Journal of Nursing Education

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BRIEFS 

Factors Experienced Faculty Should Consider When Changing Academic Arenas

Karen H Morin, DSN, RN

Abstract

During the past 5 years, the issue of socialization and adjustment to the faculty role by persons new to that role has received considerable attention in the nursing literature (Charron, 1985; The Elay Group, 1988; Locaste & Kochanek, 1989; Megel, 1985). Learning a new role certainly requires considerable effort and direction. But what of the individual, seasoned and comfortable with the faculty role, who changes academic settings? Need special considerations be taken to ease the transition from one setting to the other? The aim of this article is to elaborate upon these questions and to provide suggestions directed toward enhancing faculty adjustment to a familiar role in an unfamiliar arena.

Faculty who change academic settings already have a degree of comfort and a level of expertise with regard to the educator role; ie, they are cognizant of the behaviors, and expected behaviors, associated with the role of educator (Biddle, 1979). Admittedly, both degree of comfort and level of expertise will be influenced by longevity in the role. Consequently, the expectation that seasoned faculty not only prepare lectures, become familiar with educational and community resources, attend and contribute to faculty committees, but also continue both research and scholarly productivity is not unrealistic on the part of both self and employer. After all, these activities are certainly not new to the individual. However, notwithstanding the familiarity with the role, the transition from one academic setting to another can be stressful.

The effect that stress exerts upon one's role may contribute to the development of role strain (Biddle, 1979; Hardy & Conway, 1978). Role strain, in turn, can contribute to feelings of insecurity and frustration as well as to decreased participation in academic activities (Biddle, 1979). Certainly, these outcomes are not desired by the new member of faculty nor the employing institution. Even though role strain is subjectively experienced, the identification of contributing factors and of possible measures to decrease environmental and personal stress seems warranted. Factors considered as potential stressors contributing to role strain are presented in three categories: academic, clinical, and professional development. Measures for easing the transition are considered from the perspective of the employing institution and the individual faculty member.

Academic Factors

Unfamiliarity with the organizational structure of the academic environment introduces an element of stress. Formal and informal Unes of communication need to be ascertained, protocols clarified, and institution-specific procedures learned. All are activities that require faculty time. However, because of the familiarity with the educator role, seasoned faculty may neglect to allocate sufficient time and energy to deal with this transient stressor.

Time and energy also are required to learn the curriculum. Ascertaining the rationale for the placement of content can be time-consuming- even frustrating! For seasoned faculty, this experience may come as an unanticipated surprise, particularly given their familiarity with prior curricula. Thus, an activity inherent in the role of the educator can contribute to role strain in a new environment.

Instructional methods, as well as areas of content, may need to be changed. For example, seminars may have been the method of instruction in the previous setting. However, the new institutions curriculum design may necessitate lecturing to large groups of students, thereby requiring significant changes in teaching styles. The seasoned faculty also may be called on to teach unfamiliar content. Both of these activities require the expenditure of time and energy, which could be used for other professional endeavors.

New physical surroundings must be learned. Conducting classes in a variety of buildings may be a significant change from prior experiences and a factor to which little attention is given when the decision is made to…

During the past 5 years, the issue of socialization and adjustment to the faculty role by persons new to that role has received considerable attention in the nursing literature (Charron, 1985; The Elay Group, 1988; Locaste & Kochanek, 1989; Megel, 1985). Learning a new role certainly requires considerable effort and direction. But what of the individual, seasoned and comfortable with the faculty role, who changes academic settings? Need special considerations be taken to ease the transition from one setting to the other? The aim of this article is to elaborate upon these questions and to provide suggestions directed toward enhancing faculty adjustment to a familiar role in an unfamiliar arena.

Faculty who change academic settings already have a degree of comfort and a level of expertise with regard to the educator role; ie, they are cognizant of the behaviors, and expected behaviors, associated with the role of educator (Biddle, 1979). Admittedly, both degree of comfort and level of expertise will be influenced by longevity in the role. Consequently, the expectation that seasoned faculty not only prepare lectures, become familiar with educational and community resources, attend and contribute to faculty committees, but also continue both research and scholarly productivity is not unrealistic on the part of both self and employer. After all, these activities are certainly not new to the individual. However, notwithstanding the familiarity with the role, the transition from one academic setting to another can be stressful.

The effect that stress exerts upon one's role may contribute to the development of role strain (Biddle, 1979; Hardy & Conway, 1978). Role strain, in turn, can contribute to feelings of insecurity and frustration as well as to decreased participation in academic activities (Biddle, 1979). Certainly, these outcomes are not desired by the new member of faculty nor the employing institution. Even though role strain is subjectively experienced, the identification of contributing factors and of possible measures to decrease environmental and personal stress seems warranted. Factors considered as potential stressors contributing to role strain are presented in three categories: academic, clinical, and professional development. Measures for easing the transition are considered from the perspective of the employing institution and the individual faculty member.

Academic Factors

Unfamiliarity with the organizational structure of the academic environment introduces an element of stress. Formal and informal Unes of communication need to be ascertained, protocols clarified, and institution-specific procedures learned. All are activities that require faculty time. However, because of the familiarity with the educator role, seasoned faculty may neglect to allocate sufficient time and energy to deal with this transient stressor.

Time and energy also are required to learn the curriculum. Ascertaining the rationale for the placement of content can be time-consuming- even frustrating! For seasoned faculty, this experience may come as an unanticipated surprise, particularly given their familiarity with prior curricula. Thus, an activity inherent in the role of the educator can contribute to role strain in a new environment.

