Conversations with scholar-mentors, Part 2

By Kathleen T. Heinrich | 04/30/2015

Second of three installments focuses on those in administrative positions.

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As senior scholars retire, the faculty groups they leave behind are less than ready to meet scholarly expectations for promotion and tenure. In consulting with schools of nursing on such matters, I saw a bright spot. Even with a growing shortage of faculty scholars, there were at least one or two senior scholars in every school I visited who bridge this gap by scholar-mentoring their colleagues. Curious to learn more, my informal study of scholar-mentoring began with conversations with scholar-mentors who hold faculty positions, the first installment of this three-part series.
 
This second installment highlights conversations I had with scholar-mentors who hold administrative positions. I’ve identified them as scholar-leaders. Why single out scholar-leaders from other scholar-mentors? Ten years of helping leaders increase scholarly productivity of the faculty groups they serve have left me with the impression that scholar-leaders bring a special sensitivity and sensibility to the process. To discover why, I initiated phone conversations with five of them.
 
Heinrich_Kathleen_ID_embed_SFW2Who are these scholar-leaders?
The five scholar-leaders I spoke with—all of them women—share the belief that, if you expect faculty members to actively participate in scholarship, you need to be a scholar in your own right. As published authors and grant-funded researchers, credibility comes with their roles as scholar-leaders. As one observed, “I’m not just telling them what to do; I’m doing scholarship, too.”
 
This cadre of high-level and mid-level administrators included a vice-president of research, an associate dean of a college of nursing and allied health professions, a full professor returning to faculty status after a three-year stint as department head, a department head two years into that role, and a recently retired coordinator of an undergraduate program. Although none had formal training as a scholar-mentor, all rated their passion for scholar-mentoring a 10 on a 10-point scale. For them, scholar-mentoring means helping scholars create new knowledge, a definition that includes everything from nurturing ongoing relationships with faculty colleague-mentees to producing podcasts.
 
The way these scholar-leaders live out their positions has expanded the scope and scale of their scholar-mentoring roles from furthering individual agendas to advancing institutional missions. As one put it: “Before becoming a department head, I was a scholar-mentor. Now, as a scholar-leader, I appreciate the bigger picture—a university-wide picture of scholarship in terms of resources and where it fits with departmental goals.”
 
It turns out that passion of scholar-leaders correlates directly with the freedom they have to scholar-mentor as they see fit. Those given latitude to define whom, when, and how to scholar-mentor—the vice president and the associate dean—rated their passion a 10 on a 10-point scale. On the other hand, scholar-leaders officially responsible for preparing faculty members for retention, promotion, and tenure—the two department heads and the retired undergraduate program coordinator—rated their passion for scholar-leadership somewhere between 7 and 9.
 
Indeed, the scholar-leader who performs the scholar-mentor role voluntarily may find that he or she has more passion for the task than a person assigned to the job. As one pointed out, there’s a big difference between scholar-mentoring “someone who wants to work with me” and a situation where “I have to deal with resource and time issues and naysayers [because] I’m pulling along a group that doesn’t want to do this and has to.”
 
What do they do?
These scholar-leaders are idealists who envision a future in which, as one observed, “Faculty do scholarship because they love it, not because they have to.” And they are cold-eyed realists about what it takes for nursing faculty to become scholars. As one commented: “It’s never as easy as it looks. We get our articles rejected, we throw our lives into grant applications that get rejected, and students tell us we’re awful. Why would anyone want this job? Academia’s tough!”
 
Her use of the word “we” is meaningful. For scholar-leaders, there is no us and them when it comes to meeting scholarly expectations. This sense of we-ness may explain their protégé-centered perspective. As one recalled, “I embraced [faculty members] in my own program of research or helped them develop their own, always with an eye toward showcasing their expertise and taking advantage of where they are and where they want to move forward to.”
 
Using their positional power, scholar-leaders procure resources to support faculty development within and beyond nursing. For mid-level leaders, such as department heads, scholarly faculty development is a prominent and pivotal aspect of their role that is always front and center. It involves making university standards for promotion and tenure very clear to nursing faculty and helping them figure out how to get it done. A high-level leader, on the other hand, such as the vice-president, increases research capability and talent within the university by opening doors for faculty that they cannot open for themselves. As this VP noted, “I can give them money to move their agendas forward.”
 
