Reflections on Year Three

I never reflected on Year Two, so I guess I might as well jump ahead to year three since it occurred more recently. I will also touch upon some of what happened in Year Two in this post anyways. For those who want to see my thoughts following my first year, please click here.

Warning: This post is a little longer than I expected.

At the end of Year Two with support from my unit head, I applied for my first administrative role to become director of the Kutsche Office of Local History. Solid mentors within and outside of my unit encouraged my application. Serving as director this past year has been an incredible journey. I developed our 2016-2021 strategic plan, aligning it with the overall strategic plan of both the university and college. I oversaw continuing projects and launched a new project (Histories of Student Activism at GVSU). Part of why I feel successful in this new role is because of the mentoring I receive from colleagues in administrative positions, but also because the staff and student interns in the office are integral components for keeping the office running. Support from the office coordinator aided the growth of a new signature program—Lunch with the Kutsche Office—in the fall. This new annual program also includes a featured speaker. Last year Dr. James Smither, professor of history, discussed the best and worst oral history practices and the Veteran’s History project. We also launched a new grant program, Community Collaboration Grant, for faculty working with a community partner and mentoring an undergraduate student. My first year as director has been busy to say the least. ❤

The second year at GVSU also saw me serving on my first search tenure-track search committee. It was a great experience and allowed me to witness the search process “from the other side.” By having both perspectives—as someone recently on the market and as a member of a search committee—I could better see the nuances of what makes one candidate jump off the screen more than another. And, how one candidate could resonate more with one committee member over another. This is why committees are essential to hiring, as not every member will “see” the same thing as they read applicants’ materials. In the end you always need to trust your colleagues and their judgment for coming up with the best candidate for the position. It also reinforced advice from my mentors when I was on the market who always noted that searches are quirky and it’s about the committee’s desires not you. (And yes, I realize it sounds like an academic rendition of “He’s just not that into you” or “It’s me, not you, really.”)

The skills learned as a search committee member bolstered my abilities to chair a search committee last year (2016-2017). Chairing a search from start to finish was an interesting opportunity and gave me even greater insight into how the hiring process works from start to finish. It also made me realize the importance of thinking about this process holistically and recognizing that applicants like search committee members are human.

Thoughts on Third Year Review

In addition to chairing a search and transitioning into a new administrative position during Year Three, I completed my third year review process. One of the biggest tools that allowed me to think critically about the review process is the fact that Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen shared her tips for preparing an academic dossier early on with me when I was a graduate student. I kept these tips in mind and made sure to save, save, SAVE all of the things in preparation for my third year review. I also took mental notes as I talked with colleagues about their review processes and went to workshops offered by the college. More importantly, I attended the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center Personnel Portfolio Workshop offered by my institution the summer before year two. At this workshop, I not only learned more about the institution’s norms for review, I also developed a working draft of my integrative statement. The integrative statement is meant to act as a guide for those reviewing materials in your review binder. It is meant to demonstrate your breadth and depth and underscores your trajectory as a scholar including reflections on teaching, research, and service. The workshop provides a mentor from a senior colleague in a different discipline and you operate in smaller cohorts/teams. This was such a worthwhile experience as it got me thinking about how I would articulate my career at the institution and the contributions I have made since arriving to campus.

Kim McKee Third Year Review Binder
Kim McKee holds her third year review binder.

To give folks a sense of what my binders looked like, see the photographs on the right. In addition to my main binder that held materials related to teaching, research, and service, I had two binders holding the manuscript for my monograph and the essays in the edited volume I am working on. Click here to see my table of contents. I’m sharing my table of contents to illustrate the kinds of material that are included at my institution. I recognize that expectations for review differ institution by institution. It is my hope that by discussing my third year review briefly and sharing my binder’s TOC that I can create a generative conversation around this process. I want to use this moment as a tool for productive conversation around how we can best support faculty during this process. For many faculty, the review process is daunting and we do not often have open conversations about what to expect.

Here are some tips:

K McKee Third Year Review Binder, monograph draft, and edited volume draft
Three white binders. Kim McKee’s Third Year Review Binder, Edited Volume Draft, and Monograph Draft.
  • If your colleagues’ materials are available for you to review or if they offer them to you for review, always review them. See how they organized their materials. Learn the norms of your institution. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid.
  • If you there is a workshop dedicated to preparing faculty for the review process, go! Reap the benefits of colleagues’ expertise.
  • If a senior colleague offers to read a draft of your integrative statement and you want feedback, take them up on your offer.
  • Make sure you review your personnel guidelines. Review them with a fine-tooth comb. Familiarize yourself with the expectations. Try and eliminate as many surprises as possible.

