Kerry Ann Rockquemore offers more great advice to junior faculty this week in “Get Out There and Shake It!”, in which she tells them not to sit in their offices waiting for invitations to lunch or coffee, and to get out and start making connections with their senior colleagues. No, it’s not the primary responsibility of junior scholars to reach out to their seniors–but that might be the objective reality for many, as it was for her:
Unfortunately, most academic departments are far from perfect! So if you passively wait for others to initiate interaction, you are likely to be sitting in your office alone and isolated a great deal of the time. It is also the case that when you don’t extend yourself, others may negatively perceive you as aloof, disengaged, or un-collegial. Most importantly, you may be missing out on important relationships, access to critical networks, professional opportunities, and the mentoring you need to thrive.
To be clear, new faculty members should not be single-handedly responsible for initiating relationships and integrating themselves into their new departments. But this is often the reality, especially for women in mostly male departments, and faculty of color in predominantly white departments. If this is your situation, you cannot sit back and reactively wait for senior faculty (who will be voting on your tenure and promotion) to reach out to you and include you in their networks and activities. Instead, your goal should be to proactively initiate relationships with your senior colleagues so that you are spending time each week discussing research and teaching with them.
This is good advice. (It’s worth a shot, anyway–it probably can’t hurt, and it will probably help you.) Appearing to be the cheerful worker bee that you probably are won’t work with everyone. But it’s good to remember that if you feel your colleagues are isolating you or intentionally excluding you, it’s not really about you–it’s about them. It’s about their social awkwardness, their insecurities, their busy schedules (since they’re the ones doing the vast majority of the service work, on top of the same research and teaching you’re doing), and/or their obliviousness. Extend the hand of collegiality, and you’ll probably be warmly received.
If it’s not, there are a number of things you should consider. First of all, look for allies outside of your department, since they too can be crucial channels of information, advice, and sources of personal and professional support. (This is easier if you’re attached to or associated with an interdisciplinary program or department such as Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, or International Studies –but it’s not impossible to forge collegial friendships with others whose research interests are aligned with yours.) Next, be sure to cultivate allies in your field outside of your institution, since they also can be valuable sources of information and support. Once you’re more than a few years out of graduate school, you really should find other senior scholars who can write letters on your behalf, because dossiers that include only letters from faculty at your graduate institution are less impressive than letters from people who have absolutely no personal or professional stake in your success. Their endorsement might prove critical if you’re going to follow my third piece of advice, which is to buff up your cover letter and C.V. and look for jobs elsewhere.
Applying for other jobs is not an option for everyone, depending on hir personal and financial situation, and everyone has to make up hir own mind about whether relocation is worth it. But, there are some circumstances in which it may be unavoidable. Ask yourself: is this a work environment in which you can thrive professionally and be the scholar and teacher you want to be? Or is this an environment that will suck every ounce of optimism and joy out of you and turn you into a bitter, alcoholic and/or drug-addled wretch? (Rarely is the choice that stark, of course, but the embittered, alcoholic wraith-like version of your now-competent and cheerful self is something to keep in mind.) You don’t have to be best friends with your colleagues, or even friends at all. But you must be able to set your own course and meet your career goals if you’re going to be satisfied with your professional life. Look around and ask yourself two questions: are there any careers in your department worthy of emulation? And, are you being treated with respect as a competent professional? If the answer is “no,” to both questions, then get ready to make your move.
What do you think, friends? If you resigned from a job, what was your calculation? How have others of you made peace with a less-than-ideal job, and make it work for you?