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Qais Akbar Omar (GRS’16), a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program, has published a much-praised memoir, A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story. He recalls how the violence and tumult of civil war jolted his family, who, despite losing relatives, their home, and possessions, continued to nurture his wish to attend a university.

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Mentoring is a process through which faculty systematically share the knowledge they have gained through their professional and career experience with colleagues who can benefit from that knowledge in developing their own careers and professional lives.  It provides faculty with an identified set of individuals from whom they can seek career advice and information by engaging in discussions about professional choices and actions in a safe setting.  Formal mentoring programs have become common in many professions, including in academia, because they ensure that everyone has access to this valuable resource, not just people who happen to develop a special relationship with a senior colleague, or who are relatively brave about reaching out and asking “dumb questions.”  Formal mentoring programs also give faculty who are developing their careers access to information and advice they might not have known they needed to seek. Mentoring is a key component of the professional development of faculty at all stages of their career.

It is one of the keys to ensuring that new faculty become well integrated into Boston University and follow successful career paths. Mentoring also supports the further development of our associate professors as they work towards promotion. The College of Arts & Sciences offers two formal mentoring programs. One, aimed at assistant professors, is designed to help them become well integrated into Boston University and develop and follow successful career paths. All assistant professors are required to participate. The other is a voluntary program, aimed at associate professors and designed to help them continue their professional development, assume their roles as senior faculty, and move in a timely way toward promotion to the rank of Professor. This document outlines the mentoring policies and standards of the College of Arts & Sciences and provides the framework and expectations within which individual departmental programs will operate.

Mentoring Program for Junior Faculty

The College of Arts & Sciences mentoring policy requires that all new assistant professors have at least one identified senior faculty member from whom they can seek career advice and information and who will actively offer such help. While the formal mentor has the most defined role in the mentoring program, all senior departmental colleagues should participate actively in the mentoring of junior faculty. Most departments will choose to assign one senior faculty member as the formally designated mentor for a new assistant professor. Some departments may assign two mentors or even a mentoring committee to a new assistant professor. In the case of very small departments or departments without an appropriate colleague to be assigned to a new assistant professor, the department may seek mentoring assistance from a faculty member from another department or even another school or college within Boston University. In such cases, contact the Director of Faculty Actions, Alexandra Adams, or the appropriate Associate Dean for help with this process.

The most appropriate mentor may not always be a senior faculty member in the same subfield, but the assigned mentor must be knowledgeable enough about the practices and expectations of the assistant professor’s discipline to provide appropriate guidance. Of course no one individual is likely to be able to answer every question, so knowing where to seek the right information – indeed, modeling the practice of seeking out good advice – is important. In a major research and teaching university like this one, it is crucial that mentors are research and professionally active and fulfill our standards of excellence in teaching and mentoring students, or else they will not have the necessary experience and knowledge to be successful mentors. Moreover, faculty who agree to serve as mentors must understand that this is a weighty role, should give their mentoring practices serious thought, and attend some of the workshops provided by the CAS Office of the Dean or the Associate Provost for Faculty Development. Department chairs play crucial roles in this process and they, too, should make the time to participate in these workshops and to keep themselves informed about the quality of the mentoring going on in their department.

Mentoring Program for Associate Professors

In 2014 the College of Arts and Sciences launched a voluntary mentoring program for associate professors. The narrowest goal is to provide further support as associate professors develop their careers to earn promotion to the rank of Professor in a timely way – preferably five to seven years after tenure is awarded, but certainly before a decade has passed. More broadly, the program aims to assist tenured faculty with their professional and career development as they take on new roles.

The CAS mentoring program for associate professors offers several mentorship options to tenured faculty:

  • Associate Professors may continue mentoring relationships already established before tenure upon agreement by both faculty members;
  • Associate Professors may request an additional or new mentor within their department, coordinated through their department chair who can match them with a Full Professor;
  • Associate Professors may request being matched with a Full Professor as a mentor from outside of their department by contacting the Director of Faculty Actions, Alexandra Adams, in order to discuss the characteristics they seek in their mentor – especially the types of disciplines, expertise and/or experience they would find helpful. Faculty may also consult with the appropriate Associate Dean or with the Dean of the College. The Dean’s Office will then seek to match associate professors with an appropriate mentoring partner.

