The success and impact of early career academics in two New Zealand tertiary institutions
A report examining the experiences of Early Career Academics. It identifies several processes that contribute to the induction, preparation and meaningful socialisation of ECAs who will be capable of enhancing their students’ educational outcomes and their own academic careers.
- Kathryn Sutherland, Victoria University of Wellington - Kathryn.Sutherland@vuw.ac.nz
- Lesley Petersen, Queensland University of Technology (formerly at Eastern Institute of Technology) - Lesley.Petersen@qut.edu.au
Completed: March 2010
New Zealand lacks research on the success, retention, satisfaction, socialisation and influence of early career academics (ECAs). This project attempts to address this gap by considering the following: New Zealand ECAs’ constructions of success; the influences on and barriers to success for ECAs in New Zealand tertiary institutions; and the potential impact that their success has on the students that they teach and supervise. This project uncovers the experiences of sixteen ECAs at two New Zealand tertiary institutions. We theorise that the concept of relational agency plays a key role in the success of ECAs, and we also identify several processes that contribute to the induction, preparation and meaningful socialisation of ECAs who will be capable of enhancing their students’ educational outcomes and their own academic careers.
What is ECA Success?
The international literature makes a strong case for success in academia being primarily associated with research: specifically, research output, quality, productivity, and competitive grant funding. There is some mention of student ratings of teaching as an indicator of success, but the clear message from the literature is that successful ECAs are productive researchers, with strong, wide and well-established research networks, a growing reputation or profile in their discipline or community, and a solid record of winning competitive research grants. The literature also implies that successful ECAs are good “academic citizens” who are collegial with a strong sense of self-efficacy. Finally, successful academics themselves have indicated that they aspire to a holistic understanding of success that includes personal satisfaction and balance, alongside productivity and collegiality.
What Factors Influence ECA Success?
Success in academia depends on a trio of inter-related factors: institutional support, prior experience, and the personal characteristics of the academics themselves. A supportive Head of Department makes a very big difference to an ECA’s chances of success, as do supportive colleagues and a culture of openness and mentoring. The experiences academics have in graduate school, industry and the workforce are important, too, and the mentoring provided by postgraduate supervisors is significant. As for personal characteristics, ECAs are knowledgeable and up-to-date on important new developments. They are also collaborative and have broad networks of support; resourceful in the ways that they seek support, help, advice and guidance; resilient in the face of setbacks and obstacles, rather than being defensive or risk-averse; organisationally aware, astute and committed, as well as collegial and caring (they are good “academic citizens”) and; self-disciplined, and conscious of balancing work and home life.
What are the Barriers to ECA Success?
A lack of mentoring from senior colleagues, an apathetic Head of Department, poor or non-existent advice about promotion and career planning, and induction processes that lack specificity and timeliness are all barriers that ECAs identified to success. Also coming under fire were heavy workloads in the first couple of years, unsupportive colleagues, and an inability to balance home and work life.
Recommendations for new ECAs
We recommend that ECAs ask themselves a series of questions around the themes of resourcefulness, relationships, resilience, academic citizenship and balance, and we have produced a flyer to help prompt and guide this process.
Recommendations for Institutions
The role of the institution in supporting ECA success is very important, and we encourage Heads of Department, academic developers and others working with new ECAs to consider reviewing their processes and policies around the following:
- Promotion advice, feedback and support
- Regular feedback on performance in teaching, research and service
- Communication between management and academics
- Opportunities for networking and mentoring
- Equipment and funding for research and new teaching developments
- Opportunities to participate in decision-making processes.
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