Preparing for the Professoriate: The PFF Program at Arizona State University

Noel J. Stowe, November 2004

The Preparing Future Faculty program (PFF) prepares doctoral students for a smooth transition into their first positions in the professoriate. Retaining this primary objective, the PFF program in history constructs a framework of discussion and activities that firmly links academic preparation to professional practice. PFF programs introduce doctoral students to the broad landscape of higher education and the variety of faculty roles within that setting.

Arizona State University's history doctoral students have participated in the Graduate Division's PFF program since 1996. With the support of a grant from the American Association of Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools (which was made available through the AHA), the history department at ASU created a discipline-based PFF program for its students. Drawing on the considerable precedents of the Graduate Division's PFF work and its own well-established TA training program, the department added to the PFF framework features specific to historians.

The Graduate Division's PFF program consists of a set of activities spread over two years. These activities, which include workshops and presentations, involve faculty and professional staff from various departments or university support centers such as the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence. They address such issues as the nature and structure of higher education, the expanding role of interdisciplinary research, constructing a career portfolio, strategies for conducting effective job searches, and transitioning from graduate student to assistant professor. In addition, nearby universities and colleges who were partners in this work host visits to their campuses.

Over the past six years, the ASU history department has expanded its training of ABDs for independent teaching to include a structured TA training program. Because the department does not employ traditional discussion sessions, ABD students teach their own classes. To prepare them we have contextualized teaching within the framework of doctoral preparation and mandate two courses and several workshops for those who intend to teach.

We wanted PFF and TA preparation to dovetail. We decided that the PFF experience should occur at the beginning of a doctoral student's work, whereas the teaching classes would remain in the middle of the program, near the time the student was to begin classroom teaching. Thus, PFF introduces students to issues in the academy that will relate to their academic preparation and enable them to bring new questions into their readings colloquia and research seminars. Although these PFF discussions include teaching, they do not attempt to prepare students for immediate teaching assignments.

The PFF project, since its inception some years ago with the Council of Graduate Schools and the American Association of Colleges and Universities, has required departments to include partner faculty from academic programs at nearby institutions. Based in the concept of broad ownership of the doctoral training, partner participation presumes that faculty from partner schools broaden the perspective of doctoral preparation and introduce a pool of potential mentors into the student's life. Partner faculty become particularly helpful in communicating the opportunities afforded by the range of institutions within academe, the different career paths open for faculty, and the various roles faculty have within the rich variety of institutional frameworks. At ASU, we built on Graduate Division relationships with faculties in several nearby institutions: ASU Polytechnic, the ASU West Campus, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix College, Scottsdale Community College, and Chandler Gilbert Community College. PFF enables us to forge new professional relationships with the historians on these faculties and incorporate them into preparing of doctoral students. We have 15 faculty partners; all hold doctoral degrees. Our doctoral students participate in discussions not only with us but also with partner faculty who, in contrast to the ASU doctoral program of over 40 faculty, come from departments numbering from one to eight faculty. The partners represent a better sampling of actual departments of history nationwide than does our own department.

We revise our PFF work each year, because we realize that PFF requires a systematic refocusing. We cannot simply create templates for workshops or invited speakers and replicate those annually. We also take advantage of what is going on in the department, such as visiting speakers or nearby conferences. Each of these opportunities must bring doctoral students into the academic and professional agendas of the discipline. PFF students particularly ask visiting speakers to broaden their discussions of research to discuss their career trajectory or the relationship between their research and teaching, or their research and their professional service and civic engagement.

We have created four semesters of PFF activities that carry credit within the doctoral program. Beginning with orientation week, when the new doctoral class arrives, we introduce students to PFF. Each subsequent semester provides different perspectives and is not repetitive, though students may repeat some activities if they wish, e.g., sessions on interviewing and mock interviews, on presenting papers, or on grant writing.

