NEW YORK CITY – Maurice Shirley wanted the inside scoop on how to get a tenure-track teaching post in higher education, and the Faculty First Look program at New York University is giving him a big dose this week.
Shirley, a doctoral student at New York University (NYU), is among 31 scholars from across the nation selected as part of the program’s second cohort. Housed in the university’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, Faculty First Look debuted last year with the goal of helping underrepresented students prepare to seek their first tenure-track faculty job post-graduation.
The group meets first in the fall for two days and then reconvenes in the spring for the second half. This week’s gathering on Wednesday and Thursday featured presentations by NYU faculty, administrators and staff on an array of topics, including how to craft effective cover letters and curriculum vitae, cultivating a professional presence on social media, faculty recruitment processes, what search committees look for and the importance of the first two years in a position, negotiating a job offer, postdoctoral fellowships, and how to build inclusive classrooms and navigate microaggressions in university spaces.
Renowned Latin musician Ruben Blades, NYU Scholar-in-Residence, was scheduled to lead a discussion with students late Thursday afternoon.
Shirley, who is in his fourth year of doctoral studies, said he was impressed with “a great layout of high-quality information” that helped him understand aspects of the process beyond the stress.
“It was almost like an iceberg,” he said. “I saw the tip and they revealed what was under the surface.”
“I want to know all of the nuances that nobody really tells you until you get into the thick of it. That first interview, you don’t have time to learn. That might be the job you want, and you don’t want to flub it.”
But given the competitiveness of tenure-track faculty positions, a brand new Ph.D. graduate may have to consider other routes first such as a post-doctoral fellowship, adjunct teaching, a non-tenure track position or a job in a related field such as public policy or the nonprofit sector.
That was a major take-away for Texas-born Shirley, who received his bachelor’s degree in English from Ohio State University and a master’s in higher education and student personnel administration from NYU.
“Don’t give up,” he said. “Just because you do not initially find a job that is for you does not mean they’re not out there. It’s a long road that is being traveled. It’s a marathon.”
NYU started Faculty First Look to help more underserved candidates enter the faculty pipelines to colleges and universities, where academics of color remain generally underrepresented. And while the initiative provides a potential talent pool for NYU, it prepares the fellows to be successful on campuses anywhere, noted Dr. Stella M. Flores, who directs the program as associate dean for Faculty Development and Diversity.
“You are the most important social cause of the day, for us,” she told fellows, calling the program a sign of the university’s good will. “The more you pay it forward, hopefully the more it will come back to you.”
Impact, inclusion and innovation are part of NYU’s DNA and the motivation behind the program, said Dr. Dominic Brewer, the Steinhardt school’s Gale and Ira Drukier Dean. And leaders are exploring how to expand the program across the university and beyond, added Dr. Charlton McIlwain, vice provost for Faculty Engagement and Development.
Here’s more of the advice given to program fellows:
- Used carefully and strategically, social media – especially Twitter – can be an effective tool to network and expand the reach of an academic as a relatable thought leader, said Nitasha Maindiratta, the school’s digital marketing and communications associate.
- Preparing mentally and visually for a Skype interview – a common step in the faculty recruitment process – is critical to enhancing chances of getting an on-campus interview in the final phase of the selection process.
- The cover letter should be tailored to the job advertisement and the curriculum vitae should be organized around it to convey a message and tone that thoroughly yet succinctly speak to an applicant’s qualifications for a position, plus an ability to fill a gap in the advertised program.
- Throughout onboarding the first academic year and spending the second getting published and preparing for performance review the third year, “always stay connected to what you love” about higher education and that will keep you going, said Dr. Lisa Stulberg, associate professor in the school’s Sociology of Education department.
- On paper and in interviews, “come across as having ownership of your research” and “get in the mindset of developing a research agenda,” advised Dr. Shondel Nero, professor of language education.
Queens native Jackie Cruz, who began her doctoral studies in the sociology of education at NYU in 2014 and expects to graduate in 2020, was a fellow in the first cohort and returned this year to encourage the second class. With a bachelor’s degree in English from Wesleyan University, a stint in Malaysia as a Fulbright Scholar and a master’s from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, the first-generation college graduate said Faculty First Look demystified the application process and will give her a competitive edge as she seeks a tenure-track teaching position specializing in women’s equity and education.
“When you want to find a tenure-track position,” she said, “there are so many things that you have to do – but not a lot of places where you can find out so much information.”
The program yielded fruit for inaugural fellow Dr. Keisha T. Lindsay, an NYU alumna who is now an assistant professor and Provost’s Fellow in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at NYU. A speech language pathologist and clinician, she is building an academic career researching how speech and language skills develop in children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly language acquisition in children from the English-speaking Caribbean.
The Faculty First Look program gave her “information that really transformed the way I looked at the academy,” said Lindsay, a native Trinidadian. “I came to the program to see what it was all about, and I learned a lot.”
Flores said other schools are seeking NYU’s advice as they consider adapting the program to their campus contexts. Faculty First Look represents the sort of serious grass-roots initiative needed to culturally diversify college faculties and administrations, she added.
“It’s not just about admissions, it’s about who’s going to teach our students and lead our universities. Right now, we have the biggest demographic mismatch between who our new students are going to be and our professors and institutional leaders. It’s a matter of national integrity. Faculty and administrators need to represent the students they’re teaching.”
LaMont Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones