A transition from one position to another as a faculty member can be stressful and overwhelming. I experienced this firsthand a few months ago when I decided to transition to a new position at Ohio State. As I planned my departure, I searched on-line resources for a transition checklist or for guides to facilitate my move. I asked people in various offices on my former campus for advice about what I needed to do to take care of every issue that might be relevant to me. Although many people were helpful, no single person could offer me a comprehensive perspective about the magnitude of my transition and about how all of the pieces of the move connected.
Although numerous orientation resources are available for new faculty, few transition materials are available for these same faculty. One of the most comprehensive general faculty departure documents that I found was created by the University of Virginia. I located a few other resources by conducting a Google search for “faculty departure checklists” and for “faculty departure offboarding.” Many of these checklists were housed in Colleges of Medicine.
Some people may say that it’s not the responsibility of the university to assist people in their transitions. Yes, I understand that this person will no longer be affiliated with the university. I also acknowledge that a departure may not be a positive reflection on a unit or a university. When a university offers no transition plan, however, it sends a message to a faculty member that he/she was just a (fill in any identifier here). It also might make a faculty member wonder about the sincerity of the relationship in the first place.
If I had invested thousands, if not millions of dollars, in something or someone, wouldn’t I want to remain connected to that person in some way so that I could retain some aspect of the investment that I made? Without a clear transition plan and assistance post-departure, bridges are burned, and the likelihood of ongoing relationships and accolades or recommendations for future faculty recruitment in that organization are diminished. How short-sighted it is when organizations are more anxious to remove a faculty member from a directory or website than to assist that faculty during a professional transition, particularly when that faculty members’ students still remain at the university! Such behaviors are harmful since that faculty member most likely brought some level of visibility to the organization at some point in their career.
In a last ditch effort, I decided to solicit my Facebook friends, many who are faculty and administrators across the world, for transition resources. Many of them agreed that such a resource was needed but did not exist. A few of them suggested that I write one. For that reason, I’ve compiled a list of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned over the past 6 months of my transition.
(1) Check your voice mail messages and document any pertinent information for future use.
You may have saved messages during your time at your institution, and now is the time to retrieve them. If you have to, make sure that you send e-mails or make calls to people who may not be aware of your pending transition.
(2) Contact your Institutional Review Board (IRB) to identify what needs to occur with current projects.
Human subjects research is no joke. You must make sure that your research is conducted with integrity even as you transition. Call your institution’s IRB office to make them aware of your move. Some of your research options might be to close old research studies, transfer the Principal Investigator (PI) status to another researcher at your current university, or transfer your research to your new university. If you have students who are still at your current university, resolving IRB concerns is of the utmost importance.
(3) Update your professional magazine/ publication subscriptions so that your mail goes to your new workplace.
Journals and other publications may get thrown away if you don’t do this, so try to update your information as soon as possible.
(4) Extend your e-mail access until you can download your in/out boxes to portable media.
Before you leave, sign any necessary paperwork to retain e-mail access until you can transfer your messages. Talk to an IT professional at your current or potential job so that you can store your email in a secure location. Complete the process before you lose access to your account.
(5) Turn on an “Out of Office” notification so people know that you have left your university and can get in touch with you.
Instead of relying on people at your old job to refer your old contacts, be proactive about informing others of your new location. Below is sample text that I used.
Greetings! I am no longer employed at _____ University. As I transition, please direct business-related correspondence to me at (new e-mail address) or call me at (insert telephone number). Regards, (New Contact Information)
(6) Determine if your moving company will pack up your work office as part of a move to your new institution.
If you are moving from your current city, it is worth seeing if your moving company can pack up your work office as well as your home. If you have time, throw away old materials prior to your move so that you don’t have to discard them in your new location. Clearly label boxes that distinguish your work office from your home office.
(7) Talk to the information technology group at your old university to determine equipment transfer/ buy back rules along with your data storage needs.
