Advice for new faculty

I was recently asked to participate in a panel for new faculty at UBC’s Okanagan campus. My task was to briefly talk about 3 points, when I arrived as a new faculty member on campus (back in 2008!), what did I:

  • need to know
  • want to know
  • wish I knew

In case it is useful to anyone else, here are my answers as it pertains to teaching and research. Some of this is specific to UBCO, but other points are more general.

  1. Need to know – while there is a narrative in academia that you can be either good or passionate at research OR teaching, it is possible to be passionate about both! Students are inspiring as they bring with them a new curiosity that can spark new curiosity in you about your own research topics. Combining research and teaching is a bit of a “buzzword” in academic circles, but it truly does help you develop both your research and teaching programs. Your students will also become your research assistants and your graduate students and at UBCO there is a great program (the Work-Study) program that new faculty need to know about as it covers part of the cost of student salary (matched by your own research funds). The positions are wonderful opportunities for students to gain experience doing actual research, but can also help new faculty members continue to move their research programs along as they work on developing their teaching, including developing new courses, which can be time consuming.
  2. Want to know – I wanted new faculty to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, which may lead to new new opportunities and collaborations that you would never have dreamed possible. Many people are hired based on the research they’ve done for their PhDs and feel like they shouldn’t or can’t expand their research interests. While I did continue my “traditional” research as a new faculty member, I also tried new things; I did an online survey of people learning Na’vi (the language of Avatar) and the number of doors that opened to me is something I would never have thought possible (working on Man of Steel, Power Rangers, and Alpha), finding new venues for my research and other topics I’m passionate about, linking my new research with my continuing research, participating in Tedx talks and so much more.
  3. Wish I knew – As a new faculty member, I came in as a replacement position for another linguistic anthropologist and took over his courses in the beginning, but I quickly added my own and made his courses my own (the ones I liked, I did delete historical linguistics from the calendar – not my thing!). So, even though you may have been hired as someone’s replacement (retirement position, someone left), you don’t need to be that person and teach the courses as they would have taught them. You were hired to be you – so do you! I added for the UBC crowd that our University motto is Tuum Est. Our new students are told this motto so many times during Orientation, but when I polled the room the new faculty hadn’t heard it yet. Tuum, Est means – “it’s yours” or “it’s up to you”, which is something new faculty need to hear just as much as our new students.


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