Undergraduate Faculty Development Grant Success: Charter Your Own Path as an Early Career Researcher with the NCFDD

By Gurjot Kaur posted 07-16-2020 13:31


It gives me immense pleasure to write this blog about my SOT-funded Undergraduate Faculty Development Grant at the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) last year.

I am currently working as an Associate Professor in the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Shoolini University at Solan, India. The university is nestled in Himalayan foothills and houses many departments, including ours. In 2019, I transitioned directly from my highly research-intensive postdoctoral fellowship in Germany to my current position. Although I have been working with undergraduates and postgraduates on and off, I was perfectly sure that I would be able to handle my new role. In reality, I felt that my skills, as a teaching faculty, were quite limited. My main concern has been the inability to explain some of the complicated ideas to undergraduates. I realized that I may be explaining some things in a more research-oriented manner and thus may be incomprehensible to all the students in my class. This led to the realization that I would need some training of my own to handle this new role. I also would need some time management training to cope with research and teaching side by side. Fortunately, my application for the SOT-funded Undergraduate Faculty Development Grant was approved, and I took advantage of NCFDD resources online to help me learn techniques, tips, and more on how to manage my new role.

Kaur.pngDuring my online training, I appreciated many webinars and short courses offered by NCFDD. I realized that I would need training in more areas than the ones I had identified at the beginning. Their core curriculum provided various skills that an early career scientist like me can easily miss. One of my favorites was the art of saying “no.” How many young faculty members like me are actually able to prioritize what matters at this juncture in our careers? It needs both planning and awareness about what is needed in the “right now.” Two other webinars taught me the importance of engaging in healthy conflict and how to manage my daily stress. There was a very interesting webinar on “Cultivating Your Network of Mentors, Sponsors and Collaborators.” It discussed the importance of having a network of mentors and how we could possibly divide our needs into different networks rather than relying on one mentor for everything. All throughout my education, I have been very conscious about the need for a good network, and this webinar added to my know-how. I do have some self-limiting beliefs, and it was a good exercise to identify them and work on the shortcomings. Another webinar, “Overcoming Academic Perfectionism,” discussed strategies and tips on how to think of manuscript publication as a process and thus maintaining patience.

In the guest webinars, a webinar titled “5 Secrets to a Super-Productive Semester” mentioned main semester challenges (i.e., uneven accountability structures, varied and time-consuming commitments, work-crastination, lack of clarity about how long research and writing tasks actually take, institutional cultures where people work all the time, fantasy: large uninterrupted blocks of time). I have decided to implement this in the coming semester. The sooner I learn this, the better. I agree that a structure will increase my productivity. The webinar presenter asked us to create a strategic plan, experiment with empirically documented best practices, join a supportive community (I am part of a GWIS community), create accountability for what you want, and get dedicated mentors.

The most helpful thing about these webinars was the time spent practicing the strategies. My biggest worry has been time management so that teaching and research get enough time. Here the “14-Day Writing Challenge” and “Teaching in No Time” have been highly effective. I have already implemented writing for at least 30 minutes in the mornings and a Sunday meeting to organize my weekly loads. The “Teaching in No Time” course also helped me identify how to reach out to my undergraduate students, simplify concepts, itemize my teaching, and achieve all my teaching goals. This course really helped me learn the basics of planning and executing a stress-free course, from identifying weekly course topics to creating lesson plans for the first two weeks and developing course assignments. We practiced choosing key course components and designing the course to increase teaching effectiveness while also reducing preparation and grading time. I learned a few tricks on lecture preparations. One of my favorites was the three key points rule (i.e., to identify the three most important points I want to teach students in the class and summarize, also by finishing with these three points). My students have loved this rule and are more receptive. They don’t feel lost anymore.

Although it is very difficult for me to mention each tip and trick I learned through my one-year Undergraduate Faculty Development Grant, I would highly recommend to each early career researcher/faculty that they apply for this faculty development and use it to their full advantage. I can confirm that this development program has had a very positive effect on my career, my stress levels, and my teaching abilities. It has increased my efficiency as both a teacher and a researcher.

Such a training at this point in your career can help you immensely as it did for me.

Thanks, SOT.

The Undergraduate Faculty Development Grant is administered by FUTURE. The next deadline is March 26, 2021.