How can academics find success and fulfillment in their careers? This is a frequently discussed topic in this era, especially with Covid-related burnout occurring for so many individuals in higher education. To help us explore the topic, I spoke with Dana Mitra about how faculty can improve equitable conditions within their university, and contribute to staff retention and well-being.
Dana is a Professor of Education Policy Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. She recently released a book with Teacher’s College Press entitled “The Empowered Professor: Breaking the Unspoken Codes of Inequity in Academia." Dana works as a leadership coach, as well as offering workshops and coaching faculty on finding one's purpose as an academic and navigating the unspoken rules of the profession, including publishing and career advancement.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation. And if you'd like to listen to our conversation, you can do so here:
Ian Evenstar: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Higher Ed Happy Hour. This is Ian from Unincorporated, and as the intro mentioned, I'm here with Dana Mitra, who is a professor of Education Policy Studies at the Pennsylvania State University with a PhD in educational leadership from Stanford. Her latest book is titled The Empowered Professor: Breaking the Unspoken Codes of Inequity in Academia. As I've learned, she wrote this book after spending over a decade coaching academics on how to find success and fulfillment in their careers. Dana, I know in this book that you demonstrate how a coaching focused stance toward faculty development can actually improve equitable conditions within the university and contribute to faculty retention and wellbeing, all of which I'm really hoping we can explore further in today's conversation. Dana, welcome to the show.
Dana Mitra: Thanks for having me.
IE: Absolutely. So the first question, we're going to dig right into this, but you talk about in the book how to survive in academia and how this is a process of navigating unspoken rules while still maintaining one's own sense of integrity. Can you tell us a little bit more about how faculty members might explore these unspoken rules and not just survive but possibly even thrive in this condition?
DM: Absolutely. So a lot of the strategies for how to succeed are not necessarily in the faculty handbook. There's a wide range of ways that people learn how to do a job. A lot of it is who you know and the information and support that you receive and it's feeling comfortable to ask questions, but also knowing who to ask those questions to. So there are the confidant, the folks that can really tell you what's really going on. It might be senior faculty. It also is often staff assistants who just know how things actually work versus the way they're stated in policy. So feeling comfortable in having that social capital, we would say, to be able to ask people questions who can answer your questions, feeling safe to do that, and also even knowing who those people are is an important part of figuring out how to navigate and find out the work that really needs to be done.
IE: That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned this idea of social capital, and maybe for those faculty members who haven't gained that social capital that's needed, any advice there in terms of building that social capital so that you do feel a bit more comfortable?
DM: So part of that is really identifying folks that you feel are safe and that you feel comfortable asking questions to. Also, really taking up offers of, "Welcome. If you ever want to grab a cup of coffee," say yes to all of those. I'm always surprised as a more senior faculty member the times that people don't take me up on the opportunity to meet whenever I make that available and taking the time to get to know every person from the mail deliverer to the staff assistants. They each serve a different role in terms of understanding an institution. And being helpful as well as just by coming to know people, you'll feel more a part of the community.
That's really hard right now in this COVID environment where some folks have started a job where they've never met people in person. So the normal strategies might be to show up to meetings early and leave late so you can have those informal conversations, stop by desks and introduce yourself. Now it might be more intentionally whether it is logging onto a Zoom call earlier, but also having to really make the time to ask people if they have 15 minutes to have a phone conversation. These days I often ask, "Would you like to go for a walk?" If you're not safe to sit and have a cup of coffee, but you might have to really more intentionally build social capital and ways to have connections with people who are also building that with people who are new to academia like you, but the senior folks who have been there for a long time.
IE: I think that's some really good actionable advice there. I've heard in that answer that having some clear intentions set in place, so just kind of being honest with yourself to those intentions, but then owning up to them, right, and putting the extra effort in that's required to build relationships in any format. I love the question too. Hey, would you like to go for a short walk? I think walking meetings are undervalued or underrated, at least in a lot of that networking that we do.
