Two years ago, I met my new colleagues at my previous institution at our very thorough new faculty orientation. Together, we learned the details of everything from the faculty governance structure to the learning management system. We got to know each other a little bit during those two days, and at the end I got everyone’s email addresses and set up a Google group so we could all stay in touch.
What grew out of those first two days ended up being pretty remarkable. While we certainly used this email list to organize social gatherings, one member also used it to start a small group dedicated to supporting our academic writing. She, a historian, had been a part of such groups before, and shared her experiences with how they helped provide accountability for the goal setting I’d mentioned a few posts ago.
Some groups she’d been in met to share their progress towards their goals, and some met to provide a block of quiet writing time where, hopefully, you’d be too embarrassed to check Facebook when you were supposed to be writing. We ended up forming both.
She asked for some funding from the Provost’s office to get us all a couple of books on successful academic publishing, which she received in addition to some money for refreshments. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t even cracked either book – Getting it Published by William Germano, and Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher – but I found the time spent with others invaluable, even though there wasn’t a single other mathematician in the bunch.
We met monthly to check in with each other. We shared our successes with grants and publications, our frustrations with students (and faculty and administrators), and our plans for the future. We helped each other navigate the decades of politics that formed the undercurrents of campus interactions, and those who were on the tenure track started meeting over the summer to put their promotion binders together. When I was on the job market, they gave me more and better advice than I’d ever gotten about how to navigate the hiring process. I went from not knowing a soul in town to having a crucial support network in less than a year.
Smaller groups of us met weekly for writing time. A psychologist and I shared our Tuesday afternoons for a couple of semesters in the quiet (and snack-filled) Center for Teaching and Learning. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know anything about each other’s research; we just needed accountability for a few hours, outside our offices and with no excuses. Like an academic gym buddy.
So of course I wanted to catch lightning in a bottle again when I started this job. We’re a much smaller school, so we had a smaller incoming cohort, but again I got email addresses and made another Google group.
It took a few weeks to get going, but now we meet every Thursday afternoon for a mix of socializing, snacks, informal progress reports, and quiet writing time (and occasional dinner and drinks afterwards). No two of us share a research area or even a department, but we share in the joy of publishing and the agony of grading. And most amazingly, every week, we all manage to get a little writing done. We’re even doing a Thanksgiving potluck for anybody else who’s staying in town.
I haven’t asked for funding for our little group yet, but I plan to soon. Another group member is also a fan of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, and we’re going to work on Making the Ask for the Faculty Success Program together. And when it comes time to start working on our pre-tenure review binders, we’ll help each other put it all together.
While there’s no part of academic life that any of us individually have down pat yet, collectively we’ve almost got our act together. And apparently word has gotten out that this year’s cohort of new faculty is organized and came out of the gate swinging, which people are more than happy to give me credit for. Even though all I did was make a Google group and reserve a conference room once a week.