Ask many new faculty (defined as fresh from their PhD, and
in the first 3–5 years of service) how their research
is going, and most likely the answer will be that they have
not been able to get much done because they have been con-centrating
on their teaching. In many of these cases, it is not that
their teaching load is excessive, but rather that as new faculty,
they feel an extra urgency to perform well. Since it is teaching,
more so than research, that physically requires their attention
almost immediately after they begin their appointment, they
channel a large portion of their energy into excelling at
it, often at the expense of their research.
This is in essence some of what Boice (2000) has observed
himself in spending about 20 years studying the work patterns
of new faculty in North American academic institutions. According
to his figures, the norm for most new faculty tends to be:
6 hours/week actual teaching; 18–30 hours/week preparing
lectures; 2–6 hours/week consultation. If this is true,
then it is a sobering thought, given that on average we work
(officially) about a 50-hour week, which does not leave much
time for research, not to mention the other administrative
duties that some of us have. One of Boice’s claims is
that most new faculty fall into this trap of being bogged
down by teaching because they are guilty of ‘immoderation’
in their work.
Boice found that only 3–5% of new faculty
perform exemplarily in both teaching as well as research
(Boice, 2000). The others who do not perform in this fashion
fail to do so not because of commitment or ‘lack of
expertise in his or her area of scholarship’, but rather
because they did not practise particular work habits. As a
result of his work, he identifies several ‘exemplars’
that characterise this small percentage of ‘quick starters’.
These exemplars fall in the area
of teaching, research and ‘socialisation’1 and are defined in terms of independent ratings of student
approval of teaching, scholarly productivity and social approval
from gate-keeping colleagues. In other words, these quick
starters seemed to take a particular approach to their teaching
preparation and presentations, which also gave them enough
time to work on and develop their research careers without
compromising their teaching quality.
For teaching, the exemplars noted among the quick starters
- Waiting actively, instead of rushing into tasks (i.e.
thinking first before just ‘putting everything down
- Beginning before feeling ready (i.e. avoiding procrastination)
- Preparing for lectures in brief, regular sessions instead
of binges at the cost of other important areas of work (e.g.
- Stopping in timely fashion
- Moderating over-attachment to
one’s teaching2 as well
as overreaction to criticism
- Moderating negative thinking and strong emotions in one’s
- Letting others do some of the work for them as collaborators
(e.g. experts giving lectures) and critics
- Moderating classroom incivilities—quick starters
show how to moderate classroom incivilities—partly
defined as students who arrive late, noisily, and persist
in talking aloud when someone else has the floor—with
simple strategies of openness, pacing and patience
In short, the ‘quick starters’ identified by
Boice were more organised and efficient at dividing their
time between research and teaching, were better at coping
with stress, possessed more objective perspectives with regard
to their own work, and reacted towards/managed students in
a positive manner.
Boice’s claim that academics were often lop-sided
in the emphasis they placed on teaching, research and socialisation
motivated us to conduct the following study, given that our
personal experience as well as that of other colleagues recognised
some truth in what he was saying. In this preliminary study,
we set out to find out:
- The work habits of new faculty at NUS with regard to
teaching (i.e. Are new faculty here guilty of the ‘immoderation’
in teaching preparation that Boice claims others elsewhere
- New faculty’s perception of NUS students, and whether
specific problems with regard to students exist
- The type of support that would make new faculty feel
The present study is a report of our findings.
27 new faculty members participated in this study. The criteria
for selection were: (a) the participants must have been at
NUS for not more than 5 years, and (b) that this was their
first academic position.
Materials and Procedure
A self-administered questionnaire was used. The questionnaire
was designed with a mixture of multiple-choice, Likert-scale
and open-ended questions. It contained a total of 19 questions.
A concerted effort was made to keep the questionnaire brief
so that the response rate could be raised. Following Boice’s
findings and our own research imperatives, our questions focused
on these main themes:
- Work habits with regard to preparation for teaching
- Perception of NUS students’ general attitude and
their level of participation in class
- General emotional and mental state of new faculty, and
their response to criticism of their teaching
- Interest in interaction with other new faculty
- Interest in having guidance in their initial years
The questionnaire was distributed through two main channels—CDTL’s
Professional Development Programme Teaching Practicum (conducted
during the first semester of AY 2002/2003) and via email for
colleagues who had opted not to attend this practicum. A total
of 27 completed questionnaires were received.
Only some of our results are reported here, due to lack
of space. Our study found that:
- New faculty’s work habits with regard to preparation
- A majority (85%) prepared for lectures when their
schedule allowed, rather than on the day before (13%)—i.e.
few seemed to practise these ‘binges’.
- The predominant mode of working was a combination
of short and long periods (48%). Most (88%) veered towards
a reluctance to delegate work.
Work load: See discussion below.
- New faculty’s perception of NUS students, and
problems faced, if any
- Most felt that the students were conscientious and
hardworking, but tended to be too examination- and grade-oriented.
The students were seen to prefer to be spoon-fed, and
as a result, they performed well when given guidance
but were not particularly aggressive or creative. This
sentiment was encapsulated in one respondent’s
statement: “Try to memorise instead of thinking
and applying knowledge”.
- In response to how NUS students compare to students
whom they had taught elsewhere, many stated that our
students are more passive and “need encouragement
to be independent, take initiative and disagree”.
