Starting your career as a new faculty member is a very busy time. There are so many things to do, you have to prepare your courses, set up your research program, build a network of colleagues and determine which of the requests for your contribution to administrative and community activities you should accept. For a professor, time is one of your biggest resources but it can easily be squandered if you are not careful. A study done by the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development (CHERD) found that new faculty members spend over 62 hours a week working. This finding highlights how budgeting and spending time wisely is a key to your success in the first few years of your career as you work towards tenure and promotion.
Balancing your workload
Such stresses have not escaped attention by administrators at leading research institutions. University of Ottawa professors Jacques Barrette (director of the Centre for Academic Leadership) and Merridee Bujaki, for example, co-developed and deliver a workshop entitled “Managing your Academic Career” which is offered several times a year to help new faculty members start their careers in on the right foot. A large component of their workshop introduces time management to new faculty by reminding them to budget time according to the workload split of the university. Every university is different and new professors should check the workload split in their own university; it can sometimes even vary between faculties. Sometimes the split is outlined in the collective agreement and other times it is tradition that dictates the mix of teaching, research and community service of the university. How well you balance these three areas determines your chances for tenure and promotion.
Teaching effectively, preparing efficiently
At the University of Ottawa, tradition says that professors in most faculties need to spend 40 percent of their time teaching, 40 percent of their time in research activities and 20 percent in administrative activities. It is very easy for new professors to get bogged down in trying to perfect what they are delivering in the classroom and forget about their research mandate. Dr. Barrette and Dr. Bujaki advise new professors not to aim for teaching perfection in their first few years but rather aim to improve teaching incrementally over the long-term. They suggest consulting with the various services available at the university to enhance teaching, such as teaching and learning services, sharing with colleagues and talking to the vice-deans and the dean. They also tell new professors not to teach defensively, in other words, not to do what ever it takes to get good evaluations from the students. This can be a costly endeavour in precious time and may not lead to the desired results. Instead ask if you can teach multiple sections of the same course or ask to repeat the same course year after year. Not only will this help manage teaching preparation time but it also gives you a chance to build a better course over time.
Drs. Barrette and Bujaki say there are many other tools new faculty can use to manage and control preparation time but still provide dynamic classes. They advise new faculty to invite interesting and relevant guest speakers to deliver a class. Dr. Bujaki warns that sometimes locating an appropriate guest speaker can also be very time consuming and one cannot always control the content of their talk. But if done correctly, a guest speaker can provide students with a refreshing change, exposure to new ideas and experiences and allow a new professor to spend some extra time improving another class. Also consider other in-class exercises and active learning such as films, case studies and exercises.
Drs. Barrette and Bujaki also advise new faculty to consider developing courses in collaboration with other professors, to share the test and exam-writing and to co-create PowerPoint presentations or other in-class material. Working in collaboration with another professor also helps new faculty increase their network and can reduce some of the isolation that faces a new faculty member.
Providing access while reserving research time
Although it is nice to spend time with your new colleagues and students in external activities, these also need to be controlled. Dr. Bujaki suggests being strategic when booking office hours. If you book hours early on a Monday or Friday morning you are less likely to have students drop buy for a visit and more likely to attract the students who really need your help. These office hours will also help cut down on the opportunities for your colleagues to drop by to chat. Dr. Barrette says he often books appointments back to back so that the meetings have a fixed time limit.
Dr. Barrette and Dr. Bujaki encourage new faculty members to put as much time as possible into setting up a research program. A good research program will help establish a new professor and lay the ground work for a successful university career. Because the time to conduct research is not fixed, as is lecture time, it is easy to see the time for research chiselled away by other activities. Drs. Barrette and Bujaki say that you need to block off regular time every day for research, just as you would a class, office hours or other fixed activities. If you do manage to get a significant grant as a new faculty member, request a reduced teaching load from your dean.
Being a university professor is one of the best jobs in the world; you have much freedom and latitude, and get to work on ideas that interest you, with the colleagues you chose. Drs. Barrette and Bujaki argue that the keys to making your career a success come with budgeting your time properly, following the guidelines of what is expected from you in terms of workload, being resourceful with your teaching, and designating specific and regular time for your research projects.
Exercise: Strategic planning for your academic career (PDF)