Providing Faculty with Career Advice or Mentoring: Principles and Best Practices

The individual faculty member is ultimately responsible for building a record in scholarship, teaching, and service that merits promotion and/or tenure.   However, the interests of departments and programs, and of the College and the University are served when faculty receive useful professional advice. Faculty members should expect to find individual colleagues in the academic community who can provide them with appropriate professional advice, and the College and its units have an important role in insuring the provision of that information.

Career advising, often called mentoring, takes many forms: it may be formal and deliberate or informal and unintentional; it may take place in a group or one-on-one.  It includes advice about the substance of teaching and research in the academy, as well as about external measures of success, such as where one publishes.  Career advising is an activity that sometimes occurs between peers, as well as between those with different levels of experience.  In an academic community, mentoring is ideally freely sought and freely given among colleagues with different needs for assistance at different career stages.  However, senior faculty have a particular responsibility to foster and support the development of those less experienced, in areas in which they have knowledge or advice to provide.

In an ideal world, mentoring might occur “naturally,” without structure or deliberation. However, when there is no intentional structure for career advising, some individuals—often those different from the majority in a unit in terms of gender, race or ethnicity, specialty, or even personal style—“fall through the cracks” and do not get the advice they need. Therefore, the College provides some direct career advice, as well as support for unit-level career advising activities, outlined below. In addition, we encourage units to specify the sorts of advice and information that senior faculty should plan to provide, and that junior faculty should seek.  Finally, senior and junior faculty should make an effort to understand how they can effectively provide and seek career advice.

Several different career advising structures are useful; these include:

One-on-one career advising:  In this case, a more senior faculty member provides information about specific issues unique to the junior member’s field (potential publication outlets, sources of funding, etc.), or about procedures and practices in the University (tenure review criteria, norms about teaching loads and service, etc.). In some cases, it may also include constructive feedback about scholarly work (manuscripts, grant proposals) or the overall curriculum vitae or record, advice about balancing work and other activities, or identification of scholarly or leadership opportunities.

Group advising/mentoring:  Some information about disciplinary or institutional norms and practices can be readily communicated to junior faculty in groups. Sometimes these groups are organized by junior faculty themselves and informal peer advising can be a part of the process. However, group career advising sessions should most often be led by senior faculty with particular expertise, or by department chairs or program directors. Some topics that might be usefully covered in group career advising sessions include:

  • “Family friendly” policies on campus, including the dual career program, modified duties, delaying the tenure review, leave policies, and work-family resources.
  • Guidance in preparation of curriculum vitae/annual reports.
  • Criteria for promotion to associate and full professor.
  • Eligibility for internal awards and external national and international recognition.
  • Teaching issues (authority in the classroom, effective use of technology, etc.), perhaps as presented by staff from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT).

Zone mentoring/advising:  Some individuals within the department or program may be willing and able to provide expert advice on a particular topic to many individuals (but not in groups). It may be useful to identify individuals who are available for consultation about particular issues (such as publication strategies, funding agencies, University service assignments, or teaching), and to provide all junior faculty with a list of these “zone mentors.”

The goal of faculty career advising programs is to provide opportunities for all untenured faculty or assistant professors to acquire feedback and information.  It is not, however, to provide a relationship that replicates the advisor-advisee relationship common in graduate and postdoctoral settings.  Individuals should have access to more than one career advisor, and should be encouraged to seek alternate perspectives from different advisors about the same issues.  The untenured faculty member is seeking information and advice and then making career decisions; she or he is not a protégée or student.   

The following roles in faculty career advising are based on the premise that all faculty members have a right to receive appropriate professional advice, but not necessarily to receive tenure.     

The Senior Faculty Member’s Role in Faculty Career Advising

Senior faculty are expected to make themselves available for scheduled meetings with their junior colleagues, and to review carefully any materials they have been provided in advance. They are expected to provide accurate information about disciplinary and University norms and practices, to provide constructive advice and feedback, and to refer their junior colleagues to others for information they may not have. They are expected to notify the chair or director of important unmet needs for information or advice that should be addressed. Senior faculty may find that the discussion of their role in the handbook Giving and Getting Career Advice provides additional detail that is useful.

