teaching, research, and service. Recognizing which tasks or demands are most important and prioritizing accordingly is a much needed task for both administrators and faculty.

Surviving the First Year

The following suggestions are designed to assist new faculty during the first year.

  1. Negotiate a reduced course load and graduate or research assistant during the first year. The additional time and support will enable you to learn the culture of your new organization, establish organizational tools that will assist you as you move forward, and will provide you with overall assistance as you delve into teaching, research, and service.
  2. Establish and protect at least one “research day” that is set aside each week. If you are expected to spend 40% of your time on research, time equal to two days during the Monday-Friday week should be allocated for research. On those days, commit yourself to focusing primarily on your research agenda. This is particularly difficult during the first year when you are asked to participate in service opportunities and you are seeking to build connections on campus. It is, however, a necessary and important facet of your professional life that will, in the end, pay off immensely.
  3. A key to surviving the first year is learning how to say “No” professionally and graciously. New faculty members mean new opinions, hands, and people who can serve on committees, collaborate on research, develop new courses, etc. Figuring out the aforementioned culture of the institution is cumbersome enough in the first year. Adding too much committee work, overloading research and becoming beleaguered by teaching responsibilities will only contribute to overwhelming and underproductive first year.
  4. Partner with others on research. Particularly in the first year, it can be difficult to get started with your research agenda. A great way to get your foot in the door is to partner with colleagues from your current institution and throughout your field. This will reduce your research work load at the beginning and will provide you with ample learning opportunities and collaborative experiences. But be savvy; if your reward system expects an independent (i.e., solo) research agenda in order to earn tenure, you will want to do this judiciously.
  5. Get to know your institution and your colleagues. Pay attention to department, college, and institutional cultures. Seek to understand institutional politics and how politics function within your own department, college, and institution. Understanding the processes and political culture of your institution will enable you to figure out how you fit into the institutional tapestry. It will also help you figure out those colleagues who may be a good fit for research partnerships, mentoring, and professional relationships.
  6. Ask questions when you are unsure of policies, situations, or requests. This will help you begin to unravel the sometimes complex and ambiguous nature of faculty work. It will also ensure that you are doing your work in accordance with faculty guidelines and expectations.
  7. Remember there is always next semester. You do not have to do everything during your first semester or even year. As previously mentioned, you are in a marathon, not a sprint. Many of the aforementioned tasks take time and providing yourself the flexibility and understanding to take that time is a key to your success both in the first year and beyond. In addition, those asking you to participate in projects or committees will continue to ask you if you do good work. So, refer back to #3.
  8. Do not forget the core reason for your work…students. It is very easy to get caught up in the politics of faculty life and forget that you are there to serve students. When you get frustrated or overwhelmed, remind yourself of the many ways in which your work enhances the academic and co-curricular lives of students.

Concluding Remarks

The first year of faculty work presents many new challenges and unique professional nuances. If managed effectively, however, your new role can be extremely rewarding. Becoming versed in both the benefits of faculty life as well as the potential pitfalls will enable you to achieve success and satisfaction with both your first year and your overall career in academia.

Please send inquiries and feedback to Megan Moore Gardner at [email protected].