Additionally, all associate professors interested in connecting with faculty members outside of their department, even beyond CAS, not in a formal mentoring relationship but as a means of broadening their teaching and research interests, are welcome to contact Alexandra, who can assist in that process.

Leadership Mentoring in CAS

Less formal, but also important in academic careers, is the process of developing professional leadership. This begins from the moment one becomes a faculty member. Professors are leaders and mentors for their students and postdocs at all levels; for those in the lab sciences, faculty must learn quickly how to manage and lead a research organization. Even in an era of large universities with corporate structures and professional administrations, the academy is nevertheless organized around important principles of faculty and shared governance, usually accomplished through a variety of faculty committees and task forces. Most faculty take up roles in the governance of their departments and degree programs. In CAS, as in similar schools and colleges at most major research universities, the positions of department chair and program or center director rotate over time, and all faculty with the ability to do so are now expected to take their turn. There are many opportunities for becoming an academic leader in the College, in central functions of Boston University, and in the national and international organizations of our academic disciplines and fields. Faculty often enter leadership roles feeling unprepared, sometimes making common but avoidable mistakes of the novice. Some faculty may discover that they enjoy these leadership roles and want to seek them out as a more central part of their career path. For faculty in all of these situations, both mentoring and formal training and professional development opportunities can be important resources.

Although there is no regular overarching leadership mentoring program in CAS, faculty involved in all aspects of organizational and institutional leadership should become self-aware about developing these roles, their leadership skills, and both individual and larger institutional goals when they take part in these activities. The CAS deans are available to discuss these matters with faculty and provide advice. There are now many experienced and skilled academic leaders in CAS among the individuals who have chaired their departments and served in other important leadership capacities. Many of them, no doubt, would also share their insights or discuss these matters.

The CAS Office of the Dean offers a number of opportunities for leadership development, for example, through the annual New Chairs and Directors Orientation, the annual Chairs and Directors Orientation, faculty recruitment workshops, and mentoring workshops, among other opportunities. The deans work closely with chairs and directors on leadership development. The Dean’s weekly open office hours for chairs and directors is an excellent opportunity for exploring leadership development.

The Provost’s Office and the Office of Human Relations also offer opportunities from time to time for leadership development, and both the Provost’s Office and CAS Dean have supported faculty who wish to attend national leadership development workshops and training sessions.

A Guide to Mentoring Practices in CAS: Responsibilities and Roles of All Partners

Responsibilities of the Dean in the Mentoring Process

The Dean of the College is responsible for overseeing the College’s mentoring program, and annually seeks updated information identifying the mentors for all junior faculty. The Dean also ensures that both senior and junior faculty receive appropriate information and professional development to maintain a high quality and successful program, and periodically assesses the program at the individual, departmental, and College levels.

Responsibilities of the Department Chair in the Mentoring Process

Assignments in Assistant Professor Mentoring: The Department Chair assigns a mentor to each new assistant professor. The assignment should be made between the time the appointment of the junior faculty has been approved by the Provost’s Office and the time the faculty member arrives on campus.  New assistant professors who will spend their first semester or year on leave should also receive a mentor assignment at the beginning of the contract period.  Mentors should be research-active in an appropriate area of study. They should be actively engaged as a mentor and involved in the department, the university, and the larger profession. They should be knowledgeable in the areas in which untenured faculty need the most help, e.g., the functioning of the university, how to pursue grants and publications, and how to make connections within the profession, etc. Chairs may ask members of a hiring search committee for mentor recommendations because these members have likely spent the most time reviewing and getting to know the new assistant professor.  Once an assignment is made, the Chair should relay it to the mentor, the junior faculty member, and the CAS Director of Faculty Actions. The Chair should also ensure that all other faculty – senior and junior alike – understand that they have an important role to play in the mentoring process.

