This post continues our series The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings.

“I just don’t want to submit my work because I’m scared of rejection.”

When conducting doctoral and faculty writing support sessions, I consistently get some form of the above quote. Often, for dissertation writers, it stems from being afraid that their chair will give them harsh feedback. Those writing for peer-review publication often discuss a fear of critique from the infamous “reviewer number two” who often provides challenging and conflicting reviews of their work when compared to the other reviewers.

Based on my CV, folks may assume that I have figured out academic writing as I have been successful writing for publication. However, I too struggle and have certainly had my fair share of harsh critiques from “reviewer number two.” Additionally, when I started my career, I was scared of rejection.

Recently in a webinar I had a participant ask, “Well, how did you overcome fear of rejection?” This blog post is in response to this question as I share a three-step process I use to work through the fear of rejection.

Step 1: Address the Root of the Fear

From my work supporting academic writers I have found that a fear about rejection is never about the process of writing and submitting the work itself. In many instances the fear of rejection is a symptom of a deeper issue. Thus, in order to overcome the fear of rejection I have found that it is important to first address the root of the fear.

Early in my career there were three main reasons I had a fear of rejection:

  1. I did not believe in myself as a writer and that I had something unique to contribute to the scholarly conversation.
  2. I was intimidated that my work could be published and in conversation with the great authors that I was referencing in my paper.
  3. I internalized the rejection as it holding some value about who I was and the quality of my work.

As you can see from my experience the root causes of my fear of writing rejection had nothing to do with the process of writing, but had everything to do with my mindset. Once I got clearer about what was causing my fear it became easier to plan for and address the fear (see Step 2 below).

Step 2: Plan for the Rejection

The psychology of academic writers is rather interesting as we are motivated and plan for the success of our academic writing. However, why do we not plan for rejection as well? I have found it beneficial  to put a plan in place so that if a piece is rejected, I know what my next steps are with the paper.

In a doctoral seminar course I am teaching this semester titled “Seminar in Research Writing, Publication, and Communication in Education,” one of my assignments asks for students to write an Op-Ed. During our conversation, we discussed rejection, and I gave this advice on how to plan for it:

  • Before you write your piece, have three venues in mind that you want to submit to.
  • Submit to venue #1. If rejected, immediately submit to venue #2. If rejected from venue #2, submit immediately to venue #3.
  • If your piece does not get accepted at the first three venues, find three more outlets and repeat the process.

As I teach my students: there is always a venue for your work. Sometimes it is just exploring all of your options to find the right fit. As a result, by planning for rejection you are actually planning for the success of your writing project. Again, this is not about writing, but just shifting your thinking.

Step 3: Build Your Writing Community

Do you have a scholarly community who you can vent to and strategize with?

Having this scholarly cohort has been critical to my ability to overcome the fear of rejection of my academic writing. Whenever I have thoughts or fears about submitting my work, I go to my community and do the following:

  • Talk: I dialogue and vent about my apprehension on submitting my work.
  • Write: After my conversations with my community, I turn that fear into energy to write–even if only a little. This helps me to not let my fears of rejection paralyze me from writing.
  • Submit: I have adopted the mantra “You can’t score a basket if you don’t shoot.” In other words, I can never get a paper accepted if I never submit, so if I want an acceptance I must submit.

Based on your experiences, how have you overcome a fear of rejection of your academic writing? Connect with me on Twitter to discuss!

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings.

Why is writing so hard?

This question was posed to me recently by a Done Dissertation client who expressed frustration with their academic writing. I could certainly relate as I too struggled with my writing as a doctoral student as the academic writing process was foreign to me. Does this sound like you? If so, keep reading this piece, as over the course of my career I have found that while the mechanics of writing are one component to  effective academic writing, having an academic writing mindset is equally—if not more important—to improving as an academic. As a result, in this Smart Scholar post I provide three mindset shifts that I have found that lead to improved academic writing. 

Perfection Doesn’t Exist So Don’t Make that Your Target

What I have found in my own writing practices and those in individuals I coach is that they become consumed with getting their work perfect. Is this you? Have you ever felt that since your work was not perfect that you should not submit it? I have found that perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand. The more you want your work to be perfect the more likely you are to procrastinate because of the anxiety that perfection places on you.

If you fall into this perspective, one mindset shift you need to make to improve your academic writing is to come to the realization that perfection does not exist and that should not be the target. Your target is, in fact, to be satisfied with the product, knowing there will always be something about it that can be improved. Once you make this shift you will notice how easy it is for you to get your writing goals accomplished and get a paper off your desk and on to someone else’s desk.

