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Faculty encouraged to share thoughts through COACHE survey

By MICHAEL ANDREI

Published March 31, 2017

“We will use COACHE survey data to help build programs and policies based on faculty needs across the university.”
Robert Granfield, vice provost for faculty affairs

Full-time UB faculty members who have not yet participated in the COACHE survey of faculty career satisfaction are strongly encouraged to take time to make their voices heard on a range of university practices, policies and working conditions.

The national research survey — the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) — is operated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is specifically designed for full-time faculty. The online survey opened February 13, and can be taken through April 6.

“If faculty have concerns about work, campus culture or quality of life here at UB, this is the time to weigh in,” said Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Robert Granfield. “Five or six years will have to pass before SUNY probably will participate in COACHE again.

“And think of how much has happened — how much the university has changed — in the time since the last COACHE survey here, in 2011,” he said. “New leadership has come to UB, across the university, in that time. There are new issues that we as a university, along with SUNY, are facing.”

Granfield said the benefit of the COACHE survey is that it is data-driven. “We learn a great deal about what faculty members’ interests are through surveys. But there is no other survey out there that has the comprehensiveness nor the scientific reliability of COACHE.”

(A link to the survey can be found on the Provost's website.)

Granfield described three themes in the 2017 COACHE survey: questions related to the nature of work; shared governance and leadership; and appreciation and recognition.

“The type of work that faculty members do is a critical dimension of their lives,” said Granfield. “Support that is there — or not — for, say, research. Their satisfaction for teaching, for their students and with the resources available for teaching.

“Other key issues include work-life balance and tenure and promotion. The survey gives faculty members an opportunity to make their voices heard on each of these issues.”

Granfield said responses to COACHE questions concerning shared governance will provide insight into faculty assessments and thoughts about department leadership, levels of collegiality throughout a department, as well as decanal leadership.

Granfield also said that he believes the university needs to do more in recognizing faculty accomplishments.

“I think we have to build a culture of appreciation and recognition at UB,” he said. “We have the Celebration of Faculty Excellence, of course. But there is room to do more, and many questions in the survey are about this topic.”

In addition to the diagnostic element, a second purpose of the COACHE survey is to take the measure of how UB stands in relation to the university’s peer institutions.

“Because COACHE is a national survey, we are able to select who we think might be our peer groups,” said Granfield. “We can ask: ‘How are we doing relative to them?’  ‘How are we doing in the nature of work, compared to our peers?’ The survey allows us to pick five or six peer groups. Then it will benchmark us against our peers,” he said.

COACHE survey results will also enable comparisons to UB’s peer institutions in areas such as tenure clarity, research and university-wide governance.

COACHE responses will also provide useful and relevant information for faculty development programming at UB.

“In this office, Tilman Baumstark, associate vice provost for faculty affairs, and myself really see our role as faculty engagement,” said Granfield.

“The way we do that is through the development of a variety of programs and initiatives to promote faculty interest,” he said. “We will use COACHE survey data to help build programs and policies based on faculty needs across the university.”  

These initiatives include new faculty programming for the entire year. Among them: department chairs’ workshops to discuss issues ranging from effective communication, to academic leadership, budgets and resources; a two-day, off-campus retreat for department chairs; and a year-long series of conversations through a Faculty Brown Bag Lunch Series.

Faculty responses from COACHE will also contribute to the development of mid-career programs, as well as programs promoting wellness and work-life balance.

Importance of mentoring

Reaffirming the value of mentoring — to both established and new faculty members — is another key area the survey brings into focus.

“One thing that is supported by data even independent of COACHE is that 'mentoring matters,'” Granfield stated. “Success rates across the board tend to be much greater for faculty who have been mentored than for faculty who have not been effectively mentored.

“We often times don’t see mentoring as a two-way path,” he said. “We tend to view mentoring from the perspective of the faculty member who is being mentored ... a one-way path.”

But the mentor can get a lot out of the mentoring relationship, Granfield said. “It can keep them relevant, introduce them to new material or lead to new collaborations.”

Gabriela Popescu, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has found her experiences as a mentor as well as being mentored have made all the difference in her career.

“Well, first of all, I recognize it for myself. I wouldn’t be here without having been mentored, and having had guidance and support from people who had my best interests in their hearts,” said Popescu, who is a member of the medical school Mentoring Committee.

“I was given either information or advice when I needed it. Now as a mentor, I see doing this as giving back, and that is why I do it.

“However, whether I do it or not, I believe that mentoring is very important, in the same way that parenting is important,” she added. “I see it as, with parenting, you just give your child basic life skills, the same way we receive skills that we need and information we need to be successful in our careers.”

Popescu noted there are always skills or principles that can be learned through a workshop, or from a book.

She went on to say: “But, many instances are case specific, dependent on someone else’s knowledge or on information that is not published. So how are you going to know the ropes … except from people who have done it before, or perhaps have heard about it or maybe are more senior?”

Popescu is also a member of the National Research Mentoring Network. She stated those who aspire to a successful career may find, “Success is a very complex trait, and possessing only one skill is not going to be enough. It is important to have access to information, new skills and advice, which can be found and developed through mentoring.

“Having a diverse network, which should include individuals who are mentors to you, is important to your success,” she added.

Granfield said UB faculty responses to COACHE questions on mentoring that ask, ‘What is the value of being mentored?’ may also provide an answer to the opposite point: “Namely, 'What is the value of mentoring that faculty members are experiencing?’

“This is something we can then promote,” Granfield said. “We can go to faculty who are perhaps less involved in mentoring and say, ‘Your colleagues are finding a tremendous benefit in doing this.’ Mentoring is not just giving of yourself, it is also receiving something.”

Full-time faculty can take the 25-minute web-based survey through an invitation email from COACHE, anytime through April 6. More information about the COACHE survey and UB’s participation in it is available online.