This past June, the two of us had the opportunity to join 16 other early-career scholars from MSIs across the country as members of the inaugural class for Enriching Learning, Enhancing Visibility, and Training Educators (ELEVATE), a faculty fellowship program offered by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI). An intensive and empowering three-day professional development conference, ELEVATE offered workshops, seminars, and networking opportunities designed to improve our chances for earning tenure at our respective MSIs.
Whether by reliving a pleasant experience, or avoiding previous mistakes, reflection is a powerful tool that serves many purposes. The goal of this particular reflection is to share our takeaways from ELEVATE with hopes of helping anyone and everyone interested in early-career faculty success, especially for faculty of color and MSI faculty who might not have the same institutional resources as others.
As researchers with a shared interest in examining how a sense of belonging helps students succeed at all levels of education, we noticed how important this concept was to the ELEVATE program. The director, staff, and students at the CMSI were warm, welcoming, and accommodating even before we arrived in Philadelphia. Indeed, the atmosphere for the entire program could be best described as familial. Though each of the fellows hailed from different institutions, regions, and academic disciplines, connecting across difference was easy because everyone felt like they belonged. These feelings of connection have already extended beyond our time together in Philadelphia, and many of the scholars have already made plans to collaborate and otherwise uplift each other.
Earning tenure is a long and challenging process, especially for those with fewer resources such as faculty at MSIs. But there are many paths to success—some more adventurous than others. Don’t discount your experience just because someone else makes their journey look easier, more exciting, or cooler. Appreciate what you are doing, and celebrate what you have accomplished! As early-career faculty, it is important to focus on your own path and take care of yourself on the journey to tenure. Think about your writing goals for each semester and year but also think about your personal goals. Consider the things that bring you joy and peace and include them in your calendar. Everyone has the same amount of time each day, each week, each month, and each year. The trick is making sure you use your time in ways that are productive, engaging, and restorative. Don’t say you don’t have time for things! Instead make time to do the things that are important to you!
Maintaining balance between your work and personal responsibilities is a day-to-day and moment-to-moment endeavor. Balance is also relative. What it means for your life can change from semester to semester and year to year. As new responsibilities arrive, it is important to carefully consider what you can and cannot do. Honest reflection about your current commitments, priorities, and work capacity can help you regroup, rebalance, and simplify things when you are feeling overwhelmed. Communication is also essential to balance. Clear communication with family and friends (e.g., sharing information about an approaching deadline that may limit your availability) can help manage expectations and make it easier to navigate temporarily challenging situations.
We’ve all heard horror stories about collaboration. Some show little respect for deadlines and contribute low-quality work if they finally get around to turning something in. Despite these unfortunate possibilities, strong collaborations can lower stress, facilitate productivity, and enhance the quality of scholarship. The key is selectively and deliberately choosing people to collaborate with. The best collaborations are built on trust and mutual respect, and these partnerships flourish when individuals submit high-quality contributions in the agreed-upon timeframe. They also benefit when each team member is willing and able to take the lead on different projects. This can improve the number and variety of projects at different stages of completion, so the collective research program is always progressing. However, it is also important to acknowledge that life happens. If you or your collaborators anticipate falling short on an obligation, then it is important to let the whole team know as soon as possible, so everyone is informed and can adjust accordingly. Choosing collaborators with good communication skills, complementary values, and a similar work ethic can make working together a joy.
We want to offer our sincere thanks to Paola ‘Lola’ Esmieu for developing and implementing such a great event. A special thank you goes to all of the amazing ELEVATE mentors—Marybeth Gasman, Andrew Arroyo, Tim Fong, Dina Maramba, Anne-Marie Nuñez, Robert T. Palmer, Alice Ginsberg, Kent Wallace, Caleph Wilson—for sharing their wisdom and advice. Although we are early-career faculty of color that work at Minority Serving Institutions, we expect the tools and tips that resonated with us to help early-career faculty at any institution. The lessons we learned were immediately applicable to our personal and professional lives.
Taryn Ozuna Allen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington (an HSI).
Michael Steven Williams is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, City University of New York (an AANAPISI).