Create Your Fastest Sloppy Rough Draft

Along with not seeking perfection, as an academic writer I am of the belief that your goal is to get the sloppiest rough draft as fast as possible. Yes, you read that correctly: sloppy is okay. I say this because you cannot improve anything that is not written down. As a classically trained musician and someone who spent some time in the music industry, I want to give you an example of why it is important to get to this stage of your  rough drafts.

Think about your favorite song —the one song that prompts you to  immediately increase the volume when you hear it. As a listener, you hear the final product of that song that is polished and professionally mastered. However, when the song was recorded, it may have taken your favorite artist 50-plus takes to get the chorus harmonies correct. 

I believe this same approach is applicable to writing. Your audience (the readers) will only read your published version. They will never know how many times you had to edit each paragraph to get it ready for publishing. As a result, in order to get to that polished version, your goal as the writer is to get your fastest, sloppy rough draft as quickly as possible because soon enough you will have a final version you can be proud of.

Put On Your Blinders to Ideas of Productivity

As a dissertation coach I get a number of students who want to become faculty discussing their ideas about productivity and the fact they feel behind because their peers are publishing more than them. To its detriment, the higher education culture has put writing productivity on a pedestal. I certainly understand as it has an impact on tenure and promotion decisions for faculty. However, this culture shift, along with social media allowing researchers to share their productivity, can be debilitating for many. 

As a result, I would argue that in order to reach your writing groove you need to put blinders on to colleagues so that you can focus on your work. Each of us has our own scholarly journey to run, and a focus on our individual work  allows us to live and appreciate all that we have done in our careers. Once you do this you will quickly find out that you are more productive than others who assert a persona on social media of “productivity.”

What mindset shifts have you needed to make to improve your academic writing? Please share with me on Twitter

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings.

As the US higher education landscape changed completely in 2020 with the transition to online learning, many individuals (including myself) were in the midst of applying for new positions. I was fortunate enough to complete the job search process last spring and secure a new position with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Language, Literacy, and Culture interdisciplinary doctoral program. As you all can imagine, transitioning to a new institution in the midst of a pandemic has certainly been an interesting experience. Now that I have been able to settle in with some time to reflect, I wanted to share some strategies that I have learned to make the most of starting a new faculty position during the pandemic.

Be Intentional about Meeting Colleagues

Prior to universities going to virtual learning, new staff and faculty at universities could easily meet new colleagues. This sometimes happened at the staff/faculty cafeteria, in the parking lot walking to the office, or at university sponsored events. Now that universities are engaging in virtual learning, these informal opportunities to meet with new colleagues are lost. However, despite these changes, there is opportunity to engage with colleagues. Some options to consider are:

  • Participating in university sponsored writing groups.
  • Reaching out for a short 15-minute meet and greet with individuals.
  • Participate in committees on campus (inside and outside of your immediate department).

While these activities take some effort, it is important to think strategically about building rapport with your new colleagues as soon as you arrive. Not only will this help for later opportunities, but this can lead to getting insider knowledge and historical perspectives about how your new university operates. Additionally, these initial conversations can lead to your new colleagues connecting you with others on campus which will build your network.

Control Your Calendar As Much As Possible

I have continuously heard from colleagues about meeting fatigue; indeed, I’ve  experienced it myself. It appears that, even more than in the past, higher education professionals are being inundated with meeting requests. While some of these meetings would happen if universities had students, faculty, and staff on campus, it appears that some, if not many, meetings could be an email.

Since virtual meetings are the norm now, it is important to consider your ability to manage these meetings so that you do not have as many. What I have found effective is to use a scheduler like Calendly which you can send a link to a colleague and they can find a meeting time that works for your schedule. I think this is important, as you can at least control the times when meetings are held and can plan your schedule accordingly. Additionally, when using these scheduling apps, have the person requesting the meeting to list agenda items that they want to get accomplished. This will help you prepare for the meeting and ensure the time is used as effectively and efficiently as possible. Lastly, using a scheduling application will limit the back and forth you have via email trying to coordinate a meeting time.

Find Community to Recharge Your Battery

In a virtual environment it is certainly hard to build community with individuals. Additionally, with the increase in meetings, it is important that you find time to recharge. As you transition into a new position it is important to continue to interact (as safely as you can) with individuals who rejuvenate you. This can be family, friends, and certainly trusted colleagues. 

While the work of higher education will continue, we all have to pause and recognize that  trying to work in the midst of a pandemic where COVID-19 has personally impacted all of our lives. 

For individuals who have recently transitioned to new positions, what advice do you have? Feel free to share with me on Twitter.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings

For many higher education professionals across the country the Fall 2020 semester was met with teaching online. While in the past I taught online in an asynchronous format, this semester presented my first opportunity to teach an online course in a synchronous format. Based on my experiences this semester I want to share three lessons learned from my own practice that may help you as you think about preparing your future online courses.