Instructional methods, as well as areas of content, may need to be changed. For example, seminars may have been the method of instruction in the previous setting. However, the new institutions curriculum design may necessitate lecturing to large groups of students, thereby requiring significant changes in teaching styles. The seasoned faculty also may be called on to teach unfamiliar content. Both of these activities require the expenditure of time and energy, which could be used for other professional endeavors.

New physical surroundings must be learned. Conducting classes in a variety of buildings may be a significant change from prior experiences and a factor to which little attention is given when the decision is made to change environments. The change in classroom and educational support availability can contribute to additional stress, if not considered prior to the change.

Clinical Factors

The change in academic setting may result in a change in clinical setting. Consequently, academic factors that contribute to stress also are applicable within the clinical arena. Once more, the organizational structure and appropriate lines of communication must be determined, perhaps for several facilities. Faculty must meet with specific service individuals whose educational concerns must be ascertained and addressed. As with the academic environment, both time and energy are required to perform these needed activities.

The change in clinical setting also may result in the seasoned faculty's educational expertise being questioned by nursing staff and administrators. The energy required to deal with this questioning may be considerable, particularly if the faculty member had a history of excellent rapport with service individuals at previous clinical facilities. Not only may energy be required to deal with the actual questioning, but additional energy may also be required to deal with the resultant feelings of surprise, frustration, and stress. Again, the result is the expenditure of unplanned time and energy.

Professional Development Factors

The reasons for changing institutions must also be considered. One may seek a change in academic environment consequent to the denial of tenure, the inability or the unwillingness to adjust to a change in administration within one's institution, the need to move for professional growth, or a change in financial status for self or significant other. Even if the change is welcomed or actively pursued, there is a degree of stress associated with it. When the change is the result of an unpleasant event, then the stress associated with the change may be even greater.

If the decision to change academic environments resuite in a change in geographic location, certain professional factors may give rise to additional stress. Community involvement will be influenced by the change. New professional contacts will be made, both within the profession and the community at large. Although vital to one's development, these activities will again require both time and energy to complete.

Faculty interested in pursuing research endeavors and clinical practice will need to identify appropriate facilities. Establishing contacts and scheduling activities may take more time than anticipated. Because of familiarity with previous settings, the additional time required may, again, come as a surprise.

Suggestions for the Transition

How, then, can maintenance and growth within the well-established educator role be fostered while adapting to a new environment? Strategies may be applied by both the employing institution and the individual faculty member to facilitate the transition. The academic institution may choose to conduct a brief but comprehensive faculty orientation in which the organizational structure and the formal and informal lines of communication are presented. A succinct discussion of the curriculum, emphasizing the organizing framework, the rationale for content placement, and student advisement procedures is appropriate.

Providing the new faculty member with pertinent information should accelerate and facilitate the transition from one setting to the other. Orientation conducted prior to the beginning of instructional activities would decrease the time, stress, and energy involved in learning the intricacies of the new setting, thereby freeing the faculty to pursue various scholarly activities beneficial to both faculty and institution.

Time should be allotted for faculty to become adequately acquainted with agency personnel and the clinical environment. A new faculty member may require several days to thoroughly explore the full range of educational opportunities. Additionally, the seasoned faculty may wish to spend time on the unit where student experiences will occur. Such a planned activity would do much to lessen nursing service insecurity with a new faculty member.

Orientation might also include the identification of a resource person. This person could facilitate the faculty member's transition within the institution and introduce the new faculty to the professional organizations within the area, should that need arise. Experienced faculty can recognize which colleagues within their new place of employment are most conversant with, and willing to share, the history, politics, and curriculum of their institution. This resource person can assist the transition from one academic institution to another while contributing to the development of collegial relations.

One approach to faculty orientation could be the development of a computer program designed to access information at various terminals within the academic environment. Implementation of such an orientation program would meet several needs of new faculty: familiarization with the computer technologies available, geographic orientation to the academic environment, introduction to significant personnel throughout the institution.

Faculty also can initiate activities that lessen the stresses of transition. If the change in setting is consequent to denial of tenure, then the individual may have to deal with feelings of anger, frustration, and perhaps a shaken professional image. One should make every effort to acknowledge that these feelings are normal. Discussion with selected colleagues may help place the experience in a more positive perspective.

Faculty changing academic institutions may wish to familiarize themselves with the organizational structure prior to employment. This information can be obtained from the employing institution. This provides the opportunity to leisurely peruse the information and form specific questions that may be answered prior to or on arrival at the new institution. Negotiating to start the new appointment 1 or 2 weeks early is another option.

The type of institution is another factor to consider. For example, learning the intricacies of a college of nursing after teaching in a department of nursing can require more time and energy than a move from one college of nursing to another. Assuming a position in a comparable environment, therefore, becomes a consideration when investigating new academic environments.

The decision to change academic environments is not lightly undertaken. Faculty should recognize that various stresses may impede the transition process, particularly in terms of unforeseen demands on time and energy. This article has presented possible impediments to ease of transition, along with solutions intended to enhance the challenge of undertaking the same role in a different arena.

References

  • Biddle, B. J. (1979). Role theory: Expectations, identities and behaviors. New York: Academic Press.
  • Charron, S.A. (1985). Role issues and the nurse educator. Journal of Nursing Education, 24, 77-79.
  • Elay Group, The (1988). Entering the lunchroom: Surviving in academia. Nursing Outlook, 36, 88-91.
  • Hardy, M.E., & Conway, M.E. (1978). Role theory: Perspectives for health professionals. Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  • Locasto, L. W., & Kochanek, D. (1989). Reality shock in the nurse educator. Journal of Nursing Education, 28, 79-81.
  • Megel, M.E. (1985). New faculty in nursing: Socialization and the role of the mentor. Journal of Nursing Education, 24. 303-306.

10.3928/0148-4834-19910401-12

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