“(We need) a better understanding by the faculty of what the other faculty members do, their special areas of expertise, and develop a venue where these could coalesce for purposes of strategic innovation.”
Collaboration with colleagues inside and outside the department is an integral and rewarding part of the faculty career, and important to the advancement of knowledge. A number of items on Stanford’s 2019 Faculty Quality of Life survey assessed satisfaction with opportunities to collaborate and revealed varying levels of satisfaction by group. Going beyond collaboration for research and scholarship, connection and community among faculty colleagues is also an important and satisfying aspect of life in the Academy.
Enhancing Development of Networks
“I don't know what anyone else does with their days. We don't share work, we don't share grad students, it’s a very diffuse community, if we can call it a community at all.”
For new faculty members, the department can play an important role in enhancing the development of networks. Higher education researchers have found that junior-senior faculty interaction is important for socialization and job satisfaction (August & Waltman, 2004), achieving tenure (Bilimoria, Joy, & Liang, 2008) and retention (Callister, 2006) for early career faculty. A department climate that encourages and enhances network opportunities is very important for network development, and can even overcome individual reluctance to develop social networks (Fleming, Goldman, Correll, & Taylor, 2016). According to Fleming et al., elements of such an “enhancing” departmental climate for network development included:
• a supportive and welcoming department climate and department chair;
• an effective formal mentoring program;
• active help for faculty in developing cross disciplinary collaborations,
• thoughtful placement of new faculty offices
• presence of pre-tenure peers
• assigning new faculty to a few influential committees
While this last point may seem counterintuitive, strategically assigning pre-tenure faculty to a small amount of committee service helps them succeed by exposing them to a wider network of influential senior colleagues, and helps them to better understand organizational politics, as well as feel included in decision making (Fleming, et al., 2016; Carson, et al., 2019).
Some academic disciplines lend themselves to interdisciplinary study more than others, and for these establishing such networks is essential, and perhaps easier to do. However other fields may not have well-established interdisciplinary pathways, or even as much propensity for collaboration among peers within the unit. Yet findings from the Stanford Quality of Life Survey suggest that faculty members across the university desire more collaboration, inside and outside the department. For this reason, it is important for schools and departments to find ways to facilitate collaboration, networking and social interaction among faculty.
Making information about other faculty members’ research interests easy to find is one way to help foster collaboration. In smaller department’s this may occur without much extra effort, but in larger departments consider how to do this, both with technology and also in person, through purposefully sharing research interests in meetings or planned colloquia. Social gatherings also help people connect with one another, within the department and across a school or interdisciplinary fields. It may be that years ago, in a time when institutions were smaller, or academic life was less busy, making connections and collaboration occurred easily. In today’s academy, purposeful efforts to enable and enhance collaboration, connection and community within and between academic units are necessary for increasing faculty engagement.
Fleming, S., Goldman, A., Correll, S. and Taylor, C. (2016). Settling In: The role of individual and departmental tactics in the development of new faculty networks, The Journal of Higher Education, 87(4).