PKAL Volume IV: What Works, What Matters, What Lasts

Words of Wisdom and Practical Advice from the Field: Advice for Early Career STEM Faculty I

April 10, 2008

Advancing and enhancing efforts of early-career STEM faculty is a central responsibility of PKAL. We are pleased to be collaborating with the Center for Integration of Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in their continuing work of preparing future faculty for undergraduate STEM learning environments. We present here some resources being developed by PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century panelists for the June 2008 CIRTL Forum.

From Karl A. Haushalter, Assistant Professor of Chemistry & Biology- Harvey Mudd College (F21 Class of 2008)

  • Seek out a mentor within your department and outside of your department. The mentoring relationship does not need to be formal, but you need at least these two people who regularly provide honest advice and candid feedback. One way to identify potential mentors yourself is to go out for lunch or coffee with several of your colleagues early after your arrival. From these informal conversations, you will hopefully start to form connections and find out whom you feel the most comfortable approaching for assistance.
  • Set priorities and make sure that the way that you spend your time reflects those priorities. It is safe to assume that you will have more items in your in-box than you can possibly do in a human amount of time. Triage. Know what you value personally and what your institution values and use these as a filter for focusing on those tasks that are truly important.

  • Network. Go to scientific conferences and develop connections with peers in your field. Invite speakers to campus and get yourself invited to give seminars at other institutions.
  • Keep a journal. This dedicated space to debrief about your experiences will help you learn and grow from lessons learned in the laboratory, classroom, or staff meetings.
  • Take photos. I wish that I had done this in the beginning. Take pictures of your empty lab/empty office before you move in. Document the transformation in your work place that occurs in the early years. Take photos of your first students; you will remember them for the rest of your career.
  • Actively seek and learn from (brutally) honest peer feedback. As difficult as it is to read a negative review of a grant or manuscript or to stumble in the question and answer phase of a seminar presentation, these experiences give you the feedback that you need to improve as a scientist. Think about giving talks, submitting grants, submitting manuscripts as great learning opportunities because you get free advice from your peers about your science and the ways that you explain it.
  • Have fun. This is an exciting time with limitless possibilities for your career and perhaps your first opportunity to see ideas that are truly your own come into fruition. Enjoy the ride.