Empower yourself with a creative mindset and start-up skills to adapt in a new college, says Nadia Al-Banna.
Congratulations on your faculty position at a newly established college! You think you know what the job entails: teaching, research, and some administrative service. As you read job advice, you wonder why so many pieces include the phrase “survival tips.” “Surviving” was your most-commonly-used word during your PhD and postdoc. Surely, there‘s no more surviving to be had in a brand new college?
My thoughts exactly, as I joined the College of Medicine of Qatar University as an assistant professor in 2015. At that time, about 10 faculty members came from all over the world to teach 83 students of diverse backgrounds. Gradually, I learnt that my career progress is based on much more than teaching, research and administrative service — it’s also reliant on how well I adapted to the ever-changing work environment of my college, which now includes about 30 faculty members and 220 students.
As my college developed and grew, so too did my responsibilities. My career goals felt like constantly moving targets. The only way to survive was to develop a creative mindset and a positive-yet-realistic outlook.
If I were to meet my former self (or any faculty preparing to join a new college), I would advise them to be prepared with five power skills:
Be aware that any new college is a start-up, with the same goals and environment as commercial start-up projects. Every single person is responsible for its success. So, the pressure is on! You will need to go beyond your job description, and reach out to help anyone or anything — an angry student, a confused colleague, or a dysfunctional printer. Be aware of the start-up risks — any daily issue can compromise the success of your workplace, whether financial, personal, operational or something else entirely.
While a new college is still only starting out, it will require the same operations as a mature, well-established one, but there are no policies, administrators or systems in place. Be ready to invent and implement these processes — create them, train administrators to systematize them and lead the way to make them happen. You will feel good about inventing something, even if it has nothing to do with research. I personally never knew I had any entrepreneurial skills, but I learnt there is a potential entrepreneur in all of us.
Because there are fewer people in a new college, you will find yourself playing different roles. Sometimes you will be a spokesperson and liaison, as you greet visitors or prospective students, represent the college in community events, or discuss the development of a new policy. You may also use your negotiation skills, or search for collaborators or resources. Also, prepare yourself to manage change, as you deal with unforeseen disturbances or conflicts, whether it be a simple water leak during class or a larger change in your work environment.
Manage your energy
You will have to work smarter-not-harder in a changing work environment. As you plan milestones for your career progression, make sure you manage your energy and stay balanced in body, mind, emotions and spirit. Strive to find your own point of equilibrium, and always remember to pace yourself for a marathon, not a sprint!
Manage your “monkeys”
Don’t be surprised if every conversation at your workplace adds a task to your to-do list. Instead of getting overwhelmed, ask yourself “Who’s got the monkey?” — visualize your tasks as monkeys sitting on your shoulder, and ask “who does this task really belong to?” If you delegate some tasks (and ensure they get done effectively), you’d save time and focus on what matters. First, though, make sure you train staff effectively — there’s no point passing a monkey to someone else if they don’t know what to do with it.
One thing is certain: life within a start-up college is never boring. It demands personal endeavor and the development of your own survival tips. These are never spelled out earlier, so you’ll have to be mentally prepared and learn while on the job. Joining as faculty member in a new college means you will be not only a teacher and researcher, but also an entrepreneur, spokesperson, team-player, manager, problem-solver, creative mind and much more… So, may your power skills be with you.
Nadia A. Al-Banna is a Research Assistant Professor, with specialty in Microbiology & Immunology, and strong interest in Medical Education & Academic Support. She is also Director of Year One program, and Acting Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, at the College of Medicine, QU Health Cluster, Qatar University, Qatar.