I recognize that not everyone’s review process is smooth sailing; however the four tips above are meant to at least get folks thinking more openly and critically about this process. Sometimes just having someone else encourage you to do X (or Y, or Z) produces an invaluable change.

Remember the annual review process is meant to prepare faculty for their third year review and subsequent tenure and promotion reviews. The annual review process, in theory, should provide you with tangible feedback if you’re on the right track to meet the benchmarks set in your personnel guidelines. And, in addition to updating Digital Measures (if your university uses metrics), don’t forget to continuously update your CV. This saves you time down the road. 🙂

Reminders on Mentoring

I have written elsewhere on my blog about mentoring, but I want to highlight a series for Ideas on Fire and offer a few words. Ideas on Fire has a three-part (as of this posting) blog series on mentoring: How to Find a Good Mentor, How to be a Good Mentor, and How to Be a Good Mentee. They offer useful information on a variety of topics in their blog, but I highlight the mentoring series because often we forget that sometime we need nudges about what good mentoring is and what it is not.

As a reminder, don’t wait for a mentor. Mentors don’t magically arrive at your footsteps. This isn’t a fairy tale and you’re not Cinderella. The mentor fairy godmother won’t appear out of thin air. And we’re not at Hogwarts. Dumbledore won’t come rescue you from a cupboard. I took advantage of my institution’s program for first year faculty. In year two, I also joined the peer-to-peer mentoring program. To complement these formal mentoring avenues, I sought out multiple mentors at my institution and elsewhere to create a vibrant mentoring constellation as no single individual will have all of the answers. A mentor for one issue may not be the same mentor for another issue.

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Protecting Your Time

This past year has been one where I did not protect my writing time. I watched as blocks of time originally carved out in my calendar slipped away into the cloud as the delete button was struck removing them from my iCal. L This is not to say I did not have established writing times. I DID. And, I recognize the importance of them. For those who don’t completely buy into it, check out “Establishing a Regular Writing Practice” from Ideas on Fire.

But I shouldn’t say that I didn’t write. I did. I worked on revisions for my first book and sent them to the press in April. I also fine-tuned the edited volume I’m working on with a colleague. I submitted revisions on a journal article and completed page proofs on two chapters in edited volumes. This isn’t meant to be a listicle lauding my accomplishments over the year; rather a reminder that even if my dedicated writing time shifted, I still managed to write. Writing is writing even if the times are discrete moments. There is no perfect magic hour for writing. At least, I have not found one.

Just as protecting your time to write is important, so is protecting your free time and thinking about self care. Academics and higher ed often make faculty feel as if we’re on the clock all of the time. I am working on developing better practices at negotiating the attempt of balance. I realize that perhaps balance isn’t the best term to describe the healthy place of negotiating personal and professional responsibilities, but it does signal a desire to strive for a holistic life that allows for me to excel without becoming a workaholic.

I end with two articles focused on self-care and the end of the semester. They’re good reminders to prioritize YOU and your health.

And, to remind myself daily, I have a print out of the Crunk Feminist Collectives’ “Back-to-School Beatitudes: 10 Academic Survival Tips” (2011, August 25) near my desk.

Reflections on Year One

As I reflect on my first year on the tenure track last year, I realize that many of the connections I formed with colleagues across the university resulted from my involvement in events offered by the Pew Faculty and Teaching Learning Center (FTLC) and attending two Faculty/Staff Writing Retreats offered by the Fred Meijer Center for Writing & Michigan Authors. Given that it’s late August 2015 and convocation is tomorrow, I guess that this post is better late than never. We’re already rounding the corner to the beginning of year two!

The two FTLC programs that were the most impactful were The Inaugural Winter Teaching Life Retreat: Applying the Wisdom of Remarkable Women Leaders (December 2014) and the Strengths Based Leadership Teaching Circle (Winter 2015). The retreat and teaching circle encourage introspection. In many ways the self-reflection was fueled by two books, which centered our discussion, How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston and Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. Being in this community also encouraged me to read Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown as this is the book women who participated in an earlier program had read the previous year.

The writing retreats allowed me to focus on book manuscript revisions. Sitting with other faculty members in relative silence allowed me to center my attention on writing. This retreat complemented the weekly, online writing group that I am in with a colleague. There is a definite value in working in conjunction with one another for accountability purposes as well as in a group where you workshop one another’s work.

