Penn Faculty Pathways Program


Steven Minicola

WHAT: For junior, tenure-track faculty, life in academia can be difficult. The hours are long, and for those considered one of just a handful of experts in their field, the work can be isolating. The Penn Faculty Pathways Program is designed to help change that for a small group of assistant professors in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, providing support in matters both personal and professional.

INNOVATIVE STUDY: The Pathways Program grew out of a National Institutes of Health-funded multilevel randomized trial at the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM), led by Stephanie Abbuhl and JA Grisso, which included interventions designed to change the culture of academic medicine and ensure the success of female assistant professors. “Coming out of that was an interest that we all shared in trying to take what we had learned from that pilot, that trial, and see where else we could use what we’ve learned,” says Stewart Friedman, practice professor of management at Wharton, co-PI for the trial, and co-director of Penn Pathways.

INTO PRACTICE: Friedman spoke with then-Vice Provost for Faculty Lynn Hollen Lees, who was interested in putting some lessons from the trial into practice to create an environment where junior STEM faculty could thrive. Friedman and Abbuhl, a professor of emergency medicine at PSOM, worked with a multidiscplinary team to put together Penn Pathways, a one-year innovative pilot that began last month and runs through May of 2014. This is a partnership between Wharton, the School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS), and PSOM, and features additional leadership from SEAS bioengineering professor Susan Marguiles and Lucy Tuton, an adjunct professor of medicine at Penn Medicine.

FOSTERING LEADERSHIP: In the Pathways Program, 18 junior faculty are engaged in nine monthly two-hour sessions on two broad topics: faculty career development at Penn and an abbreviated version of Friedman’s Total Leadership program, a method for helping people improve all aspects of their life. Participants come from Penn Vet, the School of Arts & Sciences, PSOM, and SEAS.

WIDEN THE SCOPE: While the Perelman trial focused on efforts to help women in biomedical careers, Penn Pathways is dedicated to both men and women. “Sometimes [women] are disproportionally affected by certain constructs in our culture,” says Abbuhl, “but actually more and more, the men of the Millennial generation and women share a lot more in common.”

PROGRAM GOALS: The program has three goals: to establish a sense of community and collaboration; to maximize the potential of the participants by optimizing their creativity, engagement, and satisfaction; and to provide specific skill-building sessions that can range from learning how to say “no” to negotiating effectively with a supervisor. Most importantly, they say the program will tend to the whole person, emphasizing they are focused on both professional and personal success.

MEASURING (THE PROGRAM’S) SUCCESS: Abbuhl says the scope of the Pathways Program is a far cry from the four-year trial, funded with $1.3 million. After May, they plan to survey and interview participants. If successful, they hope to expand the program in the years ahead. “We believe these kinds of things only get better with time and experience,” says Abbuhl.

Originally published on November 14, 2013