Use a Platform You Are Most Comfortable With

With the switch to online teaching, I have personally helped colleagues who do not identify as being technologically savvy. Additionally, I have run into many social media conversations about how to use various learning management and video conferencing systems. There has been excellent information about tips and tricks to create a seamless workflow on various platforms. However, based on my experience and those of my colleagues this semester, I find that it was best that I used Zoom as it was a platform that I was most comfortable with.

Why?

As an instructor you may encounter challenges using a platform and helping your students navigate the platform as well, and I have found that the more comfortable you are with a tool the better you are with providing directions and support to others. So far this semester, because I used Zoom, I have had few technical issues and if they arise, I was able to resolve them quickly. Moreover, using a familiar platform allowed me to feel more comfortable exploring all of its features which enhanced the learning experience. Lastly, as I describe below having comfortability with a platform allowed me to quickly pivot when the unexpected happens.

Adapt When Presented with the Unexpected

Early on in the semester I was engaged in a rich conversation with my students about research methods when my computer decided to shut off permanently in the middle of class. As you could imagine, there was certainly a quick panic, but I quickly remembered that I could use the mobile version of the platform on my cell phone and within a few minutes I was able to send out a communication to students explaining the situation and then jump back on the learning platform.

With my experience above, another lesson I have learned is to adapt when the unexpected happens. As a frequent presenter on how to support  doctoral students navigate the dissertation process, I always tell students who are getting ready to defend their dissertations to have a technology backup plan, because technology only works when you do not need it!

Using this same sentiment about teaching, you should have a technology backup plan just in case your computer crashes during class and/or your Internet unexpectedly drops. Having a backup plan will provide some comfort and help you to easily adapt to situations that happen during class.

Create Opportunity for Informal Student Connections

For me, one of the drawbacks to teaching online has been the challenge of students connecting informally. Typically, if classes were held in person there would be time to have conversation before and after class, during breaks, and walks from class to the car.

While this has been lost, I have sought to provide students some opportunity to engage in these types of conversations. In one of my courses I have students paired with an accountability partner. For each class I leave 15 minutes for each group to meet. This time is used however they deem necessary. An additional component of the accountability partners is that they read each other’s’ work before submitting it to me for review. Not only do I want students to make connections but I believe this also allows them to build a scholarly community. 

What lessons have you learned about teaching online this semester? Please share them with me on Twitter!

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings.

With the onset of COVID-19 the higher education landscape has changed drastically in what feels like overnight. While institutions have begun to announce hiring freezes and faculty/staff furloughs, 2020 has witnessed individuals like myself transition into new roles.  While I have written past Smart Scholar Series articles on tips to apply for a job position, given the uniqueness of transitioning to a new institution while most operations, including hiring, are virtual, I wanted to share two aspects of the job search process for candidates to consider this hiring season.

Invest in Your Virtual Interview

Prior to COVID-19 typically faculty and administrator hiring processes entailed a round of reviews of candidates’ written materials (e.g., cover letter, CV, letters of recommendation). For those individuals who made it through this round, they were then given either a telephone or video interview and finalists selected would then be brought to campus. However, now that many institutions have halted in person gatherings, it is highly likely this season that candidates will complete a finalist interview via some video conferencing platform. As a result, there are a few technical aspects that I believe are critically important.

  1. Purchase an HD webcam- As a result of doing interviews virtually I think it is important to present the best visual image of yourself. While laptop computers have adequate webcams, I believe making the investment in a higher quality camera will help folks connect with you visually during your interview. 
  2. Invest in an External Microphone- As having a visual presence is important, in many ways having a strong audio presence is even more important as you will be responding to questions from the search committee. There are a number of USB microphones on the market that will give you an advantage over microphones connected to headphones and/or the microphone on your laptop computer.
  3. Upgrade your Internet Router- Having a strong Internet connection will be critical to ensure that your video and audio come across as high quality. As a result, if within your budget I would recommend you to upgrade your Internet to a bandwidth that is suitable for video conferencing. And if you are unable to upgrade, I would suggest that if you have an interview, you should disconnect all devices that will be using the Wifi connection so that your video interview is the only device on the network during the interview to maximize your Wifi connection. 

While these are suggestions, the takeaway here is that you want the search committee to remember you and the thoughtful responses you had to their questions and not have a discussion about the various interruptions due to poor video, audio, or Internet quality.

Get an overview of how institutions are improving their faculty recruitment in our recent white paper, The Modern Faculty Recruitment Playbook.

