Successful Academic - Dissertation Coaching

Inside this issue: A new female professor seeks advice for dealing with male students.

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“Everything I learn about teaching I learn from bad students.”
-- John Holt, Educator and proponent of school reform


MentorNet is a nonprofit e-mentoring network helps women and other under- represented groups in engineering, science, and mathematics. On of their services is a One-on-One Mentoring Program, pairing women undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs and untenured faculty with mentors for email-based mentoring relationships.


Advice to New Faculty Members, by Robert Boice, is the result of his study of struggling junior faculty with successful junior faculty he calls “quick starters.” He covers in details the habits and practices of new professors who are able to teach well, get their own research and writing done, and survive the stresses of tenure-track academia.

Buy this book at

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Higher Stress Levels

Research shows that female faculty feel more stressed and overwhelmed than their male colleagues. For example, a survey by the University of California at Los Angeles found that a significantly greater proportion of women feel stressed by variety of factors; ranging from teaching load and the promotion/tenure review process, to a lack of personal time.

Read more details about the UCLA findings at my academic coach blog.

A Woman Among Men

Question from a Reader:

I am a young academic in an electrical and computer engineering department, which has 90% male undergraduate students. I am the only female engineering professor in the department. Any tips or advice on surviving when so outnumbered? Luckily the department is very supportive, but it is taking a while for the students to get used to a female academic.

The Academic Coach’s Answer:

First of all, congratulations. You must be very good at what you do to have been hired and accepted by your male colleagues. How wonderful, also, that you are available as a mentor to the 10% of your students who are female. We need more “pioneers” like you.

As for your male students, I’m guessing that the reason you think they’re not “used to a female academic” is via signs of disrespect. Perhaps they seem to challenge your statements more than is appropriate. Perhaps they arrive late, talk during your lectures, or challenge your statements in inappropriate ways.

In Advice to New Faculty Members Robert Boice calls these types of small rude behaviors “classroom incivilities” and I agree with him that it is essential for new teachers to find ways to moderate and end such behaviors. Even a few rude students can completely derail the class atmosphere and demoralize professors.

First of all, do not respond in kind to rudeness. Answering sarcastic remarks with more sarcasm almost always backfires. Professors must find a way to remain calm, warm, and respectful even when their students are disruptive. The topic of classroom incivilities is so important that I will soon address it thoroughly in a newsletter. In the meantime, I highly recommend Boice’s book.

Many junior academics find their role surprisingly lonely compared to the camaraderie of graduate school. Being a minority, because of race, ethnicity, or gender, compounds isolation. For a start, I recommend trying to build a support network of other women faculty in the sciences and other fields that have traditionally been dominated by men. Contact other departments and ask whether there are new women hires. Then take the first step and ask the women out to coffee or lunch.

Second, there is a great organization, MentorNet, which provides female academics in the sciences, math, and engineering with senior academic mentors who are women. I would suggest enrolling in their mentoring program so that you could develop a one-on-one relationship with a senior female engineering professor from another institution. It would be helpful, I’m sure, to have the advice and empathy of someone who has dealt with the challenges you are facing.

Good luck, and keep me posted about how it goes.

Mary McKinney, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Academic Coach

Bonus Book:

Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Woman’s Guide to Surviving in the Academic World by Paula Caplan, is a handbook of advice for female faculty. One of the interesting chapters concerns the "myths" that female academics face.