Junior Faculty Support Group

I am running a support group for junior faculty this fall (2023) that will meet roughly every two weeks on Wednesday evenings (US time) via Zoom. You are welcome to be part of this group of junior faculty who talk with each other, listen and pay attention to one another, and exert their empathy towards each other and themselves. Our aim will be to understand and experience our personal relatedness to happenings that concern us.

I hope to provide a space in which junior faculty can safely share what they are going through. A space where fellow faculty can hear their struggles, and be responsive to their struggles (and, celebrate their triumphs!). A place where junior faculty can be with their own selves, and with others.

Our conversations will go in whichever directions members of the group lead them. While I expect many conversations about the various facets of academic life, it will also be appropriate to talk about our lives beyond our careers, and to raise larger questions about the kind of life we want to live.

If you are interested in joining the group, please complete this short interest form by August 31st, 2023 (at the very latest). While my goal is to be accomodative and inclusive, this group will only support a small number of interested faculty (up to 8-12 max) and will only accept at most one faculty per institution. I will let you know if we can accomodate you as soon as I know.

We will meet on Wednesdays on the following dates (5 sessions total):

Meetings will be from 6:30-8:30PM PST / 8:30-10:30PM CT / 9:30-11:30PM EST.

See Q&A below for more information. If you have any further questions, feel free to email me at hq@northwestern.edu

What is the experience like? Is the group helpful?

I asked the junior faculty who attended in 2022 to share their experience in the group, and how they felt it helped them. Here is what some of them had to say:
Our support group was a source of both informational and emotional support for me. As a faculty in my first-year as an Assistant Professor with two children under two, it was a busy and at times quite stressful year. I was grateful to have a space to talk through challenging aspects of the job, such as how to work with disruptive students in the classroom, how to establish a mutually supportive relationship with PhD students, and how to deal with the disappointment of rejection. Doing this together with a cohort of other faculty in the field of human-computer interaction provided a shared identity, vocabulary, and set of experiences. It also helped us establish a willingness to be vulnerable in a way that I am still not in front of the colleagues in my own department. Our biweekly call was a source of comfort for me at times when I felt overwhelmed.
Starting a new faculty position during a global pandemic was daunting. Everyone in our group was faced with challenges that the vast majority of our colleagues could not relate to (having established their labs and careers in the years prior). Having a distributed support group to talk about the unique struggles that impact our cohort was a major lifeline when stress was running high. Led by Haoqi, we had a place to talk about things going on in our lives (e.g., how to deal with students, department politics, work-life balance) with others uniquely qualified to understand. This was extremely helpful for my personal wellbeing and I am very grateful to have been able to participate.
Our support group gave me community when I needed it the most. It was that perfect mix of "stranger on a train" and "others walking in your shoes" that allowed me to share and open up in ways I couldn't do elsewhere. Our support group was disconnected from the politics and systems of my university, but the members of the group were also facing many of the same challenges as I. I needed to know that I wasn't alone in not just the situations and stresses of the job, but in how I reacted and felt about them. This wasn't an accident, but I feel one of the clear goals Haoqi had in forming this support group. Haoqi helped create an open and minimally structured space to enable this. He has an empathic ear, oftentimes able to "hear" between the lines and bring out the larger issue that was being alluded to.
It was great to hear about how others approach their teaching and to share methods and tactics to support our students best. The empathic atmosphere in the group helped me to open up and to talk about my own struggles as well. I was able to raise the problems I face and received valuable feedback to solve them. I am also very grateful for the kind exchange of teaching materials which already happened only some months after our first online encounters. All in all, it was a real pleasure to meet such nice and inspiring people with heart and soul for research and teaching. Many thanks for so openly sharing your experiences and all the inspiration! You gave me hope to carry on.
This support group was an enriching and safe space for me to reflect on my role as an assistant professor. A few weeks before the group began, I faced several changes and challenges in my professional and personal life. I was looking forward to teaching, researching, and serving. However, I never expected how complex and uncertain these jobs could be. I was frustrated with my daily progress and felt alone navigating this new career. For these reasons, this support group became a great source of advice, emotional support, and wisdom. It helped me realize that I was not alone and that others have also faced many of my challenges. This group gave me hope and confidence that I could do it, that I could be a successful professor.

I am interested. Am I eligible to join?

The group is open to junior faculty (and soon-to-be junior faculty) at any academic institution anywhere in the world. As space is very limited, I ask only that you express interest in joining with the intention of coming to all the meetings.

While my goal is to be accomodative and inclusive, this group will only support a small number of interested faculty (up to 8-12 max) and will only accept at most one faculty per institution.

Why only one faculty per institution?

