A central aim of the Fellows program is to provide a successful transition from graduate school to life as an independent teacher/scholar in a liberal arts setting. This transition is difficult for many. It has long been acknowledged that graduate programs typically do not (with a few notable exceptions) train their students to excel as teachers. Rather, the emphasis is on scholarly production, usually with a highly specialized focus. After obtaining their first job, new PhDs are often thrown into the deep end of the academic pool, asked (especially at liberal arts colleges) to juggle intensive teaching loads with community service demands and the need to establish an independent research program in a new setting. All of this tends to occur with a rather limited amount of support.
The Lawrence Fellows program addresses some of the difficulties of making the transition from graduate school to life at a liberal arts college simply by the way the position is structured. A lower teaching load leaves Fellows more time to construct an independent scholarly program and to adapt it to the liberal arts college setting. Freed from worries about reappointment and tenure (because the position is temporary), Fellows can focus on career development and be more selective about accepting community service requests.
Rather than taking a “sink or swim” approach, the Fellows program involves a coordinated development plan. The broad outline of our approach is to: a) immediately and consistently prompt the Fellows to reflect upon and set both short-term and long-term goals for themselves as teachers and scholars, b) help Fellows to construct an individually tailored (specific and realistic) plan for achieving those goals, c) consistently assess Fellows’ progress in meeting their self-defined goals (both through self-assessment and feedback from others, such as students, peers, and faculty mentors). This approach recognizes that academic life is complex and involves a great deal of autonomy, requiring faculty members to develop their own goals and ways of achieving them.
We recognize, however, that even though each individual must take his or her own path, there are common challenges all faculty members face (e.g., how to balance teaching and research, how to get a reticent student to talk in class, etc.) and that experienced faculty members can serve as advisors and guides. Fellows are not left on their own to reinvent the wheel, but have the support of peers and of faculty mentors who aid them in setting realistic goals and plans to attain those goals.
Additionally, goal setting and planning works best when there is subsequent feedback about goal attainment. Fellows are not only periodically asked to reflect on their progress toward self-defined goals, but also receive systematic feedback from others. Faculty mentors observe Fellows teach (at least once each term) and give both written and oral feedback. Mentors also review and discuss Fellows’ self-evaluations and goals with their assigned Fellows.The Fellows' mentoring program is integrated with our mentoring program for new tenure-track faculty. This program includes dinners, discussion of important issues in the life of faculty, and opportunities to share concerns with veteran faculty who serve as mentors.