Feature Article from 2018 AMTE Early Career Award Winner

Sarah B. Bush, University of Central Florida

Five Simple Recommendations for New Faculty Members

This year concludes my seventh year in academia. During this short time, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from many different experiences. I’ve been a faculty member at two vastly different institutions, first at a small private liberal arts university and now at the largest (by enrollment) public university in the country. I’ve supervised student teachers, taught countless sections of mathematics methods, advised students, served as PI for a grant, chaired an annual NCTM meeting, and worked as an associate dean in charge of accreditation amongst other duties.

One truth I have found is that keeping it simple can go a long way. By its very nature, being a faculty member is complex and challenging, yet rewarding. From my journey, I offer five simple recommendations for navigating life as a new faculty member based on what I have learned during the past seven years.

Be Yourself…But Listen Closely to Your Mentors

When I was a new professor I often asked my mentors for advice and on nearly every topic big and small. Should I serve on this committee? How do I handle a problematic colleague? To which journal should I submit this manuscript? While now I can make decisions on my own much of the time, I also know there are still times when I should seek advice, especially when something is a big decision or will impact my life in a significant way. When making a consequential decision, seek the input of trusted mentors. While in the end you have to follow your instincts, do so with an informed perspective, additional insights, and information from a different viewpoint. Take-away: Seek Advice and Be an Informed Decision Maker

Say “Yes” to More Than You Should … But Not to Everything

You are going to be asked to do many different things, and often, I’ve learned that you will always say yes to more than you should, and I've never regretted these experiences. But, don’t say yes to everything. Say no when it’s clearly not a good fit, it conflicts with other work you are doing, isn’t the right timing, or it gives you a bad feeling. I’ve learned overtime to trust myself. You may feel that you can’t say no, but you need to control your agenda. When saying no, simply explain that it doesn’t fit within your current work plan or that you must stay focused on your current projects. People will understand. Take-away: Think Carefully Before Deciding Whether to Say Yes or Say No.

Be a Short-term and Long-term Planner

Our line of work is nebulous thus planning is essential. Short-term planning is important, this is how you can prioritize tasks to be done each day and to accomplish in a week. Short-term planning ensures that we meet deadlines, finish grading on time, and submit conference proposals by their deadline. However, long-term planning is equally important. How am I going to push my research forward this month? What is my annual paper or grant submission goal? Where do I want my research to be in 5 years? Long-term planning is just as important as short-term planning but for very different reasons. While short-term planning holds us accountable to others and makes us good colleagues and teachers, long-term planning holds us accountable as contributing scholars and to our career goals. To be successful in academia, both are essential. Take-away: Don’t Procrastinate in the Short-Term and Engage in Long-Term Planning!

Channel Your Inner Classroom Teacher!

Tough Crowd? Deal with it. Bad day? It’s not about you! No time for a restroom break? That’s still your reality. Being a mathematics teacher educator is not much different from being a K-12 mathematics teacher. The basic rules still apply when teaching adults:

  • Show you care about the person
  • Build relationships based on respect and trust
  • Have command of your content but admit you don’t know everything
  • You aren’t a professor to be their friend, but they do need you to be their mentor
  • Laugh (or keep a good sense of humor about things).

Take-away: Always Put Your Teacher Hat On!

Think Proportionally

In academia, we all have required duties that bring us limited joy. These duties are unavoidable, and I imagine this is true for nearly all professions. However, I’ve learned that it is all about the proportion of your time you spend on professional work you are good at and enjoy, compared to the proportion of time you spend on tasks you want to avoid. I have found I’m most happy during semesters when I spend more time (such as 75%) on faculty responsibilities I find enjoyable. Take an inventory of what your proportions are and if they are not in the amount that leads to your well-being, make an action plan to gradually shift your proportions. Take-away: Do the Math!