Within the academic arena, concepts are often discussed that are quite meaningful within such arenas, but whose definition may vary considerably across the broad spectrum of academic environments. “Faculty Development” is such a concept. At first glance, it may appear that this concept is quite easily understood. The process of helping young faculty to refine and enhance their academic skills seems a natural activity and expectation with the academic arena. But there are factors that may significantly modify the interpretation of the concept, depending on the relative weight of such variables with any specific system.
If a system is to engage in a process labeled Faculty Development, does that mean that the process is designed and implemented primarily for the faculty person without regard for the system and/or academic institution that is implementing the system? Is Faculty Development important as a service to the sponsoring institution or to the faculty member who is involved in such a process? Does the process seek to develop faculty to serve the primary institution, or does the institution recognize that a potential, and perhaps desirable, outcome of a faculty development process is the preparation of young faculty for relocation to other academic institutions? At the outset there is an apparent interesting dilemma, although either outcome, if it represents the personal goals as established by the faculty member, is an appropriate result of a Faculty Development process.
It is also important that one consider the difference between faculty preparation and “Faculty Development.” Faculty preparation, a process that begins as one begins professional academic training, refers to the development of the knowledge base, technical skills and interpersonal capacities that are seen by specific academic disciplines as requisite for entry into beginning faculty levels within that specific discipline. Post doctoral training and post-graduate medical education are the sites where much of this preparation process is completed.
Faculty Development refers to a process of assisting faculty members, at any level of experience and/or academic rank, in negotiating the task of continually answering the quite personal question of that person’s future directions and goals. Faculty Development requires that an individual clearly understand both the expectations of the role and the assets and/or deficits relative to those expectations that the faculty member brings to the role. The expectations are those that are imposed by the system (academic institution) in which a faculty role is contained as well as those expectations that are specific to the academic discipline of which the faculty member is a part. Equally and perhaps even more important are those expectations that emanate from within the faculty member that derive from past educational, growth, developmental, social and cultural experiences.
- What are my personal goals?
- How do my personal goals jibe with those of my Department and my institution?
- What are the factors within my institution that impact achieving my career goals?
- What are the factors within me, to include my education, experience, personal desires and needs, etc., that will impact my achieving my stated career goals?
- Are there “leaders” or “guides” to whom I may look to assist me in this process?
- Are the opportunities within my institution for personal “progress” or must I look elsewhere for such opportunities?
The questions above represent but a few of those that might weigh upon an entering faculty member. An important goal of a Faculty Development process is to provide both an opportunity for the faculty member to explore these and other questions, while at the same time encouraging the faculty member to do so. And having answered some or all of those questions, the process should then offer the faculty member both a guide to potential approaches to areas that such a review has defined and, at the same time, an on-going opportunity to consider mid-course corrections. Some faculty members, at the time they assume the mantle, have truly thought through the ramifications of such a decision. Some have not. There are multiple areas of personal impact to include intellectual, financial, social and family. A faculty development process must be prepared to recognize that each of these areas and others may be points of discussion within the career span of any faculty member. The faculty member will provide her or his individual answers to all areas of inquiry. The faculty development process should seek to ensure that persons involved in such a personal review have all the information necessary to complete the task.
Having stated a general conceptual framework, various part-aspects of the Faculty Development process will now be addressed.
Approaching one’s career goals may, for some, represent a simple, straight-forward task. It may be that an almost “cook book” approach will well-serve such individuals. For many, however, the pathway may be somewhat more complicated. This is not to suggest that the pathway will be either circuitous or tortuous. It is to suggest, however, that complexity in the process of monitoring and considering adjustments in both approach and goals should not be unexpected. As suggested above, a great deal of information will be necessary. An individual must be knowledgeable about the mission and goals of the department and of the institution of which he or she is apart. The requisite knowledge includes a reasonably comprehensive familiarity with and understanding of the operational rules and structure of that institution. As an example, persons within the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio should understand all of the issues surrounding academic promotion and the attaining of tenure within the Health Science Center, regardless of the major professional school to which the person is assigned. That there are three (3) separate and distinct “legs” of activity within this academic structure that will allow a person to be considered for promotion. That for those who seek promotion on a tenure track, there must be demonstrated excellence in two (2) of these areas also must be understood. For some who have come from other academic institutions, promotion and/or tenure considerations may have been somewhat different. The Regents of the University of Texas System have, however, determined the guidelines that are applicable within this academic system.
