To learn more about life in academe and different types of faculty positions, doctoral students at universities across the country are signing up for a program called Preparing Future Faculty (PFF).

Given that success as a faculty member requires more than research prowess, and that most new faculty jobs open up at places besides research universities, the program seeks to better prepare students for the spectrum of faculty responsibilities. PFF exposes students to different expectations of faculty at different schools through seminars, visits to area schools, guest-teaching opportunities and mentoring from faculty.

The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) coordinate PFF, awarding funding to schools that propose strong PFF initiatives. The Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Science Foundation and a private gift provide that funding. Most institutions receive and match about $20,000 a year.

Since its launch in 1994, the program has grown to include 200 academic institutions. And it's slated to grow more as it branches out to involve departments from individual disciplines, including psychology.

Until now, the program has been run campus-wide at participating universities. And its founders hope that getting acad emic departments to buy into it--and focus more on preparing their own students--will make it even more successful. As part of the expansion, APA and the professional associations of five other social science and humanities disciplines have invited academic departments to apply for and match funding available from PFF. This spring, APA and other associations will award the funding to graduate departments with solid proposals for faculty preparation.

The goal is to help psychology departments at major research universities add faculty development to training that has traditionally focused on disciplinary content and research, says the APA Education Directorate's Paul Nelson, PhD, who's heading APA's PFF involvement.

"There's been little focus on development and mentoring of students for faculty positions," says Nelson. "PFF's aim is to help research departments better prepare students for teaching and service aspects of being a scholar."

Nelson hopes that, ultimately, psychology departments' PFF initiatives will serve as models for other psychology departments to emulate.

Experiencing the academic life

A major thrust of PFF is familiarizing students with the diversity of faculty life by broadening their engagement with departmental faculty and linking them with faculty at other institutions. Universities that receive program funding share it with area colleges that provide training and mentoring to their students.

Typically, students interested in becoming faculty members apply for the program, and, if accepted, enroll in it for two years--the amount of time students spend on the program differs across institutions.

In the first year, students attend a three-hour class every other week that focuses on research, teaching and service requirements of different faculty positions. This past semester, first-year PFF students at Arizona State University (ASU) attended Friday seminars about faculty life. They also visited with faculty at ASU partner schools Maricopa Community College, Arizona State University East, Arizona State University West and Grand Canyon University to talk with faculty about the daily demands and rewards of their jobs.

In the second year of PFF, the work becomes more intensive. Working with faculty on other campuses, students typically guest-teach classes, help prepare syllabi and curricula and work on their own projects--examples include designing a new course, helping a professor set up a web site or revamping a department's undergraduate research program.

Mentoring is a key aspect. Students at another PFF-involved school, Duke University, for example, observe faculty as they teach classes, ask them questions and shadow them throughout the day.

"They learn what you do with your time," says Kathrynn Adams, PhD, a psychology professor who mentors Duke students at the nearby four-year school Guilford College. "They learn about academic life, rather than psychology per se."

Beyond research

That is precisely PFF's objective: To give students at research institutions what they're not already getting in their graduate programs, says Ric Weibl, program director for the AAC&U's Office of Education and Institutional Renewal.

Weibl acknowledges that many research institutions have teaching-assistant programs. But those programs don't typically expose students to running committees, advising students and other aspects of faculty service.

The PFF program, however, does. For example, first-year participant Melanie Paquette, an ASU graduate student in psychology, was surprised to learn how heavily liberal arts colleges and comprehensive schools emphasize teaching and advising.

Paquette's fellow psychology student Angelique Scharine says PFF confirmed her interest in those places.

Shifting graduate training

The Arizona State students' only real criticism of PFF is the time it takes away from their research--a large chunk of Friday they would otherwise spend in the lab. And that points to a need for more support of PFF from psychology departments, says Nancy Dess, PhD, senior scientist and member of the PFF leadership team at APA.

She believes that the new move by associations to recruit departments to run their own PFF programs will mean more departmental faculty will be involved and supportive, sending the message that becoming a valued faculty colleague at any type of institution involves more than publishing data.

The PFF move to include individual disciplines, coordinated by CGS and AAC&U, has already helped departments in chemistry, physics and math develop their own faculty preparation programs. In the initiative's next phase, made possible by a private gift, psychology, sociology, anthropology, communications, English and political science will develop their own, too.

In psychology, for example, APA's Education Directorate will choose four departments to receive $20,000 over two years. As has already been done at the campus-wide level, each chosen department partners with departments from area institutions--forming what are called "clusters"--and shares the funds with them. The directorate will announce its picks in an upcoming issue of the Monitor. And over the next year, different disciplines will report on departments' progress.

Because from the perspective of ASU student Paquette, at least, increased attention to student preparation is well worth it.

"PFF is good in two ways," she says. "It helps you decide what type of faculty job you want, and it teaches you what you need to do to get there, stay there and be happy there."

Further Reading

For more information on APA's involvement in PFF, visit the Education Directorate web site. To find out more about the overall program, visit http://www.preparing-faculty.org.

Hugo Alberto Tapia teaches introductory psychology at Chandler-Gilbert Community College outside Phoenix as part of the Preparing Future Faculty program. Tapia is a doctoral student in counseling psychology at Arizona State University.