DM: Let me circle back to the Zoom piece too, in that because we're on Zoom so often I think we need to feel more comfortable stopping and asking questions and assuming that if you have that question, other folks do, and even if you know that, to create space to make sure there's a common understanding. So if this is something that you do know a lot about, to still make sure that all acronyms are explained, that everyone is on the same page and that there's a lot of space for learning from one another and circling back in case people don't understand things given that we don't have informal spaces anymore.
IE: That's true. This kind of relates to the next question, but are there some assumptions or maybe more hurdles put in place for a faculty member, maybe because they're afraid of speaking up or afraid that they don't know all the acronyms or asking say the dumb question? Are there more hurdles in that sense?
DM: Absolutely. So it may be your personality, whether you're shy or outgoing, but also certainly if you're somebody who's not in the majority in a space-based on any sort of identity factor, that can feel a little bit more confusing or harder to ask those questions. So on the leadership side or side of where folks are the ones who are trying to create a context, it might involve not only just trying to be really thoughtful about what are we not saying, what's assumed information, but checking prior to anything that's really critical, having sounding boards in places to ask, does this make sense, what are we missing, are we hearing all the voices in this conversation, especially in this time where communication is so hard and we've lost a lot of that connection.
We need to really go out of our way to make sure that we're circling back to people and that there are those lines of communication. I think without the meetings that we normally have and Zoom being a difficult space, we're much more likely as leaders to just reach out to one person to solve a problem than to maybe bring something up that normally would've happened in a bigger meeting. That can be really problematic in terms of trust and in terms of feedback and voices and making sure that this really is a shared understanding and a shared process. So we have to almost go the extra mile to create more spaces for that to happen right now so that everyone can be on the same page.
IE: Well said. So we've I think been looking mostly from the faculty point of view and we'll probably continue to keep that point of view for most of our conversation. But turning the table for a moment and looking at the leadership point of view and those who are in leadership positions who do listen to this podcast, what you call out in the book is that, as leaders, they may not realize that they have what you've called these embedded assumptions about success. So again, from a leadership standpoint, why is it important for us to recognize these embedded assumptions?
DM: It's really at the heart of when we're trying to solve the puzzle of how can we create more inclusive spaces, spaces where we can retain faculty of a variety of races, ethnicity, gender, or stances. Without having that space of feeling like you belong and that your voices are heard, you don't want to stay and you don't feel comfortable putting your voice out there. So part of that is even understanding what are critical decisions to be made and really understanding what's important around that. In universities, there's usually an expectation that faculty share the governance structures, for example.
As I said in our previous question, a lot of times we've been so busy just trying to make up policy on the fly right now in a crisis that a lot of those shared processes and the time that tends to be taken to make difficult decisions has gotten shortcut. We're really in a need to not just rebuild structures that were there, but even build new ones in this new version of, are we in person, are we not in person, to make sure that we are having voices heard.
Universities also really need to understand this extensive research on the value of mentoring and collaboration and mentors take all sorts of shapes and sizes, and I talk about this in the book a lot. Mentors can be people much more senior or someone just a couple of years more senior as well. We tend to need more than one mentor. So there are some that are more about giving that confidant space where if you need to close the door and share emotions that may not be acceptable in a bigger space, frustration, exhaustion, those types of things, so a safe space. But there are other mentors that may not really be good at that emotional side of things but have a lot of political power, have a lot of connections, can introduce you to spaces, to grant money, to professional opportunities.
So there are the creators and the connectors. There are also people who can speak on your behalf to recommend you to places. Sometimes there just really isn't a mentoring space within an institution that's a good fit. That's where hiring an external coach might be what you need as an individual to be able to find that neutrality, yet someone who's surely on your side of things. Universities are also increasingly hiring coaches to provide more of a tailored support mechanism. If you hire a faculty member and you really want them to succeed, it's far more affordable to invest in their success than to have them fail enough to start over. So taking that time and those resources to slow down and bring them the connections that they need to understand what they need to do and to feel supported is really a wise strategy.
IE: That's so well said. Thank you for laying that out. I think that part of any actionable change includes some level of awareness or assessment. So let's say that we do have these biases or these embedded assumptions about success, are there ways that we can just kind of wake up and see, become more aware of where those biases or maybe where those assumptions live?
