Friday, November 27, 2009

Books for new faculty members

As I've mentioned previously, I've been reading (and skimming) a lot of books aimed at helping faculty members. Many of these are aimed specifically at new faculty members; several more are targeted toward achieving tenure. Needless to say, I've formed some opinions of these books.

I can't tell you how objectively useful these books are, since I haven't actually started a faculty job yet, I'm a sample of one, yada yada disclaimer disclaimer. ( in other words, this is not, "In this study, we randomly assigned new faculty members to read one of ten books. New faculty who read Turducken's Guide to Achieving Tenure, or, Guess Which Part of Research-Teaching-Service is the Chicken were twice as likely to achieve tenure as those who read Cthulu's Top Ten Tenure Tips.") Nevertheless, I found some books more helpful than others. The biggest problems?
  • Spending a lot of time on the applying to grad school or early grad school process in a book whose title guarantees it won't be picked up until well into the dissertation
  • Dubious advice (ie, "List your marital status on your CV")
  • Lots of remedial tips ("Many professors have offices, and these often have desks.")
  • Vague tips that can't be easily operationalized
  • A tendency to assume all fields are like the author's (ie, advising scientists that it is important to publish a book to get tenure)

With that said, here are the books I would recommend to grad students looking into faculty careers or new faculty members dealing with how to manage their time, run their own classes without drowning, and figuring out what exactly their job is. Because the one thing I consistently hear from assistant professors is that the first few years are painfully harder and that they work longer hours than they did in grad school. If that doesn't strike fear into a PhD student's heart, he or she doesn't have a heart.
  1. James Lang's Life Life on the Tenure Track: Strictly speaking, this isn't an advice book - he does have one, and it is a fine book. This is merely an account of his first year as an English professor in a small liberal arts college. This book just tells you what to expect (yes, even if you'll be teaching grad students and carrying a heavy expectation of research) so that you will then want to go out and read the others. You should also give this to your spouse, your parents, and anyone else who will wonder if you are trapped under a heavy object and unable to reach the phone during that first year.
  2. Emily Toth's first and second Ms. Mentor books: These have the enormous advantage of being funny and the disadvantage of not pretending to be comprehensive in their coverage. Although the first one is specifically for women, I think lots of the advice is applicable to any gender. Together, these books do the best job of conveying the culture of academe.
  3. The Black Academic's Guide to Winning Tenure--Without Losing Your Soul by Rockquemore and Laszloffy: You may not be a black academic, but then again, neither am I. I am not recommending this book because it will make you a better person by making you aware of what some of your colleagues may be going through (although it might do that), but because it has some very specific, useful tips for how to organize your office and use your time efficiently.
  4. Finally, Robert Boice's Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus is an absolutely terrific book on how to be productive. You can read it now, and maybe that will save you some trouble, but I recommend buying it and putting it away until some time in your first year when you realize your first year is at least as miserable as James Lang's was (except perhaps without the chronic disease) and that you thought you could handle it but you can't and you are SO BEHIND and oh crap here comes the department chair ... that is, when you've hit academic bottom, because only then are you ready for change.

1 comment:

Chad Lykins said...

Funny Eve, I'm reading your blog and checking out the links while eating dinner at my desk, working on a presentation to a group of research postgraduate students.