Journal Of Veterinary Medical Education

Volume 21, Number 2
Fall, 1994


Discussion Leaders: Nancy Bailey, PhD; Robert Phemister, DVM, PhD
Rapporteurs: Henry Baker, DVM, PhD; JoAnn Eurell, DVM, PhD

Two parallel workshop groups discussed the topic of Faculty Development and Mentoring and began their joint report by agreeing on a definition of the issue. Our definition, "provide an environment that encourages faculty to achieve excellence in scholarly endeavors," contains several basic assumptions about the process and practice of faculty development and mentoring which were central to both groups' discussions about the challenges of, and solutions to, this issue.

The first assumption is that faculty development and mentoring are both best thought of as the establishment of an appropriately supportive and encouraging environment for faculty rather than as a prescribed set of activities taken by or for faculty members. The second assumption is that successful faculty members will be proactive on their own behalf within that supportive environment. The third assumption is that in order for faculty to develop properly and to achieve their goals of excellence in their academic endeavors, they must approach all of their activities--teaching, research, and service--in a scholarly manner.

In the process of merging the work of the two groups into a single report, the specific content of the participants' discussions combined to answer four questions:

  1. Why be concerned with faculty development and mentoring?
  2. When does faculty development and mentoring begin and end?
  3. How is faculty development and mentoring best accomplished?
  4. Who is responsible for faculty development and mentoring?

Challenges, opportunities, and strategies for enhancing faculty development activities at colleges of veterinary medicine are embedded within the participants' responses to these formative questions.

Why be Concerned with Faculty Development and Mentoring?

  • Use of Human Resources
    Faculty development activities are the key to wise use of human resources. If deliberate and systematic attempts are not made to support faculty members' development of their skills, knowledge, and abilities for achieving excellence in teaching, research, and service, much valuable talent and potential can be wasted or lost.
  • The Changing Culture of the Academy
    As colleges and universities have grown in recent decades, there is no longer the opportunity in many academic units for an increasingly diverse group of new faculty to identify with the largely unarticulated imperatives of the institution, find their way with ease to relevant resources, and see the senior faculty as obvious role models for their own aspirations and career development plans.
  • Changing Administrative Environments
    Administrative environments at the departmental level are changing. As many departments grow (often as the result of consolidation) and become more heterogeneous through incorporation of a wider variety of discipline specializations, department heads are more distanced from faculty, and even more seasoned faculty can experience difficulty finding appropriate information and relevant resources for use in facilitating their professional development. Since faculty (especially new faculty) often fear that asking for help will be seen as a sign of weakness and/or incompetence, deliberate efforts need to be made to provide an environment that is supportive of faculty members' efforts to seek guidance for their professional development.
  • Impact of the Complexities of a Changing Society
    The stresses and tensions inherent in balancing a healthy personal life and career aspirations are increasing for faculty at all levels. Many graduate students report that mentoring (i.e., personal support) is the most deficient aspect of their graduate experience. Women and minority faculty entering an academic career need a supportive environment as they are challenged to assimilate society's mixed messages about appropriate career objectives, family roles, and personal aspirations. Older, more established faculty need help in understanding and participating positively in the social changes taking place around them so that they do not become disillusioned, uncooperative, and/or unproductive.

When Does Faculty Development and Mentoring Begin and End?

