Mentoring Discussion Series

Jesse George-Nichol's picture

Mentoring Discussion Series, Question 2: 

What is the biggest mistake you made (or that one can make) as a new professor?

We want to thank everyone who responded to our first discussion question two weeks ago.  We hope that this exchange will continue and be rewarding for both junior and senior scholars.

As a reminder, a new discussion question will be posted in this series every other week.  You can suggest a discussion topic or question here.  There are also excellent essays on a wide variety of mentoring-related topics available in H-SAWH's mentoring toolkit.

I was helped to avoid a major mistake made by many new professors. When I got my PhD, I could not find a job right away so my alma mater hired me as an adjunct. They gave me an office on a floor away from the rest of the faculty and graduate students. At the time, I was a little miffed because I could not see my friends as easily. Only late in the semester did my mentor explain to me that this was done on purpose, so that I wold learn to behave as a professor instead of as a graduate student. When I moved on to other jobs, I had already made this difficult transition.

Being a professor is very different from being a student. This can be a tricky transition for many. I am grateful that my professors helped me become one of them before I went out into the "real world" and had to make so many other transitions.

One mistake/learning experience I had in my first semesters on tenure-track was in deciding what kinds of assignments to give and how much reading to assign. As a Teaching Fellow graduate student, I taught two classes of about 40 each. Moving on to tenure-track, I went to teaching about 300 students per semester. With that many students, requiring the same amount of written work meant grading for days. Also, my students in a regional public university rebelled against the amount of reading I had assigned at the R1 where I attended grad school. Over time I have created more targeted assignments that require less time for all of us while advancing my learning goals for them. I also learned to stagger assignments so I did not have 300 blue-books to grade in one weekend.
Advice - ask your new colleagues what type of assignments they give.

Jean is absolutely right! (I just posted a longer reply, but H-net ate my homework!)
Pacing is everything. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by assigning too many long papers in too short a time! When I taught 15 hours a week, giving students a first-draft option for term papers, and letting them re-submit an improved version, was noble but ill-advised.
Plan your syllabus with the utmost care, and have fun. That's why we chose this path, yes?