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Confidence Gap for New Profs

July 11, 2008

Most new Ph.D.'s arrive at their first faculty jobs without feeling that they were effectively prepared in graduate school for such key duties as teaching undergraduates and conducting research, according to a new national study of faculty members in their first five years on the job. The study found that the percentages feeling well prepared rise rapidly as young professors apparently pick up the knowledge on the job.

Both straight out of grad school and after a few years on the job, men are more confident of their abilities than women are.

The study was conducted by the TIAA-CREF Institute, the research arm of the pension giant, and focused on professors in their first five years on the job at colleges that are members of the Associated New American Colleges, a group of private, master's level colleges, with enrollments of between 2,500 and 8,000. While the sample is nationwide, it is of a subset of American higher education, so it is unclear whether the responses would be the same everywhere. But the faculty members hired at these colleges are coming from the same Ph.D. programs that produce new recruits at all kinds of colleges. Jerry Berberet, author of the study and senior vice president of academic affairs at Carroll College, said he suspected the findings would be similar at other institutions, with the likely exception of elite research universities.

Those in the study answered questions not only about their graduate school preparation, but about their job satisfaction (generally high), their sources of income (surprisingly high from outside the colleges that are their primary employers), and their views of various salary issues.

On the questions about preparation from graduate school for taking on their first jobs, those responding generally didn't feel very effectively prepared for their first jobs, but quickly felt that they were working very effectively. Paul Yakoboski, principal research fellow at the TIAA-CREF Institute, said he was "a little surprised" by how many new faculty members appear to be relying on "on the job training" to learn how to be a professor. "That may signal something that higher ed wants to do a little differently."

Here are the numbers, which show higher confidence levels for men -- except notably in the area of feeling ready to serve on faculty committees and in interdisciplinary collaboration.

  % Who Felt 'Very Effectively'
Prepared After Grad School
% 'Very Effectively'
Prepared Now
  Women Men Women Men
Conduct research 28% 39% 39% 55%
Teach undergraduates 29% 33% 71% 82%
Interdisciplinary collaboration 25% 26% 47% 39%
Teach using technology 20% 20% 50% 59%
Articulate a teaching philosophy 18% 21% 57% 66%
Serve on faculty committees 12% 7% 52% 45%
Advise undergraduates 6% 9% 48% 44%
Obtain grants 8% 7% 14% 13%

Berberet, the study's author, said in an interview that the data suggest that many graduate programs "don't appear to be doing a better job than they ever did" at preparing Ph.D. students for jobs anyplace but at research universities. He said that the percentages feeling prepared after graduate school were too low.

Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, agreed. She said that some graduate schools have tackled the issue, in part through the council-sponsored Preparing Future Faculty Program. This effort involved working with graduate schools so that they have specific partnerships in place with community colleges, four-year undergraduate colleges and other types of institutions so that doctoral students learn how to teach at those institutions and "what it means to be a citizen" of those institutions.

Stewart called the TIAA-CREF Institute study "very important" in that it demonstrated that these programs need to be in place at every graduate school, not just a minority. "In the main, our graduate schools prepare people for jobs in very different kinds of institutions than the ones they are getting their Ph.D.'s in. If the only model that students have is faculty life in a research university, they are not going to be exposed to both the opportunities and challenges of other kinds of teaching," she said. "What this shows is that we have to redouble our efforts."

The gender gaps in the survey -- with men feeling much more confident of their abilities, both after grad school and as they have a few years of experience -- don't appear to reflect a gap in talents, Berberet said. Everything he has seen in terms of national data and his campus experience reveals that women and men are equally talented in the professoriate, suggesting that there is more of a confidence gap than an actual skills gap.

In many areas of the survey, men and women weren't far apart. Overwhelming majorities of both men and women report that work takes priority over other activities, that they are so busy they work when ill, that they don't have enough time to see movies and plays, and so forth. Men, slightly more than women, reported that they don't see their children as much as they would like (61 percent vs. 55 percent).

But one reason men may miss their kids more is that women are spending more time taking care of them. Of the new faculty in the survey, women reported spending 23.2 hours per week on family and household responsibilities, compared to 20.5 hours reported by men. Women also devote more time to professional work done at home than do men, with the average hours per week of 15.2 for women and 14.5 for men. Men spend more time per week, on average, on leisure activities -- 7.8 hours compared to 7.0 hours for women.

Depending on More Than Salaries

A surprise to those who conducted the study was that many faculty members -- including those in the liberal arts fields -- are earning real money beyond that paid by their institutions. (About 80 percent of those in the survey are on the tenure track, so this isn't the case -- common for adjuncts -- of having to work at multiple institutions to make a basic living.) About one third of those in the study as a whole reported earning money from non-university sources, with an average for those earning such funds being $12,651. Because that figure may be higher because many of the colleges in the survey have professional schools, whose professors may command higher salaries and have more outside employment opportunities, a separate calculation was done for those just in liberal arts fields. There, about a fourth of those in the survey were earning money from other sources, with the average of just over $7,000.

Here are the figures (gender variation wasn't statistically significant):

Average Salaries for Early Career Faculty at Associated New American Colleges

  All Fields Liberal Arts Fields Only
9-month base salary $50,167 $47,697
Other pay from institution $4,937 $4,398
Other pay from outside institution (for those with outside pay) $12,651 $7,077

Yakoboski said that the trend of people earning significant dollars from other sources suggests that "nobody is happy with how much they're being paid, but administrators acknowledge that too." He noted that in a related survey of senior administrators at colleges in the survey, only 36 percent said that they were satisfied with the levels of salaries and benefits for early career professors.

Given coming waves of retirements, Yakoboski said, the survey suggests that colleges would do well to focus both on salary issues and on work/life balance issues.

Berberet said that while the other pay from the institution would cover summer teaching or special duties, he was struck by "the extent to which moonlighting is going on," and said it wasn't clear whether that was "entrepreneurial activity or teaching down the road." What is clear, he said, is that "the old idea of a faculty teaching 9 or 10 months and preparing courses over the summer is an outdated stereotype."

 

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