It’s important to identify what needs to happen with your equipment. If you need to remove identifiable data from laptops, do so. If you plan to buy new equipment at your new institution, create an inventory of your needs so that you can purchase it without interruption of your research. Finally, make sure that you transfer your equipment safely so that it is not damaged in the transfer.
For those of you who work with on-line data or large electronic files, discuss your data storage needs and make sure that you transfer your new data only after you have retrieved your old data. Determine the storage size that will meet your needs, and move forward acquiring your necessary storage resources.
(8) Contact your sponsored programs office to see what you need to do to transfer grants or to spend remaining funds.
This has been a major issue for me. If you are working with other researchers, you need to communicate your transfer needs regarding money and other grant-related resources. Being on the same page is important, so think about possible group dynamics across team members when you initially form your research teams.
(9) Determine what faculty status you need at your former university to co-advise current graduate students after your transition.
This is another biggie for me. Since some universities will not allow you to advise your former students independently, you need to identify a potential co-advisor. This person needs to possess a complementary perspective about advising and should be a good communicator, since you may no longer have access to resources that will inform you of relevant departmental dates and activities. This person should also serve as your “legs” to the business office or to other on-campus resources that need to be accessed once you can no longer physically contact people quickly on your old campus.
(10) Contact your financial adviser to transfer your retirement saving to appropriate accounts.
After working at a university for numerous years, it’s important to transfer your retirement savings properly. I highly recommend talking to an independent financial adviser about how to manage remaining funds at your old institution and to determine what new plans you should enroll in at your new institution. Pay careful attention to any deadlines for retirement (and benefits) enrollment at your new university so that you select the best options for your future.
In conclusion, universities need to create transition plans for faculty, because by the time a faculty member leaves, students and other resources are topics of discussion. Although the reason for the departure may be unpleasant to one or multiple parties, there must have a plan for moving ahead in an amicable way post-relationship. By clearly laying out the expectations for faculty post-departure, the likelihood for reducing inconveniences to multiple parties decreases. Without clear plans, a faculty transition can increase the likelihood of overlooking important tasks that could affect others negatively. Proactively is always a great choice.
This morning, I found one of my 2009 reflections about competition in the workplace. In it, I wrote about my insecurities as an Assistant Professor. I mentioned that I didn’t want to gain access to resources by kissing up to others and didn’t want to network in an insincere way. I also wrote about how I thought that the playing field within higher education was unfair to women, particularly those with assertive personalities. At the time, I felt lost and somewhat hopeless about how to play a political higher education game with rules that I was never taught.
My concerns were recently confirmed in a study and report by Joan Williams, Katherine Phillips, and Erika Hall, Double Jeopardy: Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science. In it, black women were reported to be penalized for being self-promoters but were encouraged to be assertive when they were promoters for a larger group. For years, I did not realize that people had empirically studied topics that I know about based on my everyday professional experiences. I am glad that many of these thoughts are not just floating around in my head.
Over six years later, when I stopped fixating on the higher education game and on the competitive nature of the academy, I began to succeed in my own skin, and I found my scholarly identity. A person who served on a departmental committee with me years ago recalls my having to apologize to people in our group prior to making points so that they would receive what I had to say. Now, when I make statements that others may misinterpret, I consciously allow myself to remain quiet and let the statement hit in the way that I intend it to hit. Yes, there are potential consequences; nevertheless, I’m learning to be okay with those consequences. This year, I refuse to apologize for being confident. Below are three tips that I believe will guide people, particularly those working in academia, as they explore ways to overcome their professional insecurities.
(1) Surround yourself with people who celebrate you and don’t tolerate you.
I like the Merriam-Webster definition of celebrate: to praise (someone or something) : to say that (someone or something) is great or important. This means that although you may have weaknesses, the people who around you spend most of their time highlighting the positive aspects of your life and your unique skills and gifts. They don’t learn of your weaknesses and then expose them in ways that embarrass you or place you at a professional disadvantage. In the same way, tolerating someone sounds like a burden. You want to connect to people who look forward to engaging with you and seek ways to strengthen your relationship. If you aren’t around these people, seek them now. We each have talents, and people should be drawn to the lights that radiate from us. Believe that these people exist, and you will soon connect to them. To learn more about ways to attract quality people to you, watch this video from leadership guru John Maxwell.