Importance of Position Fit

As a job seeker I believe this current virtual environment, more than ever, stresses the importance of candidates seeking a position that is the best  fit. For some an important question to ask is ‘what does being a fit for a position look like’? While fit can be specific based on where you are in your career, for me, here  are some of the questions I considered as I determined if a position was a fit for me:

  • Does the position provide an opportunity to for me to expand by skill set?
  • Do the individuals on the search committee like working at the institution?
  • Will the institution provide me the resources to effectively do my job in a virtual environment?
  • Will this position require me to work alone or will I have a team to help?
  • What are the institution’s policies around COVID-19 and keeping students, staff, and faculty safe?

While this list is not exhaustive, it is important to always consider how the position will support your professional growth and whether your values align with the values of the institution. With you potentially not being able to be on campus until Fall 2021 (depending on your locale), fit will be just as important as you may be working from home. 

For those of you who have transitioned to new positions this fall, what were some considerations that you kept in mind as you started your new role? Please feel free to tweet me (@ramongoings) to continue this conversation!

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings, with Antione Tomlin as article co-author.

For doctoral students across the nation who are writing their dissertations, the onset of COVID-19 has drastically changed how they will approach their research projects. In some instances, doctoral students will have to redesign their studies to accommodate remote data collection or potentially scrap their research plans altogether. Moreover, dissertators are balancing the completion of their studies with employment and family obligations. Students are not alone—professors have also been impacted because they have to support their dissertation advisees remotely while juggling the care of dependents, adapting research projects, and preparing for remote and/or social distance in-person teaching. 

Most of the discussion about supporting students with the onset of COVID-19 has tended to focus on undergraduates. Generally speaking, graduate students—and doctoral students at the dissertation phase specifically—have not been given the same attention. Therefore, we want to share some strategies for doctoral students from our vantage point of being a doctoral candidate in the midst of completing a dissertation, and as a faculty member who is currently supporting doctoral students. Below we provide three tips for students on how to navigate the dissertation writing process during the pandemic and also include how faculty can support students in each of these areas.

Be Realistic

It is easy to become so consumed and overwhelmed with finishing your dissertation that you forget to take care of yourself. So, it is important to know and recognize your limits. Life does not stop because you decided to be a doctoral student; it might be even more hectic than ever with increased family, work, and personal obligations. Be mindful of how much you are putting on your plate and deciding to take on. If you can only provide 50% effort to your dissertation because you took on more than you can handle, everything you said yes to suffers. Knowing when to say yes or no becomes more critical during these times. 

How Faculty Can Support:

As a faculty member, I can say from experience that it’s important to take the time to understand that our dissertation advisees have lives outside of the classroom. Take the initiative to understand their circumstances, so you can support them and become a trusted sounding board. This includes advising them on when to accept new responsibilities or defer them to another time. Additionally, we (faculty) can use this information to develop realistic timelines about when various sections of the dissertation can be completed. 

Ask For Help!

As doctoral students, we assume that we are supposed to know everything, and if we do not, we think we are less than we are supposed to be. Both of us understand how feeling like an imposter can be paralyzing to completing the dissertation. It is important to let go of assumptions, perceived expectations, and self-doubt because it gets in the way of moving forward. We are all experiencing the effects of COVID-19, acknowledging that some students may have more or less time depending on obligations outside of school. So, ask for help when you need it. You do not have to know everything, and your faculty and committee are there to help and support you. Do not feel ashamed about needing more guidance or additional motivation to keep pushing along. Use your resources and get it done.

How faculty can support:

Faculty should be proactive and reach out to students to ask how they are doing and if they need help. Even in instances when they say they don’t need any help, it is important for us to continue to check on our students consistently. Also, you should not feel that you need to have all of the answers for your students. It is okay to seek counsel from other colleagues on how to help your students succeed.

Be Open-Minded

This is one piece of advice that we’ve found doctoral students dread hearing. From our experience, open-mindedness can be perceived as having to change everything about a dissertation plan. In reality, these simple but daunting words can work in your favor. Remember doctoral students; your committee is there to support and get you to the finish line! When they strongly encourage suggestions, it is only to help, so we challenge you—be open and consider all suggestions. When you fight the process, you will spend more time finding your way to the finish line. As a current doctoral candidate, I can say that when I made an effort to be open to suggestions, my research was enhanced, and my committee members’ experiences were more pleasurable.

How Faculty Can Support:

While it is our job to push our students to develop a robust and rigorous dissertation, we should do so with care and compassion. Far too often we see professors put their students through what can be described as academic hazing primarily because they are trying to recreate the traumatic doctoral student experience they had. This is unfair to students and a practice we need to change. For instance, we need to ensure that by the time students get to the dissertation proposal defense presentation that we are not asking them to drastically change their dissertation plan. These types of major suggestions should be addressed prior to the defense being approved. Doing so during a defense is a disservice to students and can make the dissertation process feel insurmountable. 

