PANEL ON FACULTY DEVELOPMENT AND MENTORING
John R. August, Chair
INVOLVEMENT OF YOUNG FACULTY MEMBERS IN INTERDISCIPLINARY AND REGIONAL PROJECTS
D. L. Harris, DVM, PhD
At land-grant institutions, the transformation of the U.S. population to a consumer-driven society has created some confusion and loss of focus among certain faculty. From a management standpoint, universities are finding themselves in a similar predicament as industry has faced over the past 10 years, i.e., a need for greater responsiveness to their customers and societal needs. Unfortunately, faculty are not used to being asked, "who their customer is," let alone believing such a question fits in the realm of academic freedom. Furthermore, universities have found themselves with numerous short-comings, including the following: low research budgets; a research structure inadequate to deal with problems requiring complex, long-term solutions; strong disciplinary biases with limited opportunity to integrate different intellectual perspectives; difficulties in coordination of faculty efforts regionally with other universities; a surplus of faculty with molecular-based training but customers demanding quick answers to practical problems like livestock odor and microbiologic contamination of their food supply; difficulties in changing curricula rapidly to reduce rather than increase the amount of time and cost of education; and (at least for land-grant universities) a student population drawn increasingly from urban rather than rural areas.
The decrease in grant funds available for research, teaching, and extension presents a formidable task to the recently hired assistant professor who has just completed a PhD degree and, more often, at least one postdoctoral experience. However, highly motivated individuals who are willing to accept change may capitalize on the opportunities created by the above listed short-comings if given proper guidance and support by faculty mentors, administrators, and granting agencies.
The age-old dilemma of basic vs. applied research offers an opportunity available to young faculty to expand their research activities. First, remember that games and hidden agendas unfortunately can occur among granting agencies and be extremely demoralizing to any faculty member. Funding-level caps per grant discourage interdisciplinary and regional research proposals; however, these types of proposals require experimentation for the solving of very important and practical problems involving a blend of basic and applied research.
Young faculty, particularly those with strong molecular-based training, should be encouraged to participate in the solving of practical problems facing society. How can this be achieved? Tenured faculty and administrators need to develop a trusting relationship with young faculty. These older, established faculty need to be sensitive to the need for young faculty to be recognized for all their contributions to brain-storming sessions and progress reports involving collaborative projects. Co-principal investigators on interdisciplinary grant proposals should be composed primarily of the younger faculty who generated the ideas and who will likely be expected to follow through on the detail work to complete the project. Assurances should be established regarding authorship of verbal presentations and manuscripts in the beginning of projects rather than when the work is completed. Tenured faculty and administrators must help form team-building relationships with faculty in other disciplines and universities to include the young faculty.
Older faculty either have or can establish networks with other disciplines and other universities more readily than younger faculty. When networking (via electronic mail, at meetings or by organizing collaborating regional projects) older faculty must constantly be promoting the younger faculty member's accomplishments and potential contributions. Information networks must not exclude younger, untried faculty.
Molecular-based faculty may need to be educated in the practical aspects of the problems being addressed in order to see the benefits of their basic approaches. Field trips involving a mix of young/old and basic/applied faculty are an excellent way to foster new relationships and stimulate younger faculty involvement. More importantly, if young faculty understand the practical aspects of the problems being solved, they will be in a better position to make original and creative contributions to the group.