Assignments in Associate Professor Mentoring: Associate professors interested in finding a mentor should contact the Chair or the CAS Director of Faculty Actions, who can assign a mentor based on the faculty member’s preferred criteria.  As with the junior faculty, the Chair should communicate this assignment to both parties. Additionally, the Chair should provide all parties with the materials that clarify the responsibilities and opportunities involved, and encourage them to make arrangements for an initial meeting.

The Chair’s most important responsibility is to provide both the mentoring partners with clear, up-to-date information about the expectations for faculty duties and professional and career success and the assessment processes that faculty experience through their professional careers at Boston University, including the annual merit exercise, the mid-tenure review, tenure, and promotion review processes. The Chair should clarify University and College expectations for tenure and promotion and should explain any field-specific expectations. The Chair should ensure that the department develops, updates, and makes available a document on faculty expectations that complements University and College policies by explaining departmental policies, procedures, and standards. The Chair is responsible for ensuring that departmental policies are applied transparently and consistently. The Chair is similarly responsible for sharing information with all faculty on current College- and University-wide policies. The Chair should also systematically assess whether the mentoring partnerships are functioning and constructive, and should take steps to address cases where they are not.

The Chair should coordinate other aspects of the overall mentoring process including soliciting regular feedback on teaching performance, particularly class visits from a range of senior faculty members. It is essential that such visits begin early in and continue throughout the faculty member’s time at BU, in order to provide clear feedback and advice well in advance of the mid-tenure, tenure, and promotion reviews, allowing time for the faculty member to implement suggestions that emerge from the peer feedback process.

The Chair should also provide guidance on service expectations for faculty. For junior faculty, the Chair should ensure that they are engaged in the department and wider University, but are not over-burdened with service assignments. Service for junior faculty should focus on assignments that will contribute to career development, such as a focused committee where a junior faculty may be able to contribute specific expertise, and where the work burden is not excessive. Chairs should be especially careful to ensure that newly-arrived faculty do not bear major service burdens in the first year, when teaching is likely to place particular demands.

Responsibilities of the Senior Faculty

The mentor’s role will vary depending on the needs of each individual junior faculty and on the availability of other mentors within the department and wider University. In all cases it is important that the mentor be proactive in establishing and maintaining a constructive relationship with the mentored faculty member. The mentor should seek a first meeting at the earliest possible time and should initiate a conversation at an early stage to explore a plan for how to proceed over time. Each mentoring pair will establish its own rhythm and structure, but an early first meeting is important. Some mentoring pairs prefer to schedule regular periodic meetings, while others develop a more informal arrangement. Mentoring pairs will also differ in the style of meeting they prefer, from formal in-office meetings to sharing a meal or other arrangements. The “right” way to function as a mentoring team is the way that is most helpful to the junior faculty and most satisfactory to both. However, mentors must make proper time for the mentoring process, rather than just relying on chance, brief encounters in the corridor or the occasional email. It is also essential that mentors follow up on commitments made: if a faculty member solicits feedback on a paper or grant proposal, or if a mentor asks to see such materials, the mentor should provide appropriate, timely feedback.

While some mentoring relationships may focus exclusively on the traditional triumvirate of teaching, scholarship, and service, other mentors may provide, or are asked to provide, advice on a wider range of issues within and beyond the university. This may particularly be the case for junior faculty members who are new to the area. Some faculty members may seek advice on personal or life matters – whether or not these are directly career-related – and discussion of such issues should only take place when agreeable to both mentoring partners. The mentor may in some cases wish to guide the junior faculty towards other parts of the University for advice on such matters; among others, the Chair, administrative staff, Dean’s Office, Associate Provost for Faculty Development, Ombuds Office or the Faculty and Staff Assistance Office may be able to assist. All mentors should be aware of these resources and how to contact them.

The mentor should be prepared to serve as a source of practical information and to assist the faculty member in navigating the University’s large and seemingly confusing bureaucracy. For junior faculty, during the first weeks and months issues such as classroom support, developing new course proposals, or grant applications may be overwhelming. If your department has a manual or a list of useful contacts, the mentor should ensure that junior faculty members are provided with a copy of these documents, and should become familiar with offices and initiatives that may be of interest to the junior faculty in the department. All mentors should be familiar with the CAS Faculty and Staff Handbook and the Boston University Faculty Handbook as resources for helping their mentoring partner.