The faculty development process involves the presentation of specific information as to how to access hard copy references and resources that will be helpful to the new faculty member as she or he negotiates and defines their roles within a new system. Resource persons who can answer administrative inquiries and direct faculty toward immediate and comfortable answers to naturally arising questions are an essential ingredient for a faculty development process. In the UTHSCSA system, specific instruction on preparation of the electronic Curriculum Vita (eCV) is an example of the type of early, direct information sharing that is critical to a faculty development process.
Within the faculty development process the role of mentors is also potentially quite important. As noted earlier, some faculty persons may be able to negotiate a career development pathway in a quite satisfactory manner with little of no input, guidance and/or direction from other persons. For many others, that there be someone to serve in the leader/guide/advocate role is quite desirable. The mentor role has long been noted in academic processes. Although within the medical education environment, mentors have been discussed more within the Research arena, the need for such activity within the other legs of competence – Teaching and Service – is equally important. Also, there are many occasions when mentoring activity extends well-beyond the limits of a academic discipline or area of competence to include aspects of management, interpersonal competence, daily living and other interactions that form the core of the professional existence.
To the extent possible, mentor-mentee relationships should be mutually agreed upon interactions. Such relationships do not require that persons “like” one another. They do require that there is mutual respect as a basis for the interaction. Neither person exists within the relationship to please the other. Rather the relationship exists to facilitate the developmental process of the mentee. The mentor stands ready to advise, assist, direct and provide advocacy for the mentee. Insistence on performance is best not a part of the process. At the same time, the requirement for clear and direct feedback, to include areas of disagreement is omnipresent within the relationship. From this perspective, whether a Supervisor may also function as a mentor requires discussion and deliberation. Early discussions of career development matters may begin with any person of the faculty members choosing. However, the selection and/or assignment of “Mentors” should occur after quite thoughtful deliberation in which the faculty member is very much involved.
A department should survey its faculty members to determine their perspective on their areas of expertise and their willingness to serve in the mentor role. All faculty members who are knowledgeable or have expertise in specific areas are not necessarily equipped to serve the multiple roles that may be required of a mentor. On the other hand, significant care should be taken to avoid administrative exclusion of persons because of some perceived idiosyncrasy that may or may not be of importance in interaction with some potential mentees. Young faculty members who are considering different career pathways ought be encouraged to then explore with potential mentors the possibilities of more specifically designed mentor-mentee interactions. This approaches the desired goal of a “mutually agreed upon interaction.” Young faculty ought also to be encouraged to allow themselves the flexibility to identify for themselves resource persons who, while not carrying the title of “mentor”, are able to provide guidance and direction at specific times and in response to unique issues that may fall outside the purview of formal mentor-mentee relationships. This process potentially empowers the faculty member to become an advocate for the development of the “total self,” a critical necessity in any career development activity
A faculty development system may impact upon an individual faculty member, the collective faculty, the parent institution of which that system is a part and/or an external institution that may become the new “academic home” for a faculty member. While the impact of the system on the index faculty member is of paramount importance, the impact on the other areas should also be assessed. Therefore, it is requisite that “evaluation’ discussions be comprehensive. Some of the questions that an evaluation plan ought seek to answer may include the following:
- What observable markers are present that would indicate the degree of progress, within a defined time frame, toward individual goals as outlined in a written action plan?
- What is the degree of “satisfaction” on the part of the faculty member with the progress or lack thereof?
- What is the degree of “satisfaction” on the part of the faculty member’s mentor with the progress or lack thereof?
- What are course corrections that must occur if stated goals are to be achieved?