Being a new faculty member is both exciting and stressful. The early years of an academic career involve getting oriented and integrated into the campus community; developing and enhancing teaching, research, and service skills; navigating the tenure track or non-tenure track position; creating work-life balance; and establishing professional networks. Even for those with prior experience in academia, new faculty at WPI may face challenges adjusting to our seven-week terms and our tradition of project-based learning.
Mentoring, both from senior colleagues and from near peers, is a key to turning these potential roadblocks into areas of advancement (Sorcinelli, 2004). Research shows that having multiple mentors is associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, more effective teaching, stronger records of scholarly productivity, and increased rates of retention, tenure, and promotion (Johnson, 2007; Cartwright, 2008; National Academy, 2010.)
Since 1997, WPI’s teaching and learning center has facilitated a campus-wide New Faculty Mentoring Program for all new full-time faculty members in all academic departments and programs.
Elements of WPI’s Program
One-on-one component. Each new full-time faculty member is matched with a more senior colleague who is committed to meeting regularly during the first year, serving as an important initial node of an on-campus network of mentors. New faculty will be contacted by the Associate Director of New Faculty Programs to express their interest in and preferences for the mentoring program. The Associate Director recruits an appropriate mentor(s), and confidentiality is a key principle of the relationship. The formal mentoring relationship is anticipated to last for the first year of the new faculty member's appointment, but may be extended or terminated at the request of either person. Each mentor-mentee pair schedules regular meetings, which typically range from biweekly to once per month. The Morgan Center funds one lunch per term at a local restaurant for each mentoring pair. Training and resources are provided for mentoring pairs, focusing on two recommended outcomes of the relationship: a mentoring network map and a one-year plan of strategic goals.
Cohort component. The Morgan Center facilitates once-per-term gatherings of each new faculty class to stay connected and share experiences. These “near peers” are another powerful source of both social and practical support within a broader network of mentors.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
I prefer to find my own mentor(s). Is that OK?
Yes. New faculty members may opt out of the program. We offer this "facilitated pairing" since it can take a while to identify various sources of expertise on campus. This program offers the assurance of having a vetted faculty colleague to turn to immediately in the first weeks and months with questions and concerns and to help you expand your campus network. All mentors agree to the time commitment, which is another benefit of program participation.
Should I ask for a mentor inside my department or outside?
Mentoring from inside the department is essential. Your department head will serve as an important mentor, but others are beneficial for particular questions and concerns. Many departments have a size and culture such that there will be plenty of informal mentoring from colleagues. In these cases, being paired with a mentor outside the department makes a lot of sense to get a broader perspective of the university. In other departments, it may help to be formally paired with an inside-department mentor through this program. Some departments have traditions or preferences for inside- or outside-department mentors. If you are unsure which is the better choice, please consult with your department head or the director of the mentoring program.
Can I have more than one mentor, one inside the department and one outside?
Yes, if you are willing to commit the effort to developing both mentoring relationships. If you would like to be paired with two faculty members, please indicate that on the information form.
What Participants Say
Following are some comments from recent participants:
- The program really helped with understanding WPI's institutional and teaching culture. I also found it helpful in getting to understand my department and becoming familiar with tenure and promotion criteria.
- My mentor was the most helpful resource for me during my first year.
- I think a mentor is important for social adjustment to WPI, professional guidance, and personal guidance.
- In many ways WPI is not a typical university; mentoring helps new faculty get acclimated.
Additional Mentorship Opportunities
National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. WPI has an institutional membership in the NCFDD, which is an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community that helps academics make successful transitions throughout their careers. This investment, funded by the Division of Talent & Inclusion in collaboration with the Office of the Provost, aims to help faculty engage with diverse communities, as part of WPI’s strategic commitment and ongoing efforts to create and sustain a campus community that values difference in thought, cultural background, and perspective.
Mutual Mentoring Groups for Women Faculty. Inspired by the book Every Other Thursday, these groups of 10 tenure-track and non-tenure track women faculty across disciplines and career stages meet every 2-4 weeks for professional problem-solving and practical and emotional support. Confidentiality and collegiality are core values of the groups. New members are solicited annually in the January timeframe.