Female faculty member leading lecture

CWRU faculty organize national workshop to demystify the path toward a career in academia

Five years ago, Emily Pentzer was an aspiring faculty member trying to navigate the path toward a career in academia. To help make more sense of the process, she attended a Future Faculty Workshop for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars hoping to have a career as a faculty member.

“In academia sometimes faculty want to put on the air that they are unshakable and have no fears,” said Pentzer, now an assistant professor of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University. “By participating, it felt like being a faculty member was accessible, and helped turn anxiety into excitement.”

Pentzer will team up with LaShanda Korley, the Climo Associate Professor, and Thomas Epps III, of the University of Delaware, to bring the “Future Faculty Workshop: Grooming Diverse Leaders for the Future” to Case Western Reserve July 30–Aug. 1. Epps is principal investigator on the National Science Foundation grant that provides funding for the workshop. Harvard University, Tosoh Bioscience, Macromolecules/ACS MacroLetters and Polymer Chemistry also will sponsor the event.

Centered on the unifying theme of “The Chemistry, Physics, Engineering and Biology of Soft Materials,” the workshop brings together approximately 50 mentees and 50 mentors from around the country to support the career development of aspiring faculty. Soft materials include polymers and biomaterials.

The workshop emphasizes underrepresented groups, with the aim of enhancing the field through diversity.

With sessions on such topics as work-life balance, how to manage a lab and navigating an offer of employment, the workshop aims to demystify the path to a successful career in academia. Mentors and mentees also will be able to get together for small group discussions for an open, honest look at life in academia.

“Being a faculty member has this mystique about it,” Korley said. “It’s really just unraveling the secrets so that we can enhance our field.”

But the mentees aren’t the only ones who learn at the workshop. Shortly after becoming a faculty member, Korley participated in her first Future Faculty Workshop as a mentor.

“I speak from firsthand knowledge that it is an amazing workshop model that was useful to me as a starting faculty member, even though it was geared toward those who didn’t have faculty positions,” she said.

But, Korley said, even seasoned faculty members will have the opportunity to learn something new and take away new insights.

Key to the success of the program is how both mentors and mentees unite around a single cause.

“Especially in the soft matter community, we want to see the discipline flourish,” Korley said. “That means that we have to make sure that we’re all well equipped to navigate faculty life. All of us are really motivated to encourage and support future faculty.”