Given the impact of COVID-19 on the foreseeable future, we will need to continue rethinking and reimagining the dissertation process for doctoral students. Our hope is that this piece begins the conversation about how to advise and support doctoral students virtually and ensure support for students who are juggling their dissertations along with other life circumstances.

How are you navigating the dissertation process? Feel free to send me your responses via Twitter so that we can continue this conversation!


Author Biographies

Dr. Ramon B. Goings (@ramongoings) is an assistant professor in the Language, Literacy, and Culture doctoral program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is Founder of the Done Dissertation Coaching Program (www.thedonedissertation.com) which provides individual and group coaching for doctoral students engaged in the dissertation process.

Mr. Antione Tomlin is a doctoral candidate in the Language, Literacy, and Culture program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is an assistant professor of Academic Literacies and English at Anne Arundel Community College.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.


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This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on five insights to consider when selecting a mentor.

As a higher education faculty or staff member, administrator, or other higher education leader, mentorship is critical to our professional development and growth. In conversations with colleagues, we frequently discuss that we are constantly recommended to find mentors, but not given much advice on what to look for in a mentor. Therefore, for this post I provide five insights I’ve learned to help you in selecting a mentor.

Seek a genuine connection that’s trustworthy

When seeking a mentor it is imperative that you find someone who you trust and can build a genuine connection with. While this is not directly related to the technical aspects of mentoring, I find it hard to be supported by someone who you have no connection with and you feel is not trustworthy. 

What does trustworthy look like to me? I am referring to an individual who is always able to keep your best interests at heart and they’re someone who you can confide in without your conversations being discussed with others. From my experience, you can learn about someone and their character through the current individuals they mentor. Are those individuals satisfied with their mentor/mentee relationship? Sometimes asking other mentees will give you insight into someone you are seeking to be mentored by.

They’re willing to listen, along with give advice

Some of the best mentors I’ve had are those who are willing to listen in addition to giving advice. Listening is an important skill when cultivating a mentoring relationship, and you should look for a mentor who seeks to understand your unique situation and then provides advice tailored to your needs. If you find that you are developing a relationship with a mentor who does not listen to you and your experience, seek another mentor. This one-sided relationship may eventually lead to frustration. Plus, who wants a mentor that isn’t interested in supporting their personal career journey or growth?

Seek someone who will commit time to mentor

As professionals, our lives are pulled in a variety of directions and priorities. I think it’s fair to say that there is often a shortage of time, but when seeking a mentor, it is important to find someone who is willing to find and spend the time mentoring you. I have witnessed a number of individuals who want to be mentored by a recognized name in their field and have found—in some cases—that these mentor relationships do not blossom because the mentor does not have enough time to devote to the mentee. Therefore, I would recommend that you find a mentor who commits the time to interact with you to develop a mentorship.

Find a willingness to provide critical feedback

In order to grow professionally, it is important to have mentors who will push you outside your comfort zone. When looking for a mentor, seek someone who is willing to provide critical feedback. My advice here is to also develop a team of mentors who can provide critical feedback on various aspects of your career such as job and funding applications and interview preparation.

Remember, you also bring value to the mentor

Interestingly, we often seek mentors because they bring us value in a variety of ways. However, when seeking out a mentor, I am always looking for someone that I too can provide value and advice to. This is especially important to me—being a genuine mentor takes time and energy—and I always want my mentors to know that I value them. For instance, one of my mentors suggested we work on a special issue of a journal on a particular topic together.  I leveraged our conversation, went and spoke with a journal editor that I had a relationship with from meeting at an academic conference, and turned the idea into a special issue! My mentor and I served as co-editors on this journal issue, and subsequently are planning a co-edited book. Our mentor relationship has brought us both value!

What do you look for in a mentor? Feel free to send me your responses via Twitter so that we can continue this conversation!


Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.


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This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on preparing for life on sabbatical.

In a previous post, I provided three tips for candidates working with search firms. After the release of that post, myself and Interfolio staff received several comments and questions from readers about job-seeking advice and the role search firms can play in securing future employment. Given these questions, I reached out to search firm representatives to understand, from their subject-matter-expert perspective, tips and strategies for candidates. 

I solicited the advice of Dr. Sherry Coleman, Consulting Partner with Storbeck Search and Associates and Ms. Maya Kirkhope, Senior Consultant with Academic Search. To help organize the advice provided from both experts, below I summarize insights from our interviews on how to get on a search firm’s candidate database, prepare and review required applicant documents, and engage in the phone/video interview.