- Many students are also unwilling to ask questions
in class, and as a result, staff have to put in an extra
effort to create a relaxed environment that is conducive
for asking questions. However, the general feeling amongst
respondents was that NUS students take their work more
seriously than students from other countries.
- New faculty’s emotional and mental state
- Many (63%) reported ups and downs rather than indifference
- Many (67%) reported reacting strongly to criticism.
- New faculty’s interest in interaction with other
- Many professed a high interest in this, and the preferred
mode of interaction was through periodical social gatherings
(61%) rather than through official ones (28%).
- New faculty’s interest in having guidance in
their initial years
- A majority (45%) expressed interest in a mentorship
Discussion and recommendations
We can draw several conclusions from our questionnaire as
to how new faculty members at NUS compare to the ones studied
by Boice. New faculty members at NUS have on average a teaching
load of 8.5 hours/week (range: 2–16 hours/week) and
thus show a similar teaching load as the faculty members studied
by Boice (6–12 hours/week). However, NUS staff use much
less time for preparation and work, a total of only 24.5 ±
10 hours/week (range: 5.5–42 hours/week) compared to
36–60 hours/week in Boice’s study. This is shown
clearly as well in: (a) the ratio of preparation of teaching
material to actual teaching hours, which is 2.4 ± 2.2
(range: 0.3–10) compared to 3.6–5 in Boice’s
case; and (b) in the total working time spent on teaching,
which is 40% for NUS staff and 45–75% for Boice (percentages
were inferred from data given and assuming a working time
of 80 hours/week). These numbers demonstrate that although
new faculty members at NUS have similar teaching loads as
other universities, they do not suffer from the symptoms described
by Boice, namely spending too much time on teaching to the
detriment of research activity. This is actually surprising
since teaching is very much emphasised at the NUS.
Nevertheless, new faculty members at NUS are not perfect
‘quick starters’ and we identified by our questionnaire
problems in other areas:
- New staff members feel emotional when criticised on research
or teaching. This can lead to unwillingness in accepting
criticism and it hinders teachers from evaluating their
own performance objectively, as well as from changing and
improving their teaching.
- There is a lack of willingness to delegate work to others.
This leads to inefficient time management and possibly faculty
spending time on issues that should be left to graduate
students or technical staff.
Having identified these problem areas, there are several
questions that should be studied in more detail:
- Are these problems true only for new staff members
or are they also valid for established members of staff
who were not in the scope of this work?
This question could be solved by another questionnaire to
NUS faculty irrespective of their time of service.
- Why do new staff members hesitate to delegate tasks?
There are at least two possible explanations: new faculty
are too strongly attached to their work—this would
explain the emotional feelings towards criticism—or
it could be a general lack of confidence in other co-workers.
- How can this tendency to avoid delegation be reversed
to optimise time management and efficiency?
A lack of confidence in co-workers is often more an inability
of new faculty to correctly judge which tasks can be fulfilled
by somebody else or an unwillingness to invest time to explain
a task which can be done more quickly by the new faculty
member himself. If a group leader makes an effort, he can
easily find out the capabilities of his co-workers and the
initial investment of his working time usually saves time
in the long run.
- Can new staff members be taught to detach themselves
emotionally from their work and take a more objective view
of criticism (note that this should be the ideal model of
a researcher and teacher)?
Making this over-attachment clear to new faculty might already
be the first step in helping them overcome this problem.
In addition, videotaping lectures and reviewing the tapes
under this aspect with fellow teachers might show new faculty
their own strength and the strength of others in teaching.
Such discussion might make it easier for new faculty in
the future to accept criticism in at least the field of
Especially these last two questions should be discussed
in context of the training of faculty provided by CDTL.
Finally, we would like to mention the possibility of improving
the social interaction of new staff members in at least two
- In the questionnaire, most participants indicated that
they would like to see some form of mentorship, a programme
already installed in some NUS faculties. Mentorship here
is meant in the sense of an experienced staff member helping
and explaining to new faculty about administrative duties
and academic procedures at NUS through frequent meetings,
especially right before important dates (e.g. deadline for
university proposals, start of semester, start of exam periods).
The mentor can also advise the new faculty on the quality
of his performance and where improvement can be made. This
mentorship programme is not meant as a scientific collaboration
or a scientific advisory role for the mentor.
- Many new staff members would like to see some kind of
periodical social gatherings to exchange experiences. Social
gatherings can considerably enhance the motivation of new
faculty by showing them that others experience similar problems
in their starting years, thus putting initial problems in
In conclusion, new faculty at NUS have a similar teaching
load as new faculty at other universities. Contrary to Boice’s
study, our study suggests that they seem to cope well with
their duties and have enough time for research. However, we
have identified some problem areas in which new faculty at
NUS do not perform well. These include strong emotionality
when criticised and problems in delegating tasks. Both issues
affect the efficiency (i.e. time management, teaching performance)
of teachers, should be further studied, and could ultimately
be included as seminars in the training of new faculty at
Boice, R. (2000). Advice for New Faculty Members. MA: Allyn & Bacon.
1 Academic and non-academic interaction
with other faculty members that furthers the productivity
of the new faculty member (e.g. learning the culture, motivation,
2 This includes the amount of
preparation spent on teaching (i.e. spending moderate amounts
of time on preparation rather than what Boice calls “binges”).