DM: If there was a magic formula for that, I think every university might be willing to do that. There has to be a willingness to hear and take on difficult feedback from the university side to understand where folks are feeling harmed in some ways, whether it be microaggressions or outright feelings of unjustness, and that there are actual processes to help to remedy those. To increase leadership roles for folks who are from a range of experiences is important. So I think there's a lot around not just hearing that there are concerns, but putting people in leadership positions who can help to embrace change around that.
I think also partly something that universities can do that might be a simpler way to start is to create natural spaces for like-minded folks or folks in similar positions to connect to one another as well. In the pandemic, we might need to be more intentional about creating spaces for pre-tenured faculty to collaborate, whether it be writing, even just writing their own things, but in a common space, even if it's online or in-person, and also finding ways to connect to maybe write grants together, to meet people from across, if it's a large university and other parts of the university, to have places for people of color to have their own spaces to learn from one another that feel safe and that's supported. For LGBTQ faculty to have space to learn from one another.
So to put a little bit of money behind some food, some space, some valuing around it's important to have collaboration of a lot of different kinds to build community. It's almost that's at a crisis level right now of folks not working in isolation and there is no sharing of information. If you didn't have that information before the pandemic, you're probably really lost right now in most faculty settings because there just isn't a way to learn it right now.
IE: Yeah. So part of this, it feels like is to be, again, this word intentional about how you're building community and the investments that you're making in order to facilitate community building and maybe setting up these forums and really embracing not just peer to mentor one to one, but peer to many mentors and helping support faculty in that way. I know a coach can be a good place to help facilitate that. I think part of this also comes back to the dialogue that you actually are having with say the senior administrator who's reviewing your file each semester, each year. Thinking of that review process, are there ways that universities can better communicate the expectations that they have of their faculty?
DM: This is certainly something that I think most faculty would love to have a broader range of knowledge and understanding about that. I think universities get concerned about saying what expectations are because it can lock them into a certain set of criteria that then if there is a conflict around someone being promoted, then that's evidence that could turn into a lawsuit. So I feel that the universities are often concerned about being specific because the specificity may come back to harm them. We really need to get past that and find ways to get real clarity on what kind of work is valid and important and important in the process.
Again, sharing information around that's important, but it also may mean if we're going to hire a broader range of perspectives, we need to value a broader range of work, whether it be genres or types of scholarship that we consider to be high quality has to be an inclusive version of what quality means. Also that if there are concerns and processes, that there's truly processes by which these concerns can be heard. So there's all those different pieces around that.
I think also having feedback processes that are broader, so not just necessarily one point of contact, if that point of contact's problematic, how does somebody kind of get the mentoring they needed? So more of a team-based approach around feedback to colleagues and also clear mechanisms for support for folks who are struggling, places that they can get whether it be coaching or mentoring or writing support or connected to faculty members who could help with working on a research team, whatever it might be, that there are processes by which it's not just you're not meeting expectations, but here are some supports to help you to get there.
IE: So not just communicating the expectation more clearly, but then also providing some supplemental professional development or coaching resources that can help enable that growth or help enable the faculty improve on those marks.
DM: It can even be as simple as examples, right? When I think through it back to even the dissertation process, what does a good dissertation look like? Or what does a good publication look like? Making sense of that by gathering as many examples of other dissertations that my advisor wrote that were viewed as high quality. So how to encourage, and there's obviously privacy rules, but encouraging faculty to go to other faculty who have had success who might be willing to share their dossiers, share their strategies for how they're getting their work done, reading that work, understanding what high-quality work is over a set of examples of people living it is just a bare-bones example and yet one that isn't often followed around. It's not just here's what a standard is, but here's what a standard looks like in a variety of ways that helps people to truly understand what that means in that university.
IE: Kind of having case studies or examples built-in. That's great. What are some of the ways you've seen feedback impact maybe faculty in their professional development, both on the negative as well as the positive side? Can you think of some examples around that?