The Junior Faculty Member’s Role in Faculty Career Advising

The junior faculty member is expected to review the handbook Giving and Getting Career Advice created by the ADVANCE program  and, if necessary, to prepare an “agenda” or list of topics to discuss. The department/program is expected to initiate formal meetings. It is important for the junior faculty member to raise questions and issues with one or more of the career advisors as soon as they arise, and not to delay raising them. If the junior faculty member feels that the career advising structure is not working well for whatever reason, s/he should bring that fact to the attention of the chair or director, or his/her divisional associate dean.   In some cases, an advisor from outside of the department may be a preferred option.

The College’s Role in Faculty Career Advising

  • Sponsoring a meeting at least once a year, announced well beforehand and with a follow-up reminder, and open to all tenure-track faculty, to discuss the requirements for tenure and promotion and the tenure and promotion process.  Chairs, directors, and mentors are invited to this meeting and are strongly encouraged to attend as one way to encourage transparency and dialogue in these proceedings.
  • Meeting with groups of junior faculty from time to time to speak with them about particular issues.
  • Asking all chairs and directors to include in their annual reports a section on career advising as it is provided to junior faculty with diverse characteristics; including discussion of this issue in the annual review conversation between the Dean and chairs and directors.
  • Working with chairs and directors of departments and programs to help ensure a constructive work environment for those faculty.
  • Making available to chairs and directors and to tenure-track faculty a list of resources available on campus to improve teaching, facilitate career advising, provide information about progress to tenure, etc.
  • Sponsoring an information session annually on effective career advising for faculty members and for chairs and directors.
  • Providing financial support for career advising activities departments design and propose. These may include tailored activities for individual faculty (e.g., invitations to campus for consultations with external scholars about important career issues; sponsorship of a book manuscript workshop; support for travel to meetings or campuses for consultation with particular experts in a subfield not included in the department; creation of department-wide structures for peer and/or zone advising.

The Unit’s Role in Faculty Career Advising

The Chair or Director’s Role: It is the responsibility of departments and programs to provide a formal faculty career advising program. The establishment of a climate for advising/mentoring faculty is a particular responsibility of department chairs and program directors.  In addition, career advising should be provided to all tenure-track faculty in a meeting with their chair or director at least once a year; the focus of this conversation should be their research, teaching, and service activities that year, in relation to their progress toward tenure.  These conversations are separate from the formal career advising program and other informal mentoring that individual faculty may seek and obtain; they are not a substitute.  These discussions should be constructive and diagnostic, and should include information about the third-year review and tenure and promotion review processes.  Without predicting the likelihood of success at the end of the probationary period, chairs and directors should address areas of strength and areas for improvement in the faculty member’s teaching, research, and service and should provide suggestions about goals and strategies for improvement.   

Chairs and directors should review each junior faculty member’s work assignments carefully to ensure that they are not being unduly burdened by an excessive number of new course preparations, too many large classes, or demanding service assignments.  Tenure-track faculty should be given the opportunity to teach in the area(s) of their research at the senior undergraduate and graduate levels during their first five years.  Such opportunities may include team teaching.  Service assignments to tenure-track faculty should ideally serve as mentoring contexts in which the candidate learns about the values and operations of the University.  It is important to evaluate what tenure-track faculty are likely to learn from any given assignment (e.g., the curriculum committee vs. the social committee).

The chair or director should take seriously the fact that senior faculty are often uncertain about how best to provide advice and help to their more junior colleagues. Some Chairs have found it helpful to have a once a year meeting with the mentor and the junior faculty member together.    Faculty mentors/advisors in a department or program should be provided with resources to support their efforts. These might include presentation and discussion of CRLT Players’ sketch on Faculty Career Advising, and faculty discussions of common issues arising in the context of faculty career advising.

The College strongly recommends that every junior faculty member should receive a copy of the handbook Giving and Getting Career Advice created by the ADVANCE program.