Staff members will frequently be an important source of practical information about the support services and resources available throughout the University. Mentors should introduce and recommend that junior faculty speak to administrative staff whenever appropriate. However, do not simply shift responsibility to staff members when your assistance is sought.

In the first year or two, advice on teaching is likely to be critical to most junior faculty members, who may find their initial classroom experiences daunting and their skills in need of improvement. The mentor may offer advice about teaching or may refer the junior faculty to other faculty or to the Center for Excellence & Innovation in Teaching if appropriate. Junior faculty may also wish to observe more experienced colleagues in the classroom, and the mentor can play a useful role in facilitating this. Guidance on teaching may include a discussion of course development, creation of syllabi, assignment structure, and fostering discussion in the classroom. The mentor may play an especially helpful role when the junior faculty is developing new courses that will be reviewed by a College Curriculum Committee. Mentors can also be helpful in reinforcing the message that teaching performance will be an important consideration in faculty performance reviews and, ultimately, in the tenure review; it is a key component of work rather than a secondary consideration. Finally, the mentor can provide advice on preparing for individual class sessions in order to give junior faculty members a better sense of the quantity of information needed for each contact hour. This will help to ensure that class preparation does not consume all available hours. Similarly, junior faculty may seek advice on how to manage their pedagogical and mentoring time outside of the classroom.

As associate professors move towards promotion, they may need focused guidance from their mentors on topics such as balancing teaching and scholarship with the increasing demands of service and the need to develop leadership skills.

Regarding scholarship, the mentor’s primary role will be to provide guidance on how to focus efforts on achieving both short- and long-term scholarly goals. Indeed, mentors can often be most useful in helping junior faculty design and/or evaluate realistic scholarly goals and strategies. They can be a key source of advice as faculty make decisions about research strategies; the process of applying for grant funding; or the pace, quantity, and outlet of publications. Mentors who are in the same research area can provide valuable, constructive feedback on grant proposals or papers.

Mentors can also help their colleagues respond to and seek opportunities for professional engagement and service, and with the inevitable issues of finding the right balance among the various demands and opportunities. Above all, mentors should listen and be a good sounding board, and always remember that the choices and strategies they chose for themselves may not necessarily be right for someone else. There are many ways to pursue a professional career.

Although the logic of a mentoring relationship is to pair a more experienced partner with a less experienced one, the faculty mentoring relationship is also defined as a partnership between accomplished professionals. The mentor must never regard the junior faculty member as a student, and must always realize that advice is just that.

Responsibilities of the Junior Faculty

Assistant professors must be actively engaged in exploring and defining their professional needs, seeking assistance and counsel, and developing appropriate mentoring relationships. They should follow the same advice offered above to mentors about establishing the partnership’s style and ground rules.

The faculty member, especially junior faculty new to Boston University, should take advantage of every opportunity to meet colleagues within and beyond the department: faculty meetings, seminars, informal gatherings, offers of lunch, receptions at the department, college or university levels. All of these will provide opportunities to develop a wider network of contacts and colleagues. Junior faculty members should also introduce themselves to staff members, being familiar with the support resources in advance of potential problems will smooth the process of dealing with any difficulties. They should also participate in meetings and programs in their discipline and professional associations, seeking a wide network of professional contacts. It is important that all faculty members realize that the ability and willingness to seek needed assistance is a strength, not a weakness. Junior faculty can learn more about their various roles by reviewing the CAS Faculty Expectations.  All faculty should familiarize themselves with the CAS Faculty and Staff Handbook and the BU Faculty Handbook.  CAS News is a regular newsletter aimed at CAS faculty and staff that provides regular information on deadlines, calendar items, and news of the College.