I hope to support a diversity of faculty across institutions, which can also help us see outside of our own silos. That’s simply my preference. Moreoever, I am wary that sharing may be challenged by having a colleague at your home institution at the meeting with whom you may not want to share as openly. It’s not clear to me if this is a valid concern, but it’s something I am worried about, so I decided to restrict to one faculty per institution for now.

Will you be teaching particular techniques for dealing with <insert problem that junior faculty often face> during the meetings?

While group members may offer practical advice for solving one another’s problems, there is no “curriculm” or the goal of “teaching” anything (certainly, not from me). First and foremost, these meetings will be structured as opportunities to encounter: meetings in which we come to know one another and ourselves more fully. Our focus will be on listening to and relating to one another — which also helps us hear ourselves.

Is it okay to talk about <burnout / trouble with a student or a colleague or with the administration / failures and setbacks / family issues / frustrations of all kinds>?

Absolutely, as long as that’s what you’d like to share. I ask that you share only what you feel comfortable sharing. In cases where sharing the names of certain individuals may be harmful, I ask that you consider leaving out the name, or using a pseudonym in place. That said, what you share, and what you bring into the meetings, is up to you. There is no agenda.

If there is no agenda, how will the meetings run?

We will sit in silence until someone speaks. And they will take us where they take us. We will listen, share what we hear, and respond as we do. We will share stories of our own, and so on, for the duration of the session. There may be silences in between.

Since this will be new to us, we may also spend a little time each session reflecting on our group process, and discussing how it is working out for us.

Are there any principles for how to be in such a meeting?

We will arrive as we are. Personally, I find the three conditions that Carl Rogers lays out to be helpful: empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard. I welcome you to use our sessions as an opportunity to practice these ways of being.

Are there any risks in joining the group?

I am really not sure, but I can tell you what would worry me if they were to happen:

People preying on one another, or reacting in ways that cause others in the group significant undue distress.

Someone using their rank (or future rank) in an inappropriate way, in response to something they heard in the group.

People gossiping about, or sharing outside the group, something that was shared with the group in confidence. At all, and especially if in ways that could be damaging to a group member.

What can/will be done to keep the group safe from these risks?

While there is no way to eliminate all risks, here is what we might do to mitigate them:

Try not to spread rumors or lies.

Make an effort to keep everything you hear in the group confidential.

Limit the group membership to only those who join at the beginning. Should anyone like to join midway, we will first get permission (an “okay”) from all group members.

Face one another in frankness, in truth.

Keeping out names if/when we can.

Honor the goal of building a supportive and safe community within the group, and working to create that culture within the group.

Who are you, and why are you doing this?

My name is Haoqi (sounds like “How-chee”) and I am an associate professor at Northwestern University in Computer Science and Design. I do a lot of work with students in independent research, and use that as a vehicle for their coming to know themselves more fully while learning to self-direct. You can learn more about what I do by watching the DTR documentary or reading the DTR annual letter.

I am doing this because I am often reminded of how difficult it is for junior faculty to be junior faculty. The job is simply overwhelming. The junior faculty I meet are loving mentors. They often put their students before themselves, and lose sleep to help a student on a paper in between parenting duties or while on vacation. Yet they themselves don’t always receive the support that they need, and are in a race to produce scholarly outputs to get tenure. And while some junior faculty are lucky to find supportive colleagues along the way, it’s generally difficult for junior faculty to share their difficulties in an open way, especially with senior colleagues at their school who might be responsible for their promotion. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the long-term sustainability of having good, dedicated faculty mentors will require us to do a better job of sustaining and advancing the wellbeing of our junior faculty. Running this support group is one way in which I’d like to contribute to that.

What is your experience in facilitating such a group?

I facilitated a junior faculty support group in fall 2022. Outside of that, my closest facilitating experience is in creating space for my students and I to share and hear one another through weekly “circle time” sessions. I have attended many encounter groups myself, as a participant. There I gained experience in listening intently, and sharing honestly.

I am also not a therapist or counselor, and have no formal training of any kind in therapy or counseling. If you are looking for a therapist or counselor, I suggest you seek out certified professionals who can help in those capacities.

What will you do as facilitator?

Different people will have different facilitating styles. Some will be more detached, while others will share their own struggles and feel “along” with members of the group. Chances are that I will show up more like the latter. However I show up, my main focus will be on keeping a space for sharing, listening, and reflection.

You said this is a support group for junior faculty, yet you are tenured….

Yes, that’s right — I received tenure in 2019. While I like to think of myself as junior faculty, I am no longer. My role in the group will largely be facilitative — to faciliate conversation amongst the junior faculty present. I will, of course, also share my own experiences and respond to yours as appropriate. But there is no changing the fact that I am tenured.

Does it cost anything to join the group?

The group is free to join and to attend. You will need a zoom account.