"I've been here over 20 years. The culture was different back then. I received no mentoring as a new faculty member. None, zero, zip. At the time I thought that suited me just fine. Turns out I could have used it. Watching my junior colleagues now, I see that they receive quite a bit of formal and informal mentoring. I think that is great, and I want to encourage the continuation of this. A faculty position is so much more than scholarship."
Assistance is about attending to everyone's needs – providing help, resources, and support when needed.
Faculty members need various support throughout their career, including mentoring, accommodation to take time off for care of family and self, seed funds to get a pilot project off the ground, technical or statistical support, etc. To create a supportive and engaging department climate, a department chair should try to understand and anticipate the needs of faculty members.
It is also helpful to communicate what kinds of assistance are available, for example, small funds for unexpected problems, the range of family-friendly accommodations that the university provides, mentoring for new faculty, and mid-career and later, if desired.
Once faculty members know the range of types of assistance, they should also be encouraged to ask for what they need. Fostering a climate within the department where it is normal to receive help and understood that we all need support and assistance at different times in the career will enable faculty members to access and receive what they need to be most productive.
Only 43 percent of the 2019 Faculty Quality of Life Survey respondents felt they had received adequate formal mentoring. In addition, formal mentoring had the lowest satisfaction rating of all the survey findings related to department/school climate. This evidence points to a need to improve formal mentoring for faculty members across the university.
Faculty mentoring is often practiced to help untenured faculty members advance to tenure. However, this view of the purpose of mentoring and the kind of faculty member who might wish to have some form of mentoring is too narrow. Mentoring can provide task-specific technical advice and also psycho-social support. It can help navigate tricky political issues within academe and help learn how to juggle the demands of career and family.
Mentoring can also help a faculty member move forward into a new research trajectory at later career stages. Mentoring for leadership roles is also essential since few academics were taught how to chair a department or lead a division or institute when they were in graduate school.
Formal mentoring programs within the department require some organization and oversight to ensure that mentor-mentee needs are being met and to negotiate conflicts and interpersonal issues that may arise. Often, this is the department chair's responsibility, though in larger departments, it may be delegated to another faculty member.
Key aspects of formal mentoring programs include written agreements between the mentor and mentee about the mentoring partnership's purpose, content, and goals. Agreement on the frequency of meetings, the duration of the arrangement, and the schedule for check-ins with whoever is overseeing the program is necessary. If an untenured faculty member is the mentee, it should be made clear whether and in what way the mentor will participate in the tenure decision process.
Each school may have different requirements for the formal faculty mentoring process, and there is also a large body of literature about mentoring that can be helpful. Additional programs and guidance about practices for faculty mentoring will also be provided in the future through a new mentoring initiative from the Office of Faculty Development.
Less than 50% of the female respondents who felt they needed an accommodation (pregnancy, caregiving for a child, elder, family member, or own health) asked for one. And even among the women who asked for and received a child caregiving accommodation, 42% felt it was insufficient to address their needs.
Why might this be the case? A study at UC Berkeley also found various caregiving accommodations to be under-utilized by female faculty. In their study, the two reasons for it were lack of knowledge about the policies and accommodations available and the fear of using the policy (UC Faculty Family Friendly Edge, 2007).
Other research has found that we have implicit biases about gender and caregiving, such that mothers are seen as less competent and committed to their work than fathers or women who are not parents (Correll, Benard, Paik, 2007). This would explain the reluctance of female faculty members to draw attention to their caregiving needs.
It suggests that we should increase everyone's awareness about the accommodations available at Stanford to help faculty members with their caregiving and health-related needs, and also normalize the use of such policies so that faculty members will not fear that their chances of advancement or their professional reputation would be hurt for using them.
Read the CREATEngagement resource on Assistance
- Effective Policies and Programs for the Retention and Advancement of Women in Academia- WorkLife Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, January 2013.
- Frasch, K., et al. (2007). Creating a family-friendly department: Chairs and Deans Toolkit. UC Faculty Family Friendly Edge, Berkeley, CA.