As leadership roles evolve over time, scholar-mentoring takes different forms. The associate dean, as a department head, engaged in a three-year consultation with me that increased her faculty group’s scholarly productivity, promotion and tenure success, and recruitment and retention rates. In her current role, she supports and gives department heads the resources they need to promote scholarly faculty development. So too, the former department head found that full professorship opens new advocacy possibilities. “I’m on the administrative leadership team and can say things that young faculty members can’t say because it sounds like sour grapes,” she noted. “That’s what we’re going to have to do if we want good scholars to stay in academia.”
 
All respondents agreed that scholar-leadership requires empathy. “You have to have empathy to be someone others see as a scholar-leader,” said one. Another compared scholar-leaders to servant-leaders who see their role as helping faculty members reach their potential. This stands in stark contrast to narcissistic administrators with an “it’s all about me, me, me” attitude.
 
Instead they stress, as one put it, the importance of being “approachable, available, and accessible,” because faculty members who ask for scholar-mentoring are “putting themselves out there and are in a vulnerable position.” One scholar-leader found it “heart-breaking” to think about faculty members who, uncertain about their ability to publish and unsure whether they want to or can do this, approach someone in a position of authority for help and get turned down. “What’s the likelihood that they’re going to approach somebody again?” she asked.
 
What are the challenges?
Below, framed as questions, are three challenges encountered by scholar-leaders.
 
1. How can I grow as a scholar-mentor? One spoke for all when she said, “I don’t think the profession grows unless we grow each other,” and each identified a personal self-growth challenge. The vice-president is seeking to form scholar-mentoring relationships with select faculty members that go beyond funding their research programs. The associate dean wants to create opportunities within her college for interdisciplinary scholarly development programs, grant writing, and publishing. The department head is searching for ways to motivate “faculty members who don’t share a passion for scholarship.” Among them, she includes “old-school faculty members” who, although they have a lot of experience and knowledge, resist scholarly involvement; DNPs who graduate from programs that provide little experience in scholarly writing; and nurse practitioners who have to keep their certification, teach a full load, and need to publish but don’t know how.
 
2. How can I introduce others to the scholar-leader role? Readying the next generation of scholar-leaders involves role modeling and mentoring. The new department head described the associate dean as her mentor model. “I learn so much from her about affirming faculty and making clear what the scholarly expectations are. I try to do that.” The full professor offers an orientation for new department heads in which she adjusts her message to fit two groups: those who give up scholarship to pursue administration and those who maintain their own scholarship. For those in the first group, she sees her role as “sensitizing them to remember the time scholarship takes, talking to faculty about scholarship, and guiding faculty into thinking outside the box about how to get scholarship done.” For those in the second group, she addresses how to maintain their scholarship within administrative positions and survive, “because it is a heavy, heavy role.”
 
3. How can I help change the academic culture? Part of the role of scholar-leaders is, as one described it: “advocating for young faculty even if we didn’t catch a break. We need to keep the perspective that faculty scholars are real people.” One spoke of “scholarly hazing” and her belief that: “We can change the culture in one generation. We need to remember we are this generation.” In contrast to competitive faculty cultures where members are subversive, not open, and go behind people’s backs, she envisions a culture of “support and enjoyment and respect for family, a transparent environment in which faculty members tell each other the truth and have open conflict while still being successful scholars.”
 
Upbeat and clear-eyed
I’ve highlighted conversations I’ve had with five scholar-leaders who are active scholars and passionate scholar-mentors. As scholars and leaders, they walk a middle path between upbeat idealism about the profession’s scholarly future and clear-eyed realism about what it takes to grow faculty members as scholars. In the third and final installment, I will offer suggestions to support scholar-leaders in their efforts to meet the formidable scholar-mentoring challenges they face.
 
 
Consultant, author, and speaker Kathleen T. Heinrich, PhD, RN, FAAN, is principal of K T H Consulting in Guilford, Connecticut, USA. Author of the book A Nurse’s Guide to Presenting and Publishing: Dare to Share, Heinrich conducts scholarly development workshop series for nursing faculty groups.
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