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Starting Strong: Your First Days on Campus
June 19, 2011 - 9:15pm

In the span of approximately three years, I started three new jobs at new institutions. So when my fellow UVenus writer Meg Palladino told me she would be taking a new position and switching insitutions, I started compiling a list of advice for administrators who are starting new ventures on new campuses. Although my experience is with administrative jobs, I imagine full-time faculty and adjuncts may have similar experiences.


1. Learn the culture.


Everyone knows that administrator who constantly refers to their previous intuitions: “well at X we did it this way....” while everyone else in the meeting is thinking, “yes, but we are not at X, we’re at our institution.” Learning the culture does not mean accepting the current way of doing things; it does mean finding a balance between the current situation with all its constraints (and strengths) while bringing in fresh ideas and a new perspective. Very often new administrators are hired because of similar, but different experience. Learning the culture will help new employees determine where and when similar experiences will be important and where knowledge of a different perspective will be crucial.


Learn the culture by walking across campus, attending events, talking to students and faculty and other administrators. Learn the culture by asking how things came to be the way they are. Notice who makes the decisions and who does the talking and who actually gets the job done at the end of the day. Very often those roles don’t align to actual job titles.


Make time to listen to students. The older I get, and the further away from my own college experience, the more I have to remind myself that college is an incredibly immersive and complex experience. Students are very astute at recognizing someone who doesn't "get" what their school is about.


2. Learn the ground rules.


Many ground rules may be obvious, but for someone starting a new job, walking in with curiosity and openness will make it much easier to build bridges and start forming new connections with faculty, staff, and students.


Does your new supervisor emphasize a certain style of communication? At every college where I've worked, some faculty members respond more quickly to email, while others will always pick up their phone but never respond to email. Ask questions about the tone of communications you send out in your new role. Subtle shifts in language can convey the same meaning but make your message heard and accepted.


3. Keep ties to previous institutions


Maybe some things were better at a previous institution; maybe you have great colleagues who can still be mentors in your current position. Just as interdisciplinary study is valued among academics, inter-institutional relationships among administrators at different institutions is extremely rewarding.

What are some other tips for starting a new academic job?

New Haven, Connecticut in the USA

Heather Alderfer is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus and is an Associate Registrar at Yale Law School.


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