Workshops help new faculty learn the ropes

It’s a Friday afternoon in the West Room of the University Club. A group of new faculty members greet each other, as many of them have done once a month throughout the academic year. There’s a relaxed hum as they talk together, waiting for the session to begin.

This week, they are gathered to hear President Patrick Deane and Susan Denburg, Vice-President, Academic in the Faculty of Health Sciences, talk about Forward with Integrity and collegiality.

The talk is one in a series of workshops designed to help new faculty members navigate their first year at McMaster.

Launched last September, the series was developed by Susan Searls Giroux, McMaster’s Associate Vice-President, Faculty and offers sessions that provide enhanced support and resources on a diversity of topics.

New faculty members listen to a presentation by Gianni Parise,  Associate Dean Research and External Relations, at a recent faculty orientation workshop.

New faculty members listen to a presentation by Gianni Parise, Associate Dean Research and External Relations, at a recent faculty orientation workshop.

“Teaching is a complicated endeavour, increasingly so in part because student’s needs have become so varied,” says Searls Giroux. “In addition to their roles as teachers and researchers, faculty are now responding to student accommodation issues like accessibility or mental health concerns. From my own experience it’s sometimes difficult to understand the University in its complexity and new faculty often aren’t aware of the offices and units that are available to help them in their roles. This is something I’m trying to shift.”

The workshops run from September to April. Topics include primers on time management, student assessment, the granting landscape, student mental health, McMaster’s research office, media relations and working with graduate students.

Senior leaders from across McMaster are invited to speak on these topics then often stay to talk informally with new faculty members over a glass of wine.

“You often don’t learn the mindset of a university until you’ve worked there for a good number of years. You often have to stumble upon how the organization functions,” says Ayesha Khan, a new faculty member in the department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour. “Here we get to meet the people behind the policies that are driving the University and that’s really valuable because you not only learn what resources the University has to offer, but it helps you feel like you’re part of a community.”

Many of the same people attend each month and the sessions have taken on a familiar, casual tone, exactly what Searls Giroux envisioned.

“It provides people with the opportunity to build a sense of cohort. The idea that faculty can meet across disciplines and develop friendships is really important. It’s at least as important to me as learning about and demystifying the University.”

Searls Giroux says the series will resume in the 2014/15 academic year and plans to invite this year’s new faculty to serve as mentors to the next group of newcomers starting this fall.

“We hope faculty will be here for 20 or 30 years, it’s a long-term investment. If new faculty better understand what the expectations are and feel informed and supported, as well as feel a sense of community, I think they’ll be much more confident as they move through the permanence, tenure and promotion process at McMaster.”