Getting on the search firm’s candidate database

During my conversations with Dr. Coleman and Ms. Kirkhope, both suggested that candidates often get on their radar through: 

  • Their 1:1 conversations with professionals in the field (e.g., other search firms, higher education professions)
  • Their targeted research efforts
  • Through candidates’ own efforts, such as reaching out directly to search firm representatives

Both experts encouraged candidates to reach out to search firms. Dr. Coleman suggested that it is important for candidates to reach out to search firms to: 

“… create a plan of action… and see what’s available, what’s out there, what are search consultants looking for, what are the organizations they represent looking for so that they can better prepare themselves for the search that is of interest to them.”

Ms. Kirkhope shared similar advice to Dr. Coleman and advised candidates to reach out to search consultants because:

“I think the advice and the guidance that we can offer can be incredibly helpful. Sometimes it’s not what you want to hear. Sometimes it’s about the readiness to get onto the market. Sometimes it’s really whether the skill set that we’re looking for for this position is going to be a good match.”

Mrs. Kirkhope explained that it was important as a consultant to help inform candidates if they had the prerequisite experiences—that would make them a viable candidate for a position—before they apply. 

Through our conversations about how to get on the search firm’s radar, I found that it is equally important for candidates to research search firms.These agencies are businesses and they each have their own niche of search they typically engage in. For instance, some firms only conduct searches for senior administrative positions (e.g., President, Provost), where other firms also recruit for endowed professorships. 

Preparation and review of applicant documents

From my experience serving on faculty searches, candidates may lack in presenting carefully crafted written materials. This is often a part in the process that can quickly eliminate a candidate from consideration for positions. During my conversations with the experts, they too expressed the importance of candidates putting together strong materials. Ms. Kirkhope expressed that common mistakes with applicant materials include:

  • The candidate’s CV is too long and is not tailored directly to the position the candidate is applying for. This signals to the committee that you may not understand what the search committee is searching for, specifically to determine if a candidate is a fit for the position.
  • The selection of references are not adequate for the position (e.g., you apply for a leadership role and have no reference that can speak to your formal leadership experience).
  • The cover letter does not address how the candidate’s experience meets the qualifications of the position.

In a follow-up interview, Mrs. Kirkhope suggested that when preparing materials, a candidate could give a summary overview of areas on their CV that were not directly related to the position such as listing a sample of classes taught when applying for an cabinet-level administrator role.

Dr. Coleman also explained that when creating a cover letter, candidates should make sure it is tailored to the job position and institution to which they are applying. She explained, “So you want to make sure your materials reflect your strengths, your experiences, your ability and is it your cover letter may address some of your least experienced areas. You want to make sure that your references complete your story.”

My takeaway on job material preparation? Take the time upfront in crafting your cover letter and selecting your references. Your goal for your written materials is to have the search committee eager to learn more about you and how you are a fit for the position. In many cases, this will lead to a video interview.

Thriving on the video interview

A question many readers from my previous post asked was, “How do I prepare for the video interview?” So, I had an extensive discussion with Dr. Coleman and Ms. Kirkhope about how candidates should prepare for this event. 

Dr. Coleman suggested some very poignant steps candidates can take to succeed during the video interview:

“Well I think some people are not comfortable with sort of video conversations and I would say practice from every aspect. Where you’ll be seated, what’s in the background, how high your laptop computer is so that you present well, are there glares? If you have glasses, is there glare on your glasses? And some of that has to do with positioning. And so you want to practice that ahead on Zoom with a friend or colleague or someone who can give you feedback.”

Dr. Coleman added that search firm consultants could possibly be helpful in giving candidates suggestions for the types of questions they will be asked. She also advised that whenever possible, candidates should reach out to colleagues who hold the position they are applying to in order to understand the types of questions they should be prepared to answer. 

Ms. Kirkhope added to Dr. Coleman’s recommendations on interview preparation by encouraging candidates to make sure they are actually answering the search committee’s questions. 

“A lot of times people think they are answering,” Ms. Kirkhope explained, “but one of the biggest mistakes candidates make is they get very general in their responses. They don’t provide examples, or they talk incessantly and they spend 20 minutes on the first question. When interviewing you typically have 4-5 minutes per question.” 

She further explained that not answering all of the questions impacts candidates at decision time. Search committees may not have candidate responses to key areas that are germane to their position, thus they may be less likely to move forward in the search. 

My takeaways? When thinking about a video or in-person interview, candidates should prepare ahead of time, solicit the feedback of a trusted colleague, and think intentionally about specific examples that allow you to thoroughly answer a question.

What thoughts come to you after reading this post? Are there any lingering questions about working with search firms? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. 

I would like to personally thank Dr. Coleman and Ms. Kirkhope for their time in serving as experts for this piece.

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with tips on how professors can navigate COVID-19 and support their students.