(2) Identify what you do well and perfect that.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, offers great insight about how people become experts in their respective areas. After approximately 10,000 hours of consistent engagement within an area, people have acquired the skills to become masters of their craft.
Many of us look for shortcuts to success and for ways to push ourselves into personal and professional circles that grant us access to resources reserved for only a select few. Instead of spending most of our time looking for these opportunities and being disappointing when we do not gain the recognition that we seek, we should put our hands to the plow and work. While others are sleeping, we should read about advances in our fields. We should connect to people who advise us of courses and resources that shed light on ways for us to become better people. When we do this, competition is not as important as the crafts that we seek to perfect.
(3) Realize that you have one life to live and competition should not be the focus of that one life.
One hundred years from now, we will all be dead. This means that our insecurities will no longer matter to anyone, especially us. We are given one life to live, and how awful would it be to draw your final breaths wishing that you had living life on your own terms- free and not caring about what others thought of you? One of the best legacies that we can leave is the knowledge that we lived our lives with no regrets.
Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland presents this well when he writes, “In the end…we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” When we think of life this way, competition should not intimidate us since we should give no one the power to make use feel insecure or unsure of our futures.
My “Prepared to Be a Pioneer” brand and blog were birthed when I realized that I was prepared to be a professor but I had no idea what challenges I would face as a newly hired Assistant Professor in the College of Engineering at Purdue University. I discovered only after I was hired that no other black female had ever earned tenure in the College of Engineering prior to my arrival. After engaging in a professional experience that had its up and downs, in 2011, I became the first black female to earn tenure in engineering at the university.
During this time, I had numerous women of color (WOC) mentors whom I called with questions about almost any aspect of academic life. Nevertheless, I did not possess a repository of written responses that were available whenever I needed them. For this reason, I recognized the need to document my experiences and to share them with others who were experiencing professional challenges as faculty. To date, I have written about being a graduate advisor, working in an incompatible working environment, the importance of character development, and many other topics, including a miscarriage and the challenges that went along with that in 2015. Blogging serves as a form of therapy for me. I now know that blogging connected me to people in ways that I would not have connected to them otherwise. Below are five reasons that I think all academics should blog and at a minimum, journal their personal and professional experiences.
(1) A blog presents an opportunity to reflect deeply on life.
With the hustles and bustles of life, it is easy to work and never process what led us to where we are. My blogs have helped me to reflect on the lessons that I have learned in life, particularly during my years as an academic. I don’t just think about situations and what happened to me, but I reflect on what I learned from those situations and what I ended up doing based on those situations.
(2) A blog allows virtual mentorship.
Physical mentors will not always be available to mentor their mentees at the exact times that they need them. Blogs, however, offer advice 24/7 to anyone who owns a laptop or smart phone. I realized the true impact of my blogs when I began to receive private Twitter and Facebook messages and hand-written letters from people who told me that they related to my blogs’ content and my heartfelt reflections. The ultimate joy, however, is always meeting a social media “friend” or a virtual mentee in person for the first time. We often take pictures together and form long lasting bonds.
I knew that I was onto something with this blogging/virtual mentorship connection when a couple of my former graduate students informed me that my blog content helped them when they began their positions as Assistant Professors. The content did not relate to them at the time they were my students, but once they were in faculty positions, they could refer back to the advice that I offered in my blogs. Similarly, in 140 characters or less, on Twitter I post about my personal and professional experiences and present my authentic views to people who may never meet me in person.
Now that I am a department chair in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University, I have new experiences to blog about. Although I still want to be my authentic self, I am more conscious of the responsibilities that I have as a leader by not referring to specific, real-time, confidential workplace situations in which I am engaging. Despite these challenges, I know that I still can offer advice to people interested in pursuing academic leadership positions in the future.
(3) A blog post transcends populations.