The Departmental Career Advising Program:  Units must think carefully about the relationship between career advising and faculty evaluation.  Junior faculty have reported, for example, that annual “mentoring” meetings with Executive Committees or Promotion and Merit Committees may not be effective because it is difficult to ask for help from committees that set salaries or judge fitness for promotion.  At the same time, it is critical that the career advisors be represented in every formal evaluation process undertaken during the probationary period.  For that reason, it is recommended, whenever possible, that one career advisor be designated to participate in these processes, either as a consultant (e.g., to the chair about the career advisors’ view of the candidate’s progress) or as a participant (e.g., in third-year and tenure reviews at the unit level).  In this way, the candidate’s need for frank information and feedback can be protected, without removing all of those most knowledgeable about the candidate’s work from the evaluation processes.  In some cases a discipline may be too small to completely differentiate various senior roles.

Departments are expected to implement departmentally appropriate mentoring including one or more of the following types:

  1. A committee of two or more tenured faculty members to constitute a career advising committee, which should meet as a group with the junior faculty member at least once each year; committee membership should be jointly decided by the chair or director and the junior faculty member.  This model is likely to work best in larger departments and/or interdisciplinary programs, but is recommended for all units.  One member of this committee should normally play some role in communicating information from the career advising committee to evaluators in the department or program (e.g., the chair/director, salary review committees, tenure and promotion and/or executive committees, etc.).
  2. A senior faculty career advisor jointly selected by the junior faculty member and the department chair or program director; that individual, the department chair or program director, and the junior faculty member should meet together at least once each year as a group to discuss the junior faculty member’s progress, as well as a plan for mentorship for the next year.  This model is likely to become necessary in smaller departments and programs with limited personnel available for mentoring.  One important drawback of this model is that it makes it very difficult to separate career advising and evaluation.
  3. A joint career advising committee, appointed during the first semester of the faculty member’s appointment by the chairs or directors of the joint-appointing units.  Whenever possible, this committee will have at least two faculty members (and may have more), representing the units equally.  It is often useful to begin by considering for membership one or more of the members of the search committee resulting in this appointment.  Faculty with joint appointments may represent multiple units, but will then have responsibility to report to more than one.  It is sometimes more straightforward for a faculty member to serve only as a representative of one unit.   The joint career advising committee is expected to meet with the untenured faculty member in person at least once each year, though it is often useful to meet once per semester.  The committee is expected to provide the usual kinds of advice to untenured faculty about the processes associated with publication, obtaining support for research, teaching, service, and navigating political and collegiality issues within the disciplines, units, and University.  Departments and programs may find it helpful to create a checklist to help committees remember to cover all topics at each meeting, including items unique to their field.  In any case, the committee is expected particularly to advise the faculty member on the process of review for tenure and promotion, and for third-year review.  Moreover, at least one member of this joint career advising committee should, whenever this is practical, serve on or advise both the third-year and the tenure review committees that eventually evaluate the untenured faculty member.   Finally, it is the special responsibility of career advising committees for jointly-appointed faculty to bring to the attention of the unit chairs or directors any issues about overload or inequity in teaching and service assignments, and to assist in working out solutions that keep the faculty member’s best interests at the center.

Initiating Career Advising for New Faculty:  As soon as a candidate accepts a position, the chair or director should begin to work with faculty colleagues to develop a career advising plan for the new faculty member.  Upon arrival on campus, the new faculty member should be consulted in developing this plan.  The plan should include attention to teaching, graduate supervision, and research, and should be predicated on being of assistance to the new faculty member.  The new faculty member should be consulted about the members of the committee and the advising plan.  This career advising plan should include participation by several members of the department or program during the years of the candidate’s progress toward tenure, as outlined in the models above and should include some provision for changing the senior faculty participants.    Each fall, the Dean’s Office will ask each unit to provide a list of the names of the senior faculty involved in advising each new faculty member.

Career Advising/Mentoring Procedures for Faculty in Joint Appointments: In recognition that it is sometimes difficult for units to coordinate career advising arrangements for faculty with appointments in more than one unit, the Divisional Associate Deans in LSA will review the creation and maintenance of joint career advising committees for untenured faculty.  The membership of the committee will be reported to the LSA Dean’s Office, and the chair or director will ensure that it meets.  Associate Deans may meet with the junior faculty member to confirm that this occurs.

Because a small number of untenured faculty have dry appointments, and some of those eventually become budgeted, the procedures outlined here will apply to faculty with both budgeted and dry joint appointments.  These procedures, described in #3 above, are in addition to the procedures described for faculty with appointments in one unit.

August 7, 2007
Updated 12/20/2011


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