Disengagement from the mentoring relationship

Like any other relationship, the mentoring partnership is likely to evolve over time. It is a good idea for mentoring partners to reflect periodically on these changes. If either partner comes to believe that the mentoring relationship has serious flaws, the first step, if possible, is to address it together. If that does not resolve the problem, the next step is to discuss any difficulties with the department Chair. Sometimes the match needs to be changed; this need not imply any negative judgment or “fault” on the part of either partner but simply a mismatch. In the event of a more serious difficulty with the mentoring process, either party may contact the Chair, the Director of Faculty Actions, Alexandra Adams, or the appropriate Associate Dean, to discuss the best approach to any problematic situations. Faculty are strongly encouraged to report any difficulties at the earliest possible moment, and such matters will be handled in strict confidence.

Additional Suggestions for Establishing and Maintaining Successful Mentoring Partnerships*

Topics for Consideration*

  • Understanding and navigating the department, College and University culture and policies
  • Teaching – Course planning, syllabi, grading policies, managing students, and academic conduct guidelines
  • Research – Research activity, publications, strategies for funding, grant applications, and recruiting students or post-doctoral fellows
  • Service roles in the department, college, university, and professional associations
  • Mid-Tenure, Tenure, and Promotion Processes
  • Planning a career trajectory including the identification and facilitation of opportunities for faculty members to grow into leadership positions
  • Networking within the department, college, university, and profession
  • Balancing work and personal lives

For Senior Faculty:

  • As you prepare to begin a mentoring relationship, think about what you hope to gain from the relationship. Reflect on where you were at the stage of career of the junior faculty you are mentoring. What advice do you wish you were given? Share your experiences, however, understand that your colleague may have needs and interests different from what yours were at that stage. Once you are paired, familiarize yourself with your junior colleagues research and teaching interests. Afterwards, reach out to set up a time to meet. Let your colleague know that you are available as a resource.
  • Review and stay updated on department, College, and University policies as well as the Faculty Resources available for all faculty. Be familiar with the CAS Faculty and Staff Handbook and the BU Faculty Handbook. If you are not sure about a process or policy ask for clarification. If you are remembering the way things worked many years ago, there is a good chance that the process and expectations have changed.
  • At your first meeting as well as periodically throughout your relationship, set expectations while remaining flexible to an evolving relationship:
  • How often will you meet? Once a month, once a semester?
  • What is the best mode of communication that works for both of you?
  • What topics will be covered? Consider what you can offer as well as the extent to which you can, or will, offer guidance concerning professional and potentially personal issues. Keep in mind that you cannot be expected to know everything and will not be able to fulfill every function. Ask for help when you need it. If you do not know the answer, find out who would be the correct resource.
  • Agree to keep scheduled meetings limiting the number that are cancelled, to respond to emails and phone calls in a timely fashion, and to maintain confidences.
    • Ask your junior colleague to develop and share a work plan that includes short-term and long-term goals as well as a time frame for reaching those goals.
    • Encourage the junior faculty to be proactive about asking questions, seeking feedback.
    • Provide specific information about as many topics as you can, such as advice on teaching and research, the informal rules of the profession, and navigating the department and institution. Help junior faculty learn what kinds of available institutional support are available to further career development such as Junior Scholar Leave.
    • Listen actively. Be engaged. Provide advice and constructive feedback to let junior faculty know where he/she stands. Present criticism in a private and non-threatening context with specific suggestions for improvement in the future. Providing forthright assessments of research and teaching through close readings of his/her work. Be specific. Don’t just tell a junior faculty member that it’s necessary to publish more in high-quality journals, but suggest which journals those are, and give guidelines about approximately how many papers to shoot for in those journals before tenure.
    • Foster networks. Introduce your junior colleague to faculty with complementary interests within your department, on campus, or at other universities. For example, at conferences, a simple introduction at a coffee break or an invitation to join for lunch may be sufficient to initiate a lasting advising relationship.
    • Provide opportunities. For example, suggest his/her name forward to be a discussant at national meetings or other such opportunities that will increase his/her visibility. Generally, take opportunities to promote the junior faculty member’s research.
    • Communicate. Failing to communicate is the biggest pitfall for all relationships. Remember that face-to-face meetings can often clear up misunderstandings better than email. Problems need to be discussed as soon as possible. If the mentor match is not a good one, address the issue with your partner if you can. If that does not help then contact your Chair, Director of Faculty Actions, or appropriate Associate Dean to request a new or additional partner to be assigned.
    • Contact Alexandra Adams in CAS Faculty Actions at 617-353-2404 is you have any questions.

