New faculty members can get a solid start with support programs

Melanie Spero had just started her academic career as an assistant professor of biology at the University of Oregon when she enrolled in a program called the UO New Faculty Success Program.

“I admit I wasn’t sure what I was signing up for,” she said. “But it was incredibly valuable. The things I learned there are things I still use regularly.”

The eight-month program covered a range of topics designed to help new faculty members get off on the right foot, including navigating the quarter system, time management, managing work-life balance, and building healthy relationships with their work, students and colleagues. It’s part of a suite of programs offered by the Office of the Provost intended to support faculty members across the span of their careers.

“I found it had practical and lasting changes in how I conduct my job day-to-day,” Spero said. “I’m really glad I joined the new faculty success program.”

The faculty and leadership development programs are led by Sierra Dawson, associate vice provost for faculty and leadership development.

“In the Office of the Provost, we believe that the health and wellness of the faculty is our job, to think about what faculty need as human beings, as part of the community, as leaders, as mentors,” Dawson said.

The programs are tailored to support faculty members at key moments of their careers.

For new faculty members, whether they are fresh out of graduate school or hired on at the UO from another university, “they’ve made a big transition, so they need support, mentorship, connection, community,” Dawson said. Midcareer, recently tenured faculty members and recently promoted career faculty members who are taking a breath and pondering what their next chapter looks like also need that support. And faculty members who have assumed leadership roles need to hone a new set of skills, she said.

“We came to realize people especially need support in moments of transition,” Dawson said.

The provost’s office has been providing faculty support in various forms for some time, but the range of offerings has grown in recent years. For instance, Dawson has introduced programs focused on mentorship and helping recently promoted midcareer faculty members.

“Those two groups are groups that we haven’t really provided much support for in the past,” Dawson said.

In addition to the programs described above, the Teaching Engagement Program and UO Online provide a robust suite of workshops for faculty across the year, from the Science Teaching Journal Club to Universal Design for Learning and more. They also offer the Summer Teaching Institute every summer.

Spero, a Connecticut native, got her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Rutgers University and her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She studied pathogen physiology as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology before joining the UO in 2021 and establishing the Spero Lab.

During her job search, she said the UO stood out for an academic culture that was “super collaborative” and also student-centered, “which I love.”

“The faculty seemed to care about the success of graduate students,” she said. “They had programs and checkpoints in place to make sure students are on track.”

Spero will start teaching for the first time spring term, and she’s looking forward to it. But she knows, from lessons learned in the new faculty success program, she’ll need to avoid pitfalls that await new professors as they begin teaching.

One of the other things she appreciated about the faculty support programs is the emphasis on community. The programs always include a chance for faculty members to socialize, and Spero said that was important, especially when she came to campus in 2021 and the pandemic had kept many people working remotely.

What she found most valuable were lessons on managing her time and setting goals.

“I have all my hours accounted for,” she said, “and I’m still engaged at a higher level of goal-setting. I’m making sure I’m allocating my time in a way that reflects how I will be evaluated for tenure.”

By Tim Christie, Office of the Provost