DM: Yeah. I would call this feeling agency versus being frozen. So feeling heard, on the one hand, that work is understood, knowing how to build on what you've done so far as opposed to feeling torn down. So the next steps are concrete, but there's also a sense of how to get there. There's mentoring and support when they're struggling, and personalized support. Also, this is something that's a bigger step than examples, but there are a lot of times where we really do need to slow down review processes. Why does it always have to be a six-year process, for example, for tenure?
If we're wanting a certain type of faculty member, and there's a lot of turmoil or things going on, can we give them extra time to be able to get to where they need to be? Not everyone necessarily gets... Can other people move forward quicker? There are some places where it's like you can't go forward until a certain... That time is the most important thing as opposed to who are the faculty that we want to grow and when are they ready to get there is a different way to be thinking about how to support a broader range of people.
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IE: I like this comparison you made between feeling a sense of agency versus feeling frozen, and, again, being mindful of that both from the leadership perspective, but then also from the faculty perspective, and hey, do I feel like I have agency right now and I do know the path to develop, or if I'm feeling frozen, do I have that set of mentors that I can go to and that safe space that you described in order to kind of express my concerns. There's also this aspect of personalized support and possibly having personalized timelines, that it's not like a one size fits all. It's actually a trajectory for faculty members at different paces.
I think the educational system, in general, has sort of been brushing up against that as a possible solution to hyper-personalize the student's journey. So it's cool to hear you talk about it in terms of the faculty's journey as well. Are you able to tie some of these concepts back, I can sense how this is really helpful from the faculty perspective, but maybe just in broad strokes, give us a sense of how this might help the university grow, whether in its curriculum development or maybe student enrollment or increasing the quality of the students? How does this in turn help the business operations of the university?
DM: I think it's about faculty support across the developmental lifespan. So there's a lot around retention in those early years. I work at a university where we work so hard to bring in a diverse faculty, but they may not necessarily stay. I don't see necessarily as much energy being spent on the recruitment side of things as on what is the range of supports needed to keep faculty and keep faculty happy and healthy. As we move into tenure, as we move into mid-career, how do we keep faculty active and engaged and doing interesting work over time and not just sort of half checking out?
So finding ways to connect to purpose and values and work that seems meaningful, feeling like one's contribution matters in all parts of the academy is an important part of this. A university is only as strong as its people. So as we want to keep what's working and we need to keep people happy and productive in order for students to feel inspired, for grants to come in, for service work to be done effectively, there needs to be trust between faculty and administrators. Faculty need to feel like they have a voice and agency in decision-making processes.
So by having more of a personalized support structure, it's also possible to not just have faculty who want to work to the letter of their job, but are encouraged and enthused to go beyond. That's where the great work of universities happens when folks are really happy to work there. So I would say that's a big piece of it and providing spaces and places to do that kind of work.
I think another one is there's such a concern about budgets, obviously, and just the financial structure of universities really changed dramatically in the recession and never fully turned around, and with the pandemic, was another huge financial hit, and an awareness that being financial, as you would say, penny-wise and pound-foolish around what are ways that a little bit of funding and support to build collaborations, to provide ways to bring people together actually sparks that informal trust, that space to ask questions that space, to learn how to collaborate together to encourage innovation.
So in this space where we're not talking as much and we don't know each other, we're not going to invent and have that innovative space to do the work that could be done. We're only going to be doing the work that we're asked to do and not necessarily wholeheartedly.
IE: Yeah. Yeah. I know that a big part of this equation is to kind of attract new faculty and get additional thought leadership coming into your university. But as you mentioned, budgets are a big concern and how we're spending each line item is an important aspect to kind of, again, the operations behind the system. Maybe you found this in some of the research, it must be cheaper to retain, coach, and engage current faculty than it is to actually go and find, recruit, onboard and train new faculty. Would you agree with that?
