June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
New Engineering Educators
13.287.1 - 13.287.10
Changes in the Nature of Faculty Work in Engineering during the First Three Years
The literature frames the socialization process of new faculty members as if they face an identical set of challenges in each of their pre-tenure years, regardless of discipline. This research uses a longitudinal research design and interview data to determine if there are differences by year in the experiences of a cohort pre-tenure faculty in engineering at a research-intensive university. Two major shifts in priorities occurred within the three years: a shift from an emphasis on securing external funding to managing a research team and multiple sources of funding; and secondly, a shift from concern about the ambiguity of tenure expectations to growing confidence about expectations attributed largely to clear feedback about performance. Research findings presented here suggest that new faculty will benefit from professional development opportunities that address such issues as conflict, interpersonal communication, and essentials of supervision in a team and laboratory setting.
Introduction and Review of Related Literature
Social and organizational features of faculty work, often referred to in more generic way as climate, are recognized as one of the strongest influences on academic scientists’ and engineers’ productivity1 and satisfaction2. Perceptions of climate reflect policies, practices, and interactions at both a local level, as within a lab or department, and at more global level of the college or university. The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), an emerging voice from Harvard University about faculty careers, measures climate to include (a) personal and professional interactions with colleagues, (b) opportunities for collaboration, (c) sense of fit, (d) intellectual vitality of the senior faculty, (e) fairness of evaluation, (f) equitable treatment, and (g) support for professional development. Perceptions of climate at the more local level of the department are more strongly related to productivity and satisfaction than perceptions about similar issues at the level of the college or university3.
The centrality of teamwork in a lab setting is one element of faculty work that distinguishes academics in engineering and the natural and physical sciences from most of their colleagues in the social sciences, professional fields such as business and education, and the humanities. Teamwork is widely recognized to be the central feature of modern scientific research4. Teamwork is distinguished from collaboration because it involves cooperation between scientists, students, technicians, and others of equal and unequal status5. It is heavily dependent on external funding6. As compared to “big science” such as occurs at Lawrence Livermore or Sandia Labs, “small science” is a single investigator working in a designated laboratory space and developing an independent research agenda7. The lab setting serves as a prime venue for education, recruitment, and retention of both graduate and undergraduate students to STEM fields8. It provides the principal context for the socialization of graduate students9, but also presents challenges to new faculty members who have little prior experience in managing teams or supervising students within the context of multiple deadlines for deliverables from funding agencies.
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