Pathway to Professorship: Office of Engagement and Faculty Development helps pave the way

Alynna Lyon, professor

Faculty are eager to reach their first career milestone – promotion to associate professor and often tenure – however, the pathway to full professor for some faculty presents a different kind of challenge and a critically important career opportunity.  The Office of Engagement and Faculty Development works with associate professors to help them think about how to build a compelling case and get advice from senior colleagues and peers about how to navigate their own pathway to full professor.

The Pathway to Professorship program supports faculty members through programming, mentorship, and strategies for building a case for full professorship. Previously chaired by Michele Dillon, current interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, the program guides participants over a series of three workshops. Dillon designed the program while working as a faculty fellow for the Writing Academy and as a Scholarly Coach for the Research and Engagement Academy. During this time, through conversations with other faculty, she kept hearing associate professors express uncertainty about the promotion process to full professor. 

“I was aware of data from both within UNH and from across the United States that showed a large number of tenured associate professors who, for various reasons, found themselves in circumstances where their scholarship and research productivity had lost some of its earlier momentum,” Dillon says. “One consequence of this was that some weren’t thinking proactively about promotion. In consultation with Julie Williams and Eleanor Abrams, we decided to start a program what would seek to help associate professors in this situation.”

The emphasis of the program is to help faculty to set realistic goals – with regard to research productivity, teaching, engagement and service – that assures they have strong, evidence-based cases for submission and for promotion; and for them to do so in a timeframe that realistically fits their particular situation, Dillon says.

Melissa Wells, a professor of social work, says she had amazing mentorship along the path to full professor. Wells earned her Ph.D. at UNH in 2003 and joined the faculty as an assistant professor in January 2004, before reaching associate professor in 2010. Her research has focused on examining child maltreatment outcomes and other components of adolescent

Melissa Wells
Melissa Wells

victimization within the family, as well as online victimization and harassment among high-risk adolescents.

Her first introduction to the Office of Engagement and Faculty Development was through her participation in the Research and Engagement Academy, where she received coaching on a grant writing and submitting proposals for external funding. But it was the Pathway to Professorship program she attended in 2016, that convinced her the rank of full professor was a logical and attainable next career step.

“To me it was, ‘What is the barrier to becoming a full-time professor?” Wells says. “The program helps you learn to become strategic about how you spend your time, how to develop your professional identity, what you should say yes to and what you need to do to move ahead.”

Alynna Lyon, professor of political science and a faculty fellow for the office’s upcoming Writing Academy, credits Pathway to Professorship for illuminating the completeness of her body of work—including research in process that was robust enough to comprise the book, US Politics and the United Nations: A Tale of Dysfunctional Dynamics, published in 2016.

Lyon, who participated in Pathway in 2014, says the insights she received through the program illuminated how her research, service, and teaching experience in totality fulfilled the requirements for full professor. Furthermore, the practical, strategic, and inspirational advice participants received throughout the program boosted her confidence along the way.

“One of the first things that Pathway did for me was open up the door for possibility.  It showed me that there is a path for you to do this,” Lyon says. “Being a full professor wasn’t my end goal – I wanted to write a book and work on different things.  Pathway showed me the work I was already doing might end up being a compelling case for full professor.”

Professors Meghan Howey, professor of anthropology and Hayes Professor of the Humanities; and Jill McGaughy, professor of psychology, both knew they wanted to achieve the rank of professor in their careers and credited Pathway to Professorship for giving them the structure they needed to make their cases.

Howey, whose research focuses on the contemporary environmental crises we face today—and how connected humans are to the destructive footprint of climatic and economical change – says she was fortunate to have received funding early in her

Professor Meghan Howey
Meghan Howey

career, which solidified her research case. Howey joined UNH in 2007, has served as chair of the anthology department since 2014 and was promoted to full professor in 2018.

After receiving an email invitation to Pathway to Professorship, she took advantage of the opportunity and looked forward to “joining a strong cohort.” Howey says the program gave her the momentum to push forward, and ultimately helped her shape the narrative she used to describe her research in her case for full professor.

“A lot of women fall into the associate gap, and that was not going to have that happen to me,” she says. “Not because I am better than anyone else, but because we need more women in these positions.”

McGaughy, who is a faculty fellow for the office’s Research Engagement Academy, joined the UNH faculty in 2004, rose to associate professor in 2010, before achieving the rank of full professor in 2018. Her research has focused on the neuroscience of cognitive control, specifically on how the prefrontal cortex filters distractions and how early life insults such as malnutrition and fetal alcohol syndrome affect behavior later in life. While the career pathway to associate professor is well defined, the pathway to full professor is more ambiguous, which is why gaining a deeper understanding of the components for promotion is critical, McGaughy says.

“We are all nervous about getting tenure from the assistant to associate level. I don’t ever remember anyone talking to me about the next step. For me, Pathway to Professorship gave me a boost of confidence. One of the biggest take-home lessons for me is that you can’t oversell your case—knowing how to present your case to a wide audience is one of the things (Pathway to Professorship) helps with, and I hope to help get that across to other faculty.”

Associate professors are invited to join Pathway to Professorship, by the Office of Engagement and Faculty Development, each summer prior to the fall workshop series. For more information on this program and others offered by the Office of Engagement and Faculty Development, please bookmark upcoming program dates here.

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