My hope is that this post finds you and your family healthy and well. Like most of you, my life took a drastic turn in the last two weeks with the onset of and response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Through my various conversations with colleagues on Twitter and Facebook, many of us professors are trying to figure out how to balance transitioning our classes online along with the other professorial responsibilities. In addition, we’re navigating how to manage our familial responsibilities. Given this new reality for the foreseeable future, I wanted to provide some ways that I am approaching this transition as faculty.

Check-in and assess students’ access to resources to complete online courses

In response to the need of social distancing to combat COVID-19, a majority of universities have suspended face-to-face classes and have asked faculty to shift their courses online. Unfortunately this response did not account for the realities of college students. For instance, some students experience various external insecurities (e.g., housing, food, etc.) that can hinder their access to the resources (e.g., personal computer, reliable Internet) needed to succeed in an online learning environment. As a result, it is important that as concerned faculty we ask our students some important questions such as:

  • Are you and your family safe?
  • Do you have access to a personal computer at home to complete assignments?
  • Do you have access to reliable Internet?

As we switch our classes online, I believe we must see the humanity in our students and make sure that what we are proposing for our online class is appropriate for the needs of all of our students.

Scale back on course requirements

I know many of us believe our courses are important. As a result, I have seen some dialogue on Twitter that faculty are looking to transition their courses online and keep the rigorous requirements of the original course. If you are thinking about this, I would urge you to consider scaling back on course requirements.

Our students’ lives have drastically changed in the last few weeks. Some students left campus for spring break and have not been allowed to return. And the uncertainty remains, as the situation is ever-evolving. As concerned faculty we have the academic freedom to scale back our course requirements. Given the unique circumstances, scaling back not only helps our students, but helps us as faculty as we too have been tasked with developing an online course with a week or two notice.

Curtail your thoughts about productivity

While this pandemic has changed the modality we use to teach our classes, unfortunately for many on the tenure track specifically, the tenure clock continues to tick. However, given the drastic changes that have occurred not only in our professional lives, but also our personal lives like having school-aged children home during the workday, potentially taking care of relatives, and managing this traumatic experience with COVID-19, we must have an honest conversation about what productivity should look like.

In many conversations on Twitter I have seen academics discussing how they will use this time of limited mobility to complete projects. While admirable, I hope too that we can agree to not put pressure on ourselves to be as productive during this time as we were before our lives changed.

To aid in supporting pre-tenure faculty, some universities have provided one-year tenure track period extensions; however, this is not at all institutions. My urge to university administrators is to provide your tenure track faculty with an automatic tenure track extension and allow faculty to apply for tenure promotion during their normal timeline if they should choose to.

How are you all handling transitioning your classes and balancing your personal and professional lives? What are some other tips during COVID-19 for professors? Do you have materials you can share with colleagues on creating online courses? I would love to hear from you on Twitter. I hope that we can support one another during this unprecedented time. 

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

Recently, Inside Higher Ed and Gallup published their annual survey of chief academic officers, and it contains some revealing findings about how academic leaders are thinking about faculty in 2020.

Based on survey responses from about 600 chief academic officers, representing over 300 public and over 250 private institutions (also 9 for-profit ones), the survey sheds light on many aspects of contemporary college and university life.

They asked CAOs what they thought about student attainment, political pressures, tenure, the economy, sexual misconduct, and even textbook prices. 

Among these results are some various noteworthy indicators about the state of faculty employment in higher education today, which we discuss below:

  1. The first is about academic program data.
  2. The second is about faculty recruitment and hiring. 
  3. The third considers the financial circumstances academic leaders are up against.

1. Chief academic officers are clearly feeling pressure to favor academic fields perceived as leading students to the workforce. At the same time, they are lacking confidence in the current state of data-drivenness on their campuses.

“60 percent [of all CAOs polled],” the study reports, “strongly agree or agree that politicians, presidents and boards are increasingly unsympathetic to liberal arts education. The same percentage of CAOs indicate they feel pressure from their president, board or donors to focus on academic programs that have a clear career orientation” (p. 23).

In fact, the study finds:

“Likely reflecting the trends in student majors, CAOs expect that there will be major allocation of funds to STEM fields and professional or preprofessional programs. More than 6 in 10 believe those fields will get major funding at their college in the next budget year. In contrast, just 31 percent strongly agree or agree that arts and sciences programs will get major allocation of funds in the coming year…” (p. 31-32).

Both these response outcomes and the presence of the question in the study, of course, reflect the long-running conversation in U.S. higher education about the most valuable ways that institutions should go about their mission—and also about how that value should be determined. 

Yet we must note that the same academic leaders hardly voiced great confidence in their institution’s current capacity to use institutional data well. In response to a section asking, “How would you rate the effectiveness of your institution in the following areas?”, when it comes to “Using data to aid and inform campus decision-making,” only 23% of all chief academic officers surveyed (26% of those at public institutions, 18% of those at private) said “Very effective” (p. 12).