This post centers on three takeaways I found after reading above-mentioned books. While I believe in the value of writing groups and writing retreats, I leave you with the words from the authors of articles in Chronicle Vitae and Inside Higher Ed:

Takeaway #1: Flexibility and Adaptability

Academia is not always predictable. While we may know the major milestones in one’s career that we ought to meet, how we get there is not necessarily a linear path. There is no “right” path in the academy. Discussing indirect routes that may lead us to new ideas, Barsh and Cranston note:

Many women set out, traveling down academic and career paths, only to discover meaningful work after more than a few turns in the road. The zigs and zags of their career may seem inefficient (surely a straight shot to your goal would seem a better choice). Things are not always what they seem. In most cases, women leaders recall that these zigs taught self-awareness and those zags led them down the path to skills and experiences that opened a door. It was not time wasted. It was their time for discovering what they loved and learning new capabilities (23).

Each academic year, I set goals for myself related to teaching, research, and service. I recalibrate these goals each semester and over the summer. This process of recalibration allows me to evaluate whether I will meet these goals and reflect on where I may need to adapt in the face of an unexpected event. Barsh and Cranston encourage the evaluation and re-evaluation of one’s ambitions and priorities, writing:

From time to time, consciously reframe: Think about your goals and whether you should change them. The formula that worked for you in the past may no longer fit the circumstances. And when you see (or feel) the signs that you are locking in, take a deep breath and head for the balcony. We don’t want you to ever change being open to change (112).

Similarly, Rath and Conchie focus on creating weekly, monthly and annual goals to ensure success. Where do you want to end up? Consider your strengths and how they will help move you from point A to point B. Clearly communicate and perhaps even over-communicate what you’re doing and why. Well-defined plans articulate your motivations to faculty, staff, and students that you work with in various capacities.

Anticipate the fact new and unexpected, yet exciting opportunities are always on the horizon. Taking advantage of these possibilities opens new doors and facilitates deeper connections within colleagues and students, for example. This does not mean I say yes to every prospect that comes knocking on my door. Rather, I consider how these various openings relate to my larger goals. In my post on the Association for Asian American Studies’ East of California Junior Faculty retreat I discussed the benefits of creating a coherent narrative that links your teaching, research, and service. How does saying yes relate to your broader goals?

Takeaway #2: Know Your Passion

Find your passion and what drives you to do the work that you do. What gives you meaning? Barsh and Cranston note: “Meaning is the motivation in your life. It’s finding what engages you, what makes your heart beat faster, what gives you energy and creates passion. Meaning enables you to push yourself to the limit of your capabilities – and beyond” (22). Figure out what sustains you in the academy.

For me, it’s supporting students of color and other marginalized communities. This is particularly salient given my location in the Midwest where often I am one of the few Asian American faculty students engage with in the Humanities. There are currently no Asian American Studies courses taught on a regular basis. In Fall 2015 I will teach a one-credit course, The Hypersexual Female Asian Body, which explores the racialized and sexualized depictions of women of Asian descent in US popular culture. I also will direct an independent study, “Introduction to Korean Adoption Studies,” with an undergraduate student.

Takeaway #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Dare Greatly

Defining what it means to dare greatly, Brown comments: “Daring greatly means finding our own path and respecting what that search looks like for other folks” (231). Daring greatly means embracing vulnerability and not allowing fear to stop one from achieving their goals. To this end, Brown notes: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual ways, vulnerability is the path” (34). As part of this process, we also need to embrace or at least recognize that imperfection is not a negative. Brown writes: “Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and to our sense of purpose; it’s the hazardous detour” (128). One of the areas that I find this advice to be particularly helpful is with writing. Learning to share drafts of manuscripts, articles, and chapters early with colleagues is an acquired skill. This is where writing groups and friends/colleagues are helpful. Soliciting feedback on an early, unfinished piece of work may feel daunting, but it is an invaluable process.

Concluding Thoughts

Utilizing the resources offered by my institution to first year faculty allowed me to consciously and deliberately engage my community. I strengthened existing skills and honed new ones through taking advantage of the various workshops. As I embark on year two, I keep the following questions from Barsh and Cranston in mind: “Consider the next milestone in your career. Do you know what you have to do to achieve it? Do you believe that achieving it is in your control? What are you doing to reach that goal (192)?”