Set boundaries, find your community, make time to write and enjoy the little successes along the way: That was just some of the advice that William & Mary faculty members recently gave a group of people who will soon be joining them in the world of academia.
The tips were shared as part of a Zoom session during the university’s latest IGNITE Future Faculty Development Program, hosted by the Office of Diversity & Inclusion online Nov. 8-9.
“Find the people who are gonna cheer you on. Find the people who are gonna say, ‘You know what? You completely missed there, but we’re gonna keep going,’” said Assistant Professor of ESL/Bilingual Education Katherine Barko-Alva. “Because in this line of work, in academia, that’s what we need. We need hope and compassion. We need kindness. We have our intellectual endeavors. We have our research passion – we have all that. So I think adding the socio/cultural-emotional component is extremely important.”
Launched in 2019, the IGNITE program aims to introduce William & Mary to a more diverse pool of faculty prospects while providing them with information, tools and a network with which to start their academic careers. Participants include graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who are seeking employment at research-intensive colleges and universities.
The first program, which was held in-person on W&M’s campus in March 2019, included 10 participants. This year’s group included 21.
“Preparing Future Faculty programs are a best practice for building the pipeline of diverse scholars who want to enter the academy,” said Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover. “This annual institutional commitment provides emerging scholars the opportunity to become acquainted with W&M and its faculty and administrators who lead the workshops and coordinate the job talks during the two-day event. The goal is to begin establishing these relationships early and ultimately have the scholars seek employment when we have open positions.
“As the cohorts before, this year’s scholars were exceptional and found their experience both beneficial and inspiring. Within the next few years, I look forward to welcoming several of the 35 IGNITE participants to join our community.”
During this year’s program, the participants heard keynote addresses from Prosanta Chakrabarty, a professor and curator of fishes at the Louisiana State University, and Kent Butler, president of the American Counseling Association and an ACA Fellow. They also heard from multiple W&M faculty and administrators in a variety of panel discussions and workshops on topics ranging from grant writing to negotiating job offers.
Barko-Alva was one of six W&M faculty who shared their experiences during a panel session titled “What I wish I knew in my first year in the academy.” The other participants included Janise Parker, assistant professor of school psychology; Ting Huang, assistant professor of education; Nicole Millette, assistant professor with Virginia Institute of Marine Science biological sciences; Amber Hardison, associate professor with VIMS physical sciences; and Phillip Wagner, clinical assistant professor of business.
In addition to sharing their first-year advice with the participants, the panelists answered questions about such things as how their research interests had evolved, how they’ve built connections during the pandemic and what steps they’ve taken to improve their teaching. Some of the panelists also discussed their experiences in academia as people of color or as people from international backgrounds.
“There are times when you may or may not be invited to the lunch table,” said Parker. “So it’s a matter of figuring out how you're going to navigate that. It may be that your community is outside of your department. It may be that your supportive community is outside of your program, or outside of your college or university. … I'm grateful that I do have a great group of women that I call ‘sister colleagues,’ -- my kids refer to them as aunties -- but that's not the same for everyone. So I think that's a reality that has to be kind of acknowledged as well.”
While becoming a faculty member can be all-consuming, the panelists encouraged the IGNITE participants to always make time for themselves and for those that they love.
“You can't forget your why,” said Parker. “And at the end of the day, if this academic world was stripped from you, what matters? What's going to hold you? What's going to sustain you?”
Jajuan Johnson, a postdoctoral research associate with W&M’s Lemon Project who was among this year’s participants, said the program was “was lifting on many levels.”
“Each speaker brought a timely and valuable perspective for the academy and beyond,” said Johnson. "It was also great to be in the company of fellow scholars from an array of disciplines but with overlapping professional goals and values.”
Niah Grimes, an educational consultant and qualitative researcher, also found the program to be effective and inspiring.
“The IGNITE program provided me with insight and clarity into what it means to be a future faculty member,” said Grimes. “Getting to learn among the W&M community with bright scholars from all over the world reminded me of all I love about education.”