Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coaching Academics?

A longtime reader and sometime correspondent of mine recently posed some questions to share with FSP readers (if you are still out there). These questions are quite specific, although there are general questions associated with them (more on that below):

Question 1: Do you have any recommendations for professional coaches who have helped you in your job? It would be especially helpful to know of those who have had success coaching academics, and particularly women in male-dominated fields.

Question 2: Do you know any examples of universities conducting reviews of their own tenure process? Do you have any suggestions for academic experts in judgment & decision-making (or other relevant research areas) who would be good committee members for such a review?
I have no answers for these particular questions, and instead have questions about the questions. For example: 
Even if you don't have any particular recommendations, what do you think of the concept of having a professional coach to help academics? Do you think that would be useful, and if so, with what particular issues? Would this essentially be like a faculty mentor, though one possibly more likely to have actual, useful mentoring skills?

And to the second question: Most of us can likely think of universities that have problematic tenure procedures (and possibly using the term procedures is incorrect in some cases, as it implies a systematic process). Can you think (or better, name) institutions that do this evaluation well? If so, what is so good about the process at these places? Are these positive features exportable to other institutions (peer institutions or otherwise)?


Kyla said...

Re #1 - the Earth Science Women's Network had a good discussion of career coaches with lots of recommendations a while back - you have to join to read the forums, but it's a great resource (eswnonline.org) even if you don't consider yourself an Earth Scientist. A couple of the recommendations were www.academiccoachingandwriting.org and www.professordestresser.com. I haven't worked with a career coach, but the overall view from people who had was that they were great.

Anonymous said...

TheProfessorIsIn.com is professionally coaching arts/humanities/social science PhD students to apply for academic as well as non-academic jobs. Apart from that, I don't think I ever came across a concept of a professional coach in academia.

Anonymous said...

I have had a professional coach, herself a retired (and extremely successful academic) for the last year. It has been incredibly valuable. This is her website.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you should post this the same day the computing research association posted about a new memo detailing best practices in hiring, tenure and promotion. Their blog post is based on a new memo emphasizing quality over quantity.


Anonymous said...

I tried Karen Kelsky, who often writes for The Chronicle (http://www.theprofessorisin.com/). She isn't a good coach for anyone in the hard sciences. She doesn't have a clue about science or engineering and often makes recommendations that are inappropriate. It makes sense - she has no experience in those fields. That said, I suspect she would be a good coach for someone in the humanities/arts.

Anonymous said...

A colleague (asst. prof.) mentioned to me last week that she has an academic coach. It was the first I'd heard of such a thing, and it sounded productive for her.

Anonymous said...

From the field of medicine:


"Not long afterward, I watched Rafael Nadal play a tournament match on the Tennis Channel. The camera flashed to his coach, and the obvious struck me as interesting: even Rafael Nadal has a coach. Nearly every élite tennis player in the world does. Professional athletes use coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be.

But doctors don’t. I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?"

Anonymous said...

I think that UCSC (and presumably the rest of UC) has a pretty good tenure procedure. As with any system, some mistakes get made, but the rate of tenuring is high (about 85%, I think) and there is thorough review of every aspect of the candidate's work.

(Actually, I think the biggest mistakes have been made when hiring people directly with tenure, rather than hiring assistant professors and bringing them up in through the system.)

Melanie said...

This is a very interesting thread for me. I am a long time reader and have commented under my pseudonym here before, but I think this comment belongs under my real name.

I am not an academic, although I have a PhD. I have spent my career in biotech and pharma, primarily in informatics/IT, but I've also done some project management on science projects. I've gotten interested in whether some of the modern, more lightweight project management methods that are taken for granted in software projects (e.g., Agile methods) could be useful for improving the running of science projects, both from an outcomes standpoint and also from the standpoint of making the work experience less painful for the people on the project. I would absolutely love to work with academics on this, and have done pro bono consulting with a couple of interested people, which has gone well. But I can't see how to make this work pay well enough to be worth my time, so I'm not focusing any energy there now. My impression has been that academics don't use coaches or consultants much, and in fact tend to distrust them, particularly if coming from a different background (i.e., industry). It is encouraging to read this thread- perhaps I need to put a little more effort into thinking about a business model for my idea.

More on topic- I have worked with career coaches twice, and both times I found the experience very helpful. It is useful to get an outside opinion about specific issues in your career and to actually pay for that opinion, so that you have no qualms about taking up the person's time, etc.

lucy4eng said...

For Anon on 3/25/ 10:22:00 AM:

That is a bit unfair and harsh. I also tried Karen and I am in a hard science field. She gave me sound advice that can be applicable to any field. For other, you can translate it to what works or not in your field.

Anonymous said...

I attended a workshop at the American Chemical Society national meeting run by COACh

The people in attendance were a mix of academics (several tenure-track and tenured faculty were there) and industrial scientists, they also had a workshop aimed at postdocs.

They're more aimed at developing negotiation, presentation and teamwork skills...but I'd certainly recommend them. They are useful for anybody who is STEM-based.

chall said...

I think certain aspects of the coaching can most certainly be helpful for academics. Depending on your university size, there might be some HR department "educational traininers" who have experience in coaching. Also, like the idea of a more professional person from an experience POW.

My mentor and myself have had coaching the last two years. Not the same person mind you. It's been very interesting since the coaching is very different from the mentorship and also focuses more on practical things imho.

Anonymous said...

My university has some sort of institutional membership with the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity. The NCFDD provides various programs including a bootcamp for faculty (at a cost). I get a weekly free e-mail from them providing bite-sized advice aimed at the concerns and stressors of pre-tenure faculty. I don't know anything about the quality of the coaching at the bootcamps or other programs.

Valerie said...

Really great insight here. In some fields, majority of the professors are young since the field itself is relatively new. For example, technology is fairly new so most of the professors have not reached tenure status yet.

Occasional reader said...

I'm curious what the difference is between a mentor and a coach in people's experience. My institution (academic medical center) has a council on faculty life that arranges mentoring activities and recommends a mentoring team, including but not limited to a career mentor within the department and a mentor outside the department.