Although I write about academic life, I have heard from business people, administrative assistants, consultants, and students about their ability to relate to my blog content. Since I present my personal views and experiences, the heart of the feedback relates to my authenticity and to the vulnerability that I display by sharing both my good and bad experiences. At the end of the day, blogging is about sharing thoughts and impacting people. My purpose is to inform people about what it’s like to be on a pioneering journey; to encourage people, particularly women and minorities, to consider and to pursue academia as a career; and to help people to be courageous about pursuing pioneering opportunities in their respective areas.
(4) A blog tells stories better than CVs or resumes.
When I applied for my current job, I directed potential members of my department and my future employers to read my blog. In my interviews, I shared that if they wanted to know who I really am and if they liked what they read on my blog, they should hire me. In 2015, I decided to “put myself out there” by blogging more authentically, and I have seen new doors open for me as a result. Blogging is a calling card because it allows a person to own his/her brand by writing about topics that are important. Blogging also demonstrates that someone is willing to communicate. Partners and employers know who bloggers are before they hire them, and as a result, there is a greater likelihood that expectations will align.
(5) A blog builds a legacy.
A person’s words can outlive them. Blogging shows who a person was at a point in time. A blog can be archived for one’s children and grandchildren and for future generations who want to know what it was like to live during our time. Bloggers are historians who tell stories that are worth sharing.
In conclusion, I highly recommend that my fellow academicians share their stories with the world because so few people have access to the knowledge and to the experiences that we have. Like a peer-reviewed journal article, a blog is a form of knowledge dissemination, and as educators, we have an obligation to share our insights in ways that appeal to the masses.
This week, I had the pleasure of attending the 39th annual George C. Marshall Leadership Conference in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This conference brought together Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadets from universities across the United States for training in military history, diversity, and leadership. As a community partner invited to engage with the cadets in the area of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and to co-facilitate multi-hour classroom sessions over the course of two days, I learned valuable insights about the Army and its practices and identified several lessons that can be transferred to other professional communities.
(1) You are expected to look out for the soldier to your right and to your left.
Many of the cadets referred to their love of the military, their family’s lineage of military service, and their commitment to protecting their families. The phrase that resonated most with me, however, was one’s commitment to the soldier to the left and to the right. While in many higher education circles, day one begins by telling students that everyone won’t make it to graduation, the Army tells its leaders that it is an expectation that all of their soldiers reach their goals together and that together they rise and fall.
(2) Standards are explicit.
Protocols are documented explicitly in the Army, which celebrates its 242nd anniversary this year, thereby making it older than the United States. Even hairstyles are regulatory! How phenomenal it must be to enter an organization that boasts generations of members and contains time-tested documents that are available to its members. Nonmilitary organizations often experience hiccups, because they don’t have policies and processes in place. One caveat is that organizations with such tried and true standards must remain open to potential additions to current practices.
(3) Scalability is mandatory.
One of the biggest concerns of the Army is scalability. This means that instead of engaging in activities that impact individuals or small groups of people, the Army must identify ways to scale its practices, especially given its focus on standards, uniformity, and efficiency. For example, the Army recruits 10,000 cadets a month. This means that everything- training, recruitment, etc., has to occur at scale. There is no time for one-on-one practices that don’t produce results, and before anything is implemented leaders must think of the bigger picture and how new initiatives affect everyone.
(4) Being one-dimensional is not an option.
Surprisingly, the Army is more than what a civilian (note my Army talk!) thinks it is. They don’t just focus on push-ups and military drills. They emphasize reading, lifelong learning, mental preparation, and professional development in areas such as leadership. They recognize that in a changing world, they must change also and must demonstrate proficiency in numerous areas, especially if they are in the heat of battle and have to replace a fallen comrade quickly. Members of the Army are living, breathing people who are engineers, political scientists, helicopter pilots, and much more. We should strive to be as diverse in our own lives.
(5)Feedback is constructive even when it is rough.
Generals and leaders are sharp with their comments. They publicly call out cadets for their discrepancies so that later in their careers, lives can be saved. Every moment is a teachable moment. Training occurs every day in every way. This is expected and practiced.
