Reflections on the AAAS/EOC Junior Faculty Retreat

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS)/East of California (EOC) Junior Faculty Retreat. Organized by Dr. Nitasha Sharma (Northwestern University) and Dr. Min Hyoung Song (Boston College), the daylong pre-conference retreat brought together six senior faculty and eighteen junior faculty. The retreat had two main components: 1) panels on pedagogy, tenure, and publishing/career; and 2) paper workshops.

As I have mentioned before, I previously participated in the AAAS mentoring program for graduate students/postdocs the last two years. I signed up to meet with two women whose cumulative body of work (research, teaching, service) that I admire. The mentoring program also allowed me to form new relationships with individuals that I may not have otherwise had if I selected not to partake in the program. In subsequent conversations with my mentor from AAAS 2013, I gained incredible feedback on my book proposal. During the mentoring session at AAAS 2014, I learned about conducting community-based research, oral history collection with students.

When the call for applications went out for the AAAS/EOC Junior Faculty Retreat went out during the fall semester, I immediately decided to apply. A dear friend, colleague, and mentor had previously participated in the retreat and enjoyed it. She told me to be prepared to make some great friends and that the mentors were fantastic. Her recommendation along with my previous experience with mentors at AAAS fueled my desire to attend.

(I recognize that not all disciplines and interdisciplinary fields have these built in mentoring components. I am extremely grateful that I work in a field that actively encourages mentoring and supports junior faculty. All too often academia may seem isolating, especially when you are the only one doing ethnic studies, for example, at an institution. Being able to maintain connections and communicate via email and Facebook is fantastic and a privilege.)

For our panel sessions, junior faculty participants were asked to submit questions in advance. We also were able to pose questions during the sessions. When we focused on pedagogy, we first discussed the teaching contexts that we currently exist in (e.g. course load, whether we teach Asian American Studies courses, if we teach Asian American Studies content in existing classes). This question framed our discussion around how to best manage one’s time teaching, course prepping, grading alongside our research and service commitments. The conversation also raised the question about whether one should build on the same courses year after year or teach new classes. For me, this past year was spent developing and honing my skills teaching two new courses with multiple sections. I found that this particular method of framing my teaching load has allowed me to see what works and what does not work in the two courses. In doing so, I was able to refine course content. This Spring/Summer semester I am developing a new course. In the fall, I will also be teaching a new course. I will be teaching both new courses (developed Spring/Summer and in the fall) again in Winter 2016. Listening to others’ experiences – senior and junior faculty – was helpful as it provided greater context for what others have done or will do in the future.

There were two pieces of advice that stood out to me from this panel session. First, consider the coherence of your teaching over time and create a coherent profile of pedagogical products. In other words, keep in mind whether an overall theme exists in your courses. This will hopefully help as you write your teaching narrative for tenure. Second, be honest about your priorities and what you care about. This advice also applies to how I think about my research and service and the intersections of all three components (research, service, and teaching) in the work that I do.

The second panel session explored tenure and promotion. A strong emphasis was placed on the following: ask questions (and be proactive about it), collect as much information as you can, and ask as many folks as possible – diversify your sources. At many institutions, tenure is a moving target and you should read your Faculty Handbook as well as look at recent tenure cases. While some reading this may think that a lot of this information is obvious, sometimes these things are not obvious to everyone.

Senior faculty mentors also discussed external review letters, which Karen Kelsky discusses in her Vitae post. Think early on who would be strong reviewers and that conferences are one tool for you to determine who could be these individuals. Consider who has given you strong comments on your work.

Overall, be sensitive to the culture of your institution. Every university is different. But, what’s important to remember is that the quality of your work matters and don’t forget to document your achievements for your tenure and promotion binder. Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen has a fantastic post regarding “How to Prepare Your Academic Dossier.” This summer I am attending my institution’s Personnel Portfolio Workshop as I think about my third review in the 2016/2017 academic year. Mentors suggested that completing the workshop early on will be helpful as I prepare my binder.

The final session focused on publishing and career. Similar to advice about ensure your overall service and teaching have a coherent narrative, one should consider the long-term view of our scholarship. In other words, think about the coherence of your strategy and consider your publications in relation to one another. Are you able to clearly articulate your overarching research agenda?

Lastly, the retreat offered me the opportunity to obtain feedback on one of the chapters from my monograph. The advice from the two senior colleagues paired with my group of six junior faculty (including myself) was invaluable. It also provided me the opportunity to rethink the overall themes running through the manuscript.

While what I wrote above only reflects a snippet of these panels, I hope you have a good sense of why I believe spaces like these are valuable. Hearing the senior colleagues and my peers discuss their experiences provided a new opportunity to situate my own experience within a broader narrative. The AAAS/EOC Junior Faculty Retreat is one of the new reasons I thoroughly enjoy AAAS. I spent the entire conference raving about the retreat to my friends and colleagues. The value of mentoring should not be overlooked.

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