All posts by Katharine E. Stewart


Why I Became a Grant Reviewer

The other day, a colleague asked me if I would help her with a writing task. I declined, saying that I had to focus on the grant applications that had to be reviewed in the next two weeks for my National Institutes of Health study section. She sighed and said, “It seems as though you’re always doing grant reviews.” (In truth, I do them about three times per year.) Then she asked, “Why do you do them? They seem like such a huge time investment for such a little payoff.” Since she asked, I answere…


How Much Is Enough?

Over the years I’ve been asked to serve as a mentor or adviser to several new faculty members or to pre- or postdoctoral trainees who hope to embark on a faculty career. For those who are fortunate enough to obtain a full-time position, the immediate (and continuing) challenge is one of balance: making sure that everything gets done and that the right things get done in the right amounts.

It’s not easy. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, promotion-and-tenure criteria are often vague about how …


Learning to Be a Boss

Occasionally, I receive e-mails advertising workshops that provide grant-writing assistance. Those e-mails usually say something about how good grantsmanship “isn’t something they teach in graduate school.” Perhaps I was fortunate, but I actually learned a lot about grant writing in graduate school and my early postdoctoral years, and that training has yielded results throughout my career. What I really wish I’d gotten in graduate school, however, is management and supervisory training.

During m…


Don’t Fence Me In

Last week I met with a colleague who will probably become my collaborator on a new research idea. We’ve been on the same campus for a couple of years, but until recently we never talked about our work. He does basic psychiatric research, studying brain-behavior relationships, and I focus primarily on sexual risk reduction, especially in high-risk populations.

During our conversation we found some common ground not only for our research but also for a training program that he administers, and I f…


How Do You Say ‘Keep Going’ to a Stymied Student?

The knock on my door didn’t sound different from any other knock, so I had no idea that my day was about to get much better. My mentee walked in. She had been my doctoral student and was now my colleague, thanks to an unusual set of circumstances that had led her to start her academic career at our university. As a result, she had been working hard to diversify her experience and her scientific network. She was also submitting grant applications and multiple manuscripts to journals. That day she…


Don’t Blow Your Cover Letter

Search committees often place a great deal of importance on cover letters when they’re reviewing candidates, but I’ve yet to meet a job seeker who has received much training or mentoring on how to write one. So what differentiates good cover letters from weak ones? I’m sure readers of The Chronicle have a lot of wisdom to share on this topic, but here are a few suggestions to get things started.

1. Be specific. Generic cover letters are a no-no. Tailoring your letters to particular positions sou…


What Break?

Some people, on hearing that I am a university professor, ask me if I’m enjoying my summer break. I always try to resist the urge to snort audibly in response. As is the case in many schools, including a large proportion of health-professions schools, my college’s faculty all have 12-month appointments, and I notice no reduction in the pace of work between May and August.

This summer semester (which just ended this week), I taught a three-credit doctoral course and co-taught two one-credit docto…


Beware of the Fast Track

One of my favorite meetings each year (and, not coincidentally, one of the most professionally helpful and productive) is the Association of Schools of Public Health Annual Retreat for Associate Deans. Over the years, one topic has come up frequently at meals or after hours: how those of us who were associate deans and also associate professors were going to reach the rank of full professor. Substantial administrative roles — such as department chair, program director, assistant or associate dea…


When You’re Right to Refuse

Given a choice between being busy or bored, many of my colleagues would, I’m sure, choose busy. Certainly, most of us in faculty roles or in combined faculty/administrative roles have more experience with the former, and except on really bad days, we’d be reluctant to give up many of the things we do. We love teaching, mentoring, research, community service, and maybe even sitting on some of those university committees, so we probably say yes more often than no. But when saying yes gets in the w…


Talking the Good Talk

You did it! You made the first (or even second!) cut of applicants for that faculty job, and you’ve been invited by the chair of the search committee to come to campus.

“We’d like you to meet with the department faculty, some students, and the chair and dean. We’d also like you to give a talk about your area of research,” she says.

Ah, the job talk. I’ve seen many of them. Some have been cringe-worthy; others have been so impressive it’s been hard to resist cheering loudly at the end. We all k…