DM: Absolutely. It helps to grow the culture and folks who are happy to be there. I think of all the emphasis placed on that in tech firms and the Silicon Valley of creating really basic working conditions that help folks to want to work really hard. This is creating containers in which folks work long hours because they feel valued. They feel welcomed. They feel like it's a space in which they want to be. That leads to huge productivity gains. That leads to huge increases and output. So that's just kind of a basic formula of how business and leadership literature are talking about. It's just harder to quantify that in an academic space than in a space where things more easily turn into dollar signs. But certainly, they do turn into revenues in terms of reputation, grants, student satisfaction, and retention among other things.
IE: It kind of comes back to this idea that you've shared with us on helping faculty to feel a sense of agency and creating some of those processes or the feedback loop or these safe spaces so that they also feel valued and inspired. Of course, that's going to increase productivity and brand equity, whether you're in higher education or in any other vertical or any other industry. One of the things that stand in the way I think of maybe feeling super motivated to get out your next paper or do the next body of research is how you describe this imposter syndrome. This was cool to actually see a fairly common concept being applied yet again to higher education.
DM: But imposter syndrome from the faculty's perspective could be in the publishing process, hey, I'm not good enough, or in performance, which we've talked about. These reviews that they get, maybe they've gone awry, or maybe there isn't that kind of direct, open, honest feedback that helps encourage development. So maybe all things kind of set to the side for a moment, if I'm a faculty member and I have this inner critic or this imposter syndrome, how might I take back some of that agency and get out of this stuck pattern that I'm feeling?
I'd say the majority of my clients are folks who have had a couple of bad cycles of trying to publish a paper stacked on top of one another, maybe a bad review, and they've just lost their mojo and lost their sense of feeling like this is something that they can do or that they might even want to do. So the common thread between a really wide-ranging amount of stories is this sense of reconnecting them to who they are and why they're doing this work in the first place. We don't tend to go into academia to make it rich. We're here because there's something that we're really passionate about. There's some content that we end up thinking about no matter if we were to get paid or not, we're passionate about the writing that we do, the research, the discovery, the knowledge.
So it's partly reconnecting people back to what lights them up and what specifically is your individual spark or talent that has a certain lens on whatever it is that inspires you that no one else has. That's why you wanted to do this work in the first place. A lot of what happens when you get negative feedback is a question as to whether you do have something that is worth contributing. So it's turning that external judgment into the internal purpose of remembering that I do have something of value and this is important to me. This is work that I do choose to do.
Sometimes it's counseling people out of academia. 99% of the time, it's a remembering of what it is that matters. Then for some, it's helping my clients to articulate their work more directly, more clearly, maybe sometimes making their writing stronger, but also just getting clearer on the type of work they want to do versus what they're feeling they should be doing. Being able to practice that and articulate that more just in conversations or through thinking about a particular set of articles, helps them to have a clearer vision of their work, to be able to communicate it better, and to feel more inspired to get back out there and find the places where that contribution is going to be valued.
So it really does, again, connect back to that inner sense of agency, belonging, again, of finding different places that might find that work meaningful, and then competencies around having the writing skills, the communication skills to market essentially what it is that makes them special. So I call that the ABCs, the agency, the belonging, and then the specific competency skills to get there.
IE: Nice. Maybe we can unpack that a little bit because I like how you frame that up. This personal question we ask ourselves, why do this in the first place, or where and how and why does my work have meaning, I think from a mindset standpoint, it's always good to revisit that inner question, the inner sense of belonging, as you mentioned, agency and competencies, the ABCs. But it makes me curious a little bit because you're the first person we've had on the show like this that has really talked about the faculty kind of dilemma if you will, and some of the pitfalls that are sort of inherent in the environment. What's your underlying mojo or inspiration to do work like this and to put so much time and resource into the book?
DM: Yeah. I would say that what lights me up is helping people to find a voice and to make a difference. So a lot of my academic work is with youth and helping young people to have student voice or voice in school-wide settings where they feel like they're valued and that having that sense of value, that agency, but also a connection makes dramatic differences in their grades and their ability to see their future and believe that they have worth and all those things. It's not any different for a 12-year-old or a 30-year-old faculty member.