In summary, although I had numerous stereotypes about the military prior to attending this conference, I realize that the tough love of the Army is necessary to ensure that lives are saved and that our country remains safe. Excellence is a key to success, and I think that civilians have much to learn from the military.
If you enjoyed my post, feel free to share it with others. Also check out my other blog posts, and provide your contact information so that we can stay connected. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @monicafcox.
Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and most recently, Jordan Edwards, are names added to a long list of men who have been killed because of run-ins with the police. To many, conflicts such as these are nothing more than a victim’s head shot accompanied by a news story where there are protests on one side and accusations on the other. My husband’s story is one that can be added to the conversation of black males and their engagement with the police.
My husband, Ishbah, has a gentle spirit. While I am the gregarious, in your face, openly opinionated member of the Cox household, he is the solid, sensible, steady member. He constantly reminds me to remain professional and state the facts. He is more likely to follow rules than break those rules, and as such, he is the last person to engage in a conflict with the police. All of this changed on June 13, 2016. With his permission, I am sharing his story, because he no longer wants to keep quiet about this experience as a black male with a doctorate.
Ishbah’s Story (in his own words)
“I guess I was naive when I thought the clothes you wear, the education you have, the neighborhood you’re from, and other social factors exempt you from being treated disrespectfully by trigger-happy law enforcement.
I was on a Midwest university campus interviewing for a faculty position in June 2016. I arrived a day before the interview so that I could become familiar with the campus. After some time on this beautiful campus, I noticed that I was being followed by a university police officer. It was broad daylight. I had been walking by myself as I was listening to a podcast in which my wife, Monica, was featured. I was wearing a polo shirt, jeans with a belt, and casual footwear. I saw this officer walking behind me at the first building I stopped in, which happened to be the same building that my meetings were in the following day. This building also served as headquarters for the campus police department.
During earlier phases of my walk, I had spoken to this officer when he was in his car and was stopped at a traffic light. He responded to me in a neutral way. I’m not thinking that anything unusual had occurred at this point, especially since I am always cordial to law enforcement. I continued to walk to the inner-parts of campus, and there he is again. I recall thinking to myself, “Okay, he’s making his rounds.” I walked for another 5-10 minutes, and I saw the same officer AGAIN. Now he had my attention. I continued to walk, and there he was again. At this point, I was getting upset. In fact, I recognized that this was the same officer, and this time I threw my hands up in the air in a gesture of “Why are you following me?” We finally met each other at another point on campus, he got out of the car, and we approached each other. After several questions, he ultimately accused me of being suspicious.
I asked him what I did for him to make this assessment of me, and I asked him why wasn’t he following all of the other people on campus. He said that he’d never seen me before. I pointed to other people on campus and asked him if he knew them, and of course, he said no. He then asked to see my Photo ID (I’m glad I had it). By this time, I was angry. I had to catch myself because I could see how this situation could get out of control very quickly. I remained silent for a little while. While I was standing patiently, he called dispatch to see if there had any former or current criminal activity from me. I mentioned to him that he was wasting his time. This back and forth went on for approximately another ten minutes, and I made him aware that I knew what he was about and why he was doing this. I told him that he was wrong. He got offended by my accusations, and I told him that made the two of us being offended.
My reason for sharing this post publicly is to let others know that such profiling needs to stop. I was able to walk away from this situation. There have been many who have not lived to tell their stories, although they were just as innocent as I was. I don’t have the answers to potential conflicts like this, but I feel I need to share my story and the frustrations that lingered with me long after that day.
People, wake up! Being highly educated does not prevent a person from being profiled by law enforcement. This is a problem. I have plenty of friends in law enforcement who would agree with me. It’s time to stand and to use our voices. I don’t have the answers to this problem, but I cannot ignore that profiling does exist, even if we want to deny that it does.
No one is exempt.”
If you enjoyed my post, feel free to share it with others. Also check out my other blog posts, and provide your contact information so that we can stay connected. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @monicafcox.