August 12, 2013
By Amanda L. Sullivan
A few years ago, Bryn Harris and I met at SSSP’s SPRCC. Given the strong mentoring component of the conference, it’s probably not surprising that many of our conversations centered on our own experiences being mentored and mentoring needs. Over time, we discussed the challenges we encountered as early career scholars and realized there was much mentoring we wished we had received during our graduate training and our first years as faculty. It seems like many aspects of an academic career seem shrouded in mystery and lore (consider, for example, the riddle that is the tenure process). At an even more basic level, there seemed to be so many aspects of our positions for which we felt under-prepared: from navigating the job search, to planning new courses, planning and launching research projects, negotiating the publishing process, establishing a funding stream, understanding departmental politics, managing research assistants…the list goes on and on.
From these shared challenges came conversations of lessons learned, and from there, we asked what we wished we had learned in graduate school and how we could provide such information for other, newer early career scholars. Even though we will likely blog at some point about the need to be judicious in one’s service activities, together we made a substantial service commitment focused upon providing such support to early career scholars. Accordingly, these conversations turned into several professional development sessions at the 2012 and 2013 NASP and APA conventions and a series of articles in Division 16’s newsletter, The School Psychologist and NASP’s Communiqué. It was at the 2013 NASP Convention that I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Volpe, a scholar who has a strong commitment to supporting early career researchers. Rob had the wonderful idea of expanding on this work through a blog and with SSSP’s generous sponsorship; the Early Career Forum was launched.
At the Division 16 reception at the recent APA Convention, I had the chance to discuss the early career challenges with a few new professors who just finished their first year on the tenure-track. I likened the experience to a piecing together a puzzle. During my own first years (and even now), I remember voraciously seeking advice from my colleagues but still feeling as if I spent the first few years trying to triangulate across several different mentors to fit together those kernels of wisdom into a coherent picture of what I should be doing. Still, it seemed that many important pieces were missing.
Our hope is to provide, through this blog, a resource for early career scholars that provides as many of those valuable puzzle pieces as we can to help create a coherent picture of productive, enriching professional activity. Many of the early discussions Bryn and I had were about sharing our puzzle pieces and figuring out what we seemed to missing. A lot of it seemed to come back to asking the right questions, but that required having a good sense of what we did not know and that only came over time.
For current faculty, we anticipate normalizing the challenges you encounter and providing strategies for success. We hope to facilitate that process for others so that it can be more efficient and less daunting. We will discuss topics related to graduate preparation for research and faculty careers and early career development for those scholars who have already begun their careers. We intend this blog to allow for a level of ongoing interaction not possible in conference sessions or a newsletter column. We hope that readers will not only find the entries informative, but also that they will be spurred to discuss these topics with us and with others via the comments below. In addition, although we will certainly draw heavily from our own experiences, we want to know what other early career scholars want to see covered here. So please, tell us what topics you would like discussed and what questions you have.
The blog is intended to be a safe and supportive environment. We expect that discussions in this forum will be respectful of different perspectives.