We all have these intrinsic basic needs to be seen, to be heard. We're just so thirsty for connection with others, whatever that may be, even if you're the introverted of introverts. You can't necessarily find that sense of purpose without touching the lives of other people in some way. Then what are the basic skills that are needed to get there that we don't often necessarily teach about how to communicate and how to make those connections. I think what's different in the current world of not just academia, but all workplace cultures are that we expected the structure and scaffolding to work, to solve some of at least the connection and belonging problems of we were working in common spaces until a few years ago.
So that piece was kind of built-in that we expected the job to do that for us, and now that's not there. With agency and belonging being so interconnected, it can also be harder to find a sense of yourself. When you don't have that feedback, you're not going to conferences to be able to share your ideas before they're fully baked, or to meet other people from other places in the world that might be doing work that you appreciate and then they appreciate you, to give a talk and then have people come up afterward and say, "That was great." That doesn't usually happen as easily in an online space.
So that feedback around why our work might be interesting, that connection in person, we're going to have to work a lot harder as universities to help faculty to rebuild that structure of how to do that work because we've lost a lot of it.
IE: Yeah. We have to, in some ways, innovate and kind of recalibrate those physical interactions that we have. I think you gave us some good examples of that at the top of the hour here. This sense of autonomy or agency comes up a lot, and I'm sure that there's resistance against that. So where's that fine line between giving faculty members enough agency or autonomy and having them just go rogue or maybe not follow some of the guardrails or the basic protocols that are needed in order to keep things equitable, or perhaps keep things moving in a current direction? Where's where is that fine line, would you say?
DM: I would say that in academia, I mean, a lot of reasons why we're there is we're trading power for freedom, in that the idea of scholarship is there's a lot of agency there in order to do the work, to be creatives, whatever that might mean, to think new ideas. So on the spectrum of agency, at least from the productivity side of things, there's a lot of space for that, but that's also a danger if we lose track or lose confidence or our ability to have that self-generating process of creativity and innovative thought.
So the going off the rails that I would say is more when we lose that ability to feel like we can create, and because we're not sure if there's value in it, that the university is valuing it or that we have spaces to get helpful feedback in order to know how we're doing or finding other people to inspire. I think we're suffering from a lack of inspiration that meetings and conferences and things like that can help us to bring talks on campus that have happened in the past.
So I would say in terms of, at least my understanding of off the rails, it's more around how we can keep that spark and the flame of learning and innovation happening. I would say maybe from a university perspective, my hunch is that working as administrators and as leaders in such stressful times where there have to be so many decisions made quickly, there may be a sense of just burnout and exhaustion at the administrative level and a sense of lack of appreciation, but a reminder that there needs to be a shift in terms of rebuilding of around...
We've just lost that visibility and transparency in terms of what work is happening and how it's happening. There's not the ability to just drop by someone's office to get clarity on something or see it or stop in the meeting to see what's happening. So just extra work needing to be done around communication, transparency, and trust so that it is a university and not just a bunch of individual decisions happening is part of the process around where I see universities kind of falling off the rails in terms of being a space that folks want to be working at.
IE: Yeah. If I'm a faculty member and you're coaching me and I feel like I've lost my motivation or gone off the rails as you defined it here, which is I've lost the sense that I have this ability to create or this autonomy to create, what's something you would tell me to go and do or something to reflect on? How would you help me regain that inspiration or recharge the battery?
DM: So first, I would want to make sure that you do want to recharge the battery, that the university is the space that is a good fit for you, that this is a job that can be fulfilling and that there may not be another path. But if there's a sense that yes, the academic space is something that I want to be doing, then we turn more towards what parts of that process are fulfilling to you, what parts are working and where are the parts where you're getting stuck. Is it getting things published? Is it with toxic relationships with supervisors or a feeling that it's a discriminatory space? Or that there's been so much service placed upon someone that they can't do their work? Or there's no way to get feedback or understand what success might look like?