For Junior Faculty:

  • As you prepare to begin a mentoring relationship, think about what you hope to gain from the relationship. Engage actively in the development of your professional career, including your mentoring relationships. Once you are paired, familiarize yourself with your senior colleague’s research and teaching interests. Afterwards, reach out to set up a time to meet.
  • Learn about your department, the College, and BU as well as the policies and Faculty Resources available for all faculty. Become familiar with the CAS Faculty and Staff Handbook and the BU Faculty Handbook. If you are not sure about a process or policy ask for clarification.
  • Become acquainted with the staff in your department; they can be valuable sources of information. Learn what services are available to you from the department and institution.
  • At your first meeting as well as periodically throughout your relationship, set expectations while remaining flexible to an evolving relationship:
  • How often will you meet? Once a month, once a semester?
  • What is the best mode of communication that works for both of you?
  • What topics will be covered? Think about what questions you have and the career guidance you need? Find out what your senior colleague is comfortable discussing with you both professionally and potentially personally. Do not expect the senior faculty to know everything. Ask for additional resources if you need further assistance.
  • Agree to keep scheduled meetings limiting the number that are cancelled, to respond to emails and phone calls in a timely fashion, and to maintain confidences
    • Be prepared for meetings, have a set agenda, and end a meeting with date and time for the next one.
    • Develop a strategy that will guide your progress as a scholar, teacher, and colleague over the next six years. Make it your responsibility to learn about the tenure process. Share the information and your strategies with your peers as a way to build camaraderie and to develop additional sources of information and support.
    • Determine if there are publications that you should avoid publishing in because they are not valued. Be sure to seek advice from senior faculty members about what committees to serve on, and then volunteer for those committees.
    • Ask for advice, feedback, and support from colleagues, senior faculty, or department chair. Be open to constructive criticism. Do not be afraid of showing weakness by not knowing something,
    • Keep your mentor and chair updated with your teaching, research, and professional plans and accomplishments. Be sure that professional information is put into your personnel folder.
    • Keep careful records of your activities (e.g., research and scholarship, grants written and funded, service activities, teaching and/or mentoring). Scrutinize your own record regularly to judge if your effort and priorities are aligned; be a proactive manager of your own career portfolio. This will greatly assist you, while evaluating new opportunities, and as you prepare for career advancement or tenure.
    • Show appreciation for the time your mentor is giving.
    • Communicate. Failing to communicate is the biggest pitfall for all relationships. Remember that face-to-face meetings can often clear up misunderstandings better than email. Problems need to be discussed as soon as possible. If the mentor match is not a good one, address the issue with your partner if you can. If that does not help, then contact your Chair, Director of Faculty Actions, or appropriate Associate Dean to request a new partner to be assigned.
    • Remember that the formal mentoring program is only a baseline and you should continue to build your network. There are many other places to find mentors who can help with your career development:
    • Junior and senior faculty in your department other than your mentor, and in related fields in the College or University (feel free to ask your colleagues or the Dean’s Office for help in finding colleagues in other departments/colleges who might be good connections for you).
    • Find faculty with similar interests in workshops and seminars and junior faculty networks such as Tertulia I and Tertulia II.
    • Your doctoral and/or postdoctoral mentors are likely to remain good sources of advice and help, as are your fellow graduate students as they gain experience in many different colleges and universities.
    • Professional organizations – their conferences and committees are good sources of new contacts and colleagues, and will also help you become more widely known in your field.
    • Contact Alexandra Adams in CAS Faculty Actions at 617-353-2404 is you have any questions.

*This portion was taken and modified from the University of Michigan ADVANCE Program’s Giving and Getting Career Advice: A Guide for Junior and Senior Faculty prepared by Pamela J. Smock and Robin Stephenson with assistance from Janet E. Malley and Abigail J. Stewart.

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