By what set of data, then, and through what data gathering channels, should academic leaders today determine which academic disciplines or programs to emphasize?

2. Chief academic officers not only doubt their institutions’ faculty recruitment and retention abilities, but are less confident in this area than they used to be.

On that same question asking chief academic officers to rate their institution’s effectiveness in various areas, the study seems to reveal a growing uncertainty about how to attract and keep the right faculty members. 

When it came to “Recruiting and retaining talented faculty,” only 22% of all chief academic officers responding said “Very effective” (p. 12). The study further puts this data point in context:

“The percentage of provosts who believe their institution is very effective in recruiting and retaining talented faculty… is the lowest measured to date, and nearly half what it was from 2012-2014. The decline has occurred equally among private and public college administrators” (p. 7).

Achieving successful recruitment of talented faculty members—in a way that at once strategically fills an institution’s or department’s needs and ensures an equitable, responsible process—is an elusive quest. 

To us, this revealing insight from the IHE/Gallup study certainly raises the question of the scale of resources and level of centralization that is in effect at the institutions whose academic leaders responded. 

There is good news however, and that’s this: Many thinkers and scholars in higher education have become quite good at it—not to mention the beneficial rise of recruiting and HR professionals on staff. We heard some great sessions on effective academic recruitment in the 2019 Interfolio Summit, and are likely to hear more in the 2020 Interfolio Summit this July.

Editor’s note : If you or others you know in higher education wish that you could make faculty recruitment and hiring more strategic and systematic, perhaps consider pointing them to Interfolio’s step-by-step, research-based Modern Faculty Recruitment Playbook. (Brand new!)

3. Chief academic officers confirm the academic mission is struggling with a climate (and time) of scarcity.

The report reveals several noteworthy aspects of today’s chief academic officers’ perspective on their economic circumstances: 

  • They (still) acutely feel that resources are limited.
  • They don’t think it’s been getting any better recently.
  • Despite their support for tenure, they don’t feel they can reduce reliance on non-tenure track faculty. 

Resources are limited

First, the study makes clear chief academic officers are feeling the limitations on their resources. 

“When it comes to making decisions about creating new academic programs,” says the study, “70 percent of CAOs say that most new funds for academic programs will come from reallocation of existing funds rather than from new revenues.” Chief academic officers at public institutions reported this even this more strongly than their counterparts at private institutions.  

“Additionally,” the report goes on, “the vast majority of provosts, 88 percent, agree that financial concerns are prevalent in their institution’s discussions about launching new academic programs” (p. 47).

It hasn’t been getting better

Furthermore, chief academic officers do not believe the financial situation has been getting better over time, and definitely feel that their institutions are still struggling with the effects of the 2008 recession. 

“More CAOs disagree (43 percent) than agree (37 percent),” says the study, “that their institution’s financial situation has improved in the past year. A majority [50%] continues to disagree that the 2008 economic downturn is effectively over at their institution” (p. 7). On this question, too, the report notes that “public doctoral university provosts are the only subgroup that is more positive than negative about their college’s financial situation over the past year” (p. 46).

They (mostly) can’t reduce non-tenure track reliance

Likely for all these reasons, the chief academic officers who responded said they anticipate increased non-tenure track faculty reliance in the future—despite their affirmation of the value of tenure.

When asked, “In the future, do you anticipate that your institution will become more reliant, less reliant or will it be about as reliant as it is today on nontenure track faculty members for instruction?” (p. 16):

  • Less than 1 in 10 of all chief academic officers polled (9%) said “Less reliant on nontenure track faculty members.”
  • Over a quarter of all chief academic officers polled (28%) said “More reliant on nontenure track faculty members.”
  • When it comes to those at private doctoral/master’s institutions, the portion who gave this response was as high as 40%.

And yet: 

“At a time when 77 percent of CAOs say their institution relies significantly on nontenure track faculty for instruction — an increase of 12 percentage points since 2013 — a new high of 81 percent of academic officers strongly agree or agree that tenure remains important and viable at their institution. Compared with five years ago, both public and private college chief academic officers are more likely to believe that tenure remains viable at their institution.” (p. 15; emphasis added). 

Clearly it is time to figure out how US colleges and universities should be recruiting, understanding, and managing a largely non-tenure track or contingent faculty workforce.

In this demonstrated climate of scarcity, then, there is more reason than ever for chief academic officers at US higher education institutions to find smarter, more sustainable, more systematic ways to support the academy’s overall mission. 

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Interested in what Interfolio has to do with these issues? Start with our free downloadable white paper on the Faculty Information System. Or just get in touch.