  • Graduate Education--The Beginning
    Members of the faculty development and mentoring discussion groups felt that faculty development activities must begin during graduate education (PhD and/or residency training). Opportunities for enhancing teaching, research, and grant writing skills through guided experience as well as opportunities for understanding the imperatives of academic service should be built into both PhD and residency postgraduate programs. Rather than the historic practice of assuming that graduate students or residents will have absorbed all of the requisite skills and information for subsequent success as an academician during the course of their training, specific programs designed to acculturate graduate students and residents into the roles, responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges of a faculty member will contribute vital information and experience for facilitating the professional development and career growth of future faculty.
  • Life-Long Learning
    In addition to having their inception in graduate education, faculty development and mentoring activities were construed by both discussion groups as continuous processes which are relevant to faculty over a lifetime of career development. If achievement of tenure is the only goal of a faculty development program and there is no process for facilitating post-tenure momentum for professional development of scholarly excellence in research, teaching, and service, then there is potential for post-tenure faculty productivity to decline rather than to be enhanced by the achievement of tenure. Each faculty member experiences several points throughout his or her career where the need for revitalization and new goal setting is both a challenge and an opportunity. Academic units which have programs to facilitate this process for all faculty, including support for development of a productive retirement, will maximize the opportunities for their faculty members' life-long productivity.
  • Opportunities for Annual Renewal
    Both discussion groups identified the concept of regular personal and departmental goal setting exercises as a specific example of a powerful strategy for faculty development. For example, at an annual (or biennial) department retreat, faculty would be asked to set personal professional development goals which would, during the course of the retreat, be reconciled with the developing departmental goals. Ideally, at the end of each retreat, both the personal goals of individual faculty members and departmental goals for enhanced productivity in the areas of teaching, research, and service would blend into a single vector and the departmental trajectories would subsequently combine to produce the college's current vision of its mission.

How are Faculty Development and Mentoring Best Accomplished?

  • Need for Multiple Strategies
    Both groups perceived mentoring as the primary, but not the only, appropriate intervention for facilitating faculty development. Three additional activities were identified.

1) Administrative interventions

a) careful recruiting to the faculty position
b) early provision of appraisal criteria
c) maintaining a continuous process of evaluation
d) use of the annual budgeting process to avoid salary compression
e) encouragement to use sabbatical leaves for the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and perspectives
f) recognition that mobility (job changes) may be best for some faculty

2) Continuing education opportunities such as coursework for skill development in a second discipline in either veterinary or non-veterinary areas.

3) International educational opportunities (such as Fulbright and other exchange programs) can be important professional development strategies which are independent of the process of mentoring.

  • Mentoring as the Centerpiece of Faculty Development
    Members of both discussion groups considered mentoring to be the "heart and soul" of faculty development initiatives. Whether the mentoring is indirect (identification of role models), informal (identification of a person(s) from whom to seek advice), or the result of a structured program in which one or more mentors are assigned to a faculty member, mentoring relationships were identified as crucial to the success of faculty in today's academic environment. In order to encourage the development of mentoring relationships and because of the complexity of the task of accomplishing good mentoring, it was felt that although intrinsic rewards are primary motivators, some way to give extrinsic rewards or credit to mentors should be identified. Examples of needed resources which can be provided to junior faculty by mentors include:
  • a) access to professional networking opportunities;
    b) information about specific skill acquisition opportunities such as workshops or meetings;
    c) advice on time management skills;
    d) help with appropriate goal setting;
    e) aid the transition from the "euphoria of the interview" to the "reality of the department";
    f) assistance in developing explicit understandings of the expectations of the job in the context of the department.

One of the most important roles of the mentors, beyond the provision of morale support, is to work with the faculty member toward a mutual understanding of his or her immediate needs, long-range professional goals, and strengths and weaknesses. Whether the mentoring relationship is formal or informal, structured or indirect, good mentors, like all good teachers, will activate the initiative of faculty members rather than provide all needed resources to passive recipients. Good mentors will provide options rather than dogmatic advice. Teams of mentors composed of people at several levels of professional achievement and representatives from outside the departmental boundaries can provide a rich array of options, advice, and role models for faculty at various stages of their professional development.

Who is Responsible for Faculty Development and Mentoring?

In both of the discussion groups, there was agreement that everyone in an academic unit (department or college) has a stake in the successful professional development and mentoring of all faculty. Individually and collectively, in each of their several roles in the academy, faculty must both contribute to and partake of the many kinds of activities which combine to "provide an environment that encourages faculty to achieve excellence in scholarly endeavors."

Click here to return to the 13th Veterinary Medical Education Symposium Table of Contents