In the opening semester, students meet the partner faculty, who introduce their campuses, describe their departments, discuss how history is positioned in the work of the campus, and talk about opportunities for the students to participate in work on the partner campuses. Career tracks and career opportunities are also explored in this discussion, and we introduce the idea of differing faculty roles and responsibilities on each of the campuses. We devote a session to discussing the landscape of higher education, drawing in part from the Chronicle of Higher Education's late summer Almanac on higher education, Change magazine, the web site of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and books describing the higher education community. We talk about the dimensions of higher education, specifically the different types of campuses and their enrollments. We point out, for example, that nationwide more than half of all undergraduate numbers of students enroll in community colleges rather than in four-year liberal arts colleges or research-intensive universities. We talk about the Carnegie classifications and how these are helpful in understanding differences among institutions. We discuss implications for placement and preparation for faculty positions in these various institutions and possible career trajectories. Because many of these students will begin to attend professional disciplinary meetings during their first semester, we talk about how to develop opportunities for conversations with a range of historians from these different institutions. At the same time we open what will be an ongoing conversation about what constitutes a good c.v., distribute a template, and ask them to prepare their own. This work helps begin to differentiate discussions about the role of research and scholarship as compared to teaching and service and community outreach. Students reported that this discussion and preparation proved invaluable: "Building a good c.v. is one of the most important steps in preparing for a job search. One of the key parts of the PFF program was learning how to compile a professional and concise c.v."

We then begin to visit the partner institutions and talk with the faculty, the department chair, and the college dean. The students develop a set of questions to pose about topics of importance to them and send these in advance. These discussions give a sense of the perspectives of administrators and faculty and begin to suggest what different questions one might want to ask of faculty members, a chair, and the dean in a job interview. Doctoral students enthusiastically responded to these visits: "Visiting schools and seeing other professors in their own element and the facilities they have to work with was a great way to start thinking about the places I might want to work after graduation. . . . I got a ‘real' look at what being a faculty member at a specific institution entails." Because some of the advanced students in the program are actively seeking positions, we set up mock interview sessions and research presentations; first-year students are invited to participate and begin to think about how to prepare over the next several semesters.

In the second semester we bring the group into the department's hiring process, sharing c.v.'s of applicants visiting campus and inviting the students to attend the interview sessions and to participate in hosting the candidates. If we are able to do so, we include a doctoral student on the department's search committee. We cooperate in the second semester with the TA training program to invite someone to campus to talk about teaching issues and lead a workshop on teaching practices. For example, Patrick Manning (Northeastern Univ.), who is currently vice president of the AHA's Teaching Division, devoted an afternoon to presenting world history as a field of study, encouraging students to consider the wide range of research topics that fall within its rubric. The next day he led the students through a workshop on how to conceptualize, prepare, and teach a world history course.

At the beginning of the second year, we invite students to consider a project or teaching experience at one of the partner institutions. These experiences can range from discussions about their research and good research practices to developing a teaching internship. The latter might include helping tutor students in preparing research papers, helping revise a course, teaching a segment of a course, and so on. We schedule mini workshops on grant writing, publishing, research design, working in archives, professional service, and public history work with local museums or preservation offices. By the end of the four semesters, we expect the student to have assembled a portfolio of reflective pieces about their work and about roles of faculty in academe and to present this for a certificate of completion of the PFF work.

The department offers PFF students other opportunities that contribute to the project's goals. Some PFF students assist with advising our more than 700 majors as part of their teaching assistant assignment. This work introduces them to the questions and concerns of our undergraduates in planning their programs of study and pursuing an undergraduate degree in history. Through this activity they gain insights into working with undergraduates and learn about faculty roles in advising. By their second year, doctoral students also have opportunities to serve on departmental committees, including search committees, the quality of instruction committee, and a committee to advise the director of graduate study. Ad hoc opportunities also exist. For instance, the department's planning group for the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate includes doctoral students.

PFF seamlessly links academic aspects of doctoral preparation with professional concerns. It ensures that our doctoral graduates understand a variety of faculty roles within the professoriate. The program supports them developmentally, broadening conceptions about academe and the opportunities open to them through various career paths.

— Noel Stowe chairs the history department at Arizona State University. He is also a member of the AHA's Task Force on Public History.