So kind of narrowing down where the stuck part is, and then from there, it's a combination of whether it's coaching, which for me coaching is more pulling out of you what's the work that you want to do and how we get there, and consulting is more of if you're not getting things written, is it that we need to help with your writing, is it that your time management is a mess and you're not actually sitting down and doing the writing, your work-life balances, or you're so stressed because your mother is ill, and trying to suss out what problem needs to be solved. Often it might be moving to a different university or just getting through a tenure process.
So that then it feels like there's space then to push back against a particular administrator or to have more parity of not needing to just say yes to things. That's where it's a real individualized process for each faculty who might not be meeting expectations or a staff member of what actually is it that's stopping that person from being a contributing and thriving whatever it might be. So learning that first and then we can think through, is it something I need to help you to grow from inside, having agency, is it that we need to find you collaborators, or is there a set of skills we can work on that'll help you to get where you need to go.
IE: That's great. So I love how you started first with, hey, is this a good fit, and then moved into, okay, it seems like it's a good fit, but where are we coming up short or what challenges are you experiencing currently, and again, personalizing that. That kind of dialogue or coaching and consulting that happens, without someone like yourself, does that happen at the senior administration level or peer to peer? Where is that consulting and coaching happening right now?
DM: If there's a talented supervisor, so my role as a professor where I am, that would be at a department head. I've been fortunate to have leaders ahead of me who really I do feel have my best interests at heart, and I can ask those questions, but I also feel that they're really good at having a real distributed model of leadership to try to have not just that one point of contact, but to encourage conversations with more senior colleagues, to encourage junior colleagues to have those collaborative features. So I think, again, that gets back to gathering the information needed to be successful and to feeling safe in those spaces that I'm actually wanted here and that my work is valued and that I can ask questions if I need be.
So I think in order to do that, there has to be meetings where I can ask questions or ways that I know I can meet people who may be in other parts of the university. Sometimes just a little bit of resources around encouraging those initial conversations can help to really grow so that there aren't just one single points of contact, there's a wide range of places where people can ask questions and get support and find and be heard and all the things.
IE: Yeah, great emphasis there on distributed points of leadership. I think that's a really powerful phrase and concept. It goes back to how you were describing not just having one mentor, but multiple mentors and just the importance there, leveraging it from the leadership perspective, but also leveraging that or looking for that from the faculty perspective. Dana, thank you for all of this great guidance you've provided. It's a lot to think on and you've given us some key actions that we can take as well. Are there any maybe final words or final coaching and advice that you would like to leave us with?
DM: I think it's just important to remember that usually when we're feeling stuck, that kind of Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, we've had it with us all the time, we have the answers within us and if things are feeling wrong or something, it's just not feeling right to trust that as well, and to draw on whatever networks you have to help make sense of that, to do that because it's important to feel right with the job that you have, right with the work that you have. There are a range of ways to find healthy spaces to do that, whether it be mentoring, whether it be coaching. You have a right to feel the work that you're doing is safe, it's valued, and that you have some sort of connection.
IE: From the department chair or department leadership standpoint, they should also be looking to help improve their evaluation process and their mentorship process and their faculty development process for all the reasons you outlined, but making sure that there's some agency on both sides is what I heard. Is that correct?
DM: Agency on both sides, and I think from a leadership perspective, really paying attention to the unique strengths and talents of each person and trying to help them to fulfill roles, whether it be service roles or teaching responsibilities that fit their gifts, whether they're detail oriented or big picture thinking or better at curriculum versus mentoring, that there's a value to having a wide range of types of people and interests. I think part of what a leader does is help to find opportunities and ways that they can serve and have a purpose that work as opposed to just kind of forcing a square peg in a round hole.
IE: Thank you for your time. This excellent commitment to this type of work, which I think is it's not few and far between necessarily, but there could certainly be more emphasis in this body of work that you're doing. So thank you very much for that commitment. For those of us who want to take an extra step toward you and your work, what's the best way to find you?
DM: I'm at danamitra.net. So my email's email@example.com. If you just Google Dana Mitra, I'm easy to find on all the spaces, whether it be the web or Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. So I look forward to connecting with anyone who'd like to take the conversation forward.
Ian Evenstar: Thank you.
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