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ADEPT Library - Case Studies -- Pam Lee

Color Coded Key to Decision/Illumination Points in PTAC Cases without Storylines: Procedural and Bias. Insert annotated references as indicated

[Issues: fluctuating productivity of a maturing scholar, ethnic/cultural differences]

Pam Lee, Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago, was hired by a prestigious research university’s management program to teach econometrics. Although she is one of a dozen economists on campus, she is only the third econometrician and replaces a retiring star in the field, someone considered an anchor of a graduate program ranked in the top three in the nation. Lee’s very prominent graduate advisor highly recommended her as his best student in the past decade, indicating that her dissertation was “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary” in creating a new theoretical model for the field.

A deferential, somewhat quiet person unless probed about her research, Lee had a rocky start with her university colleagues and students. Some undergraduates complained to the undergraduate coordinator about her accent, and some graduate students reported that Lee is “too rigorous” “especially concerning statistical analysis”. Although the preponderance of faculty in the department see Lee as merely “young” and “a little shy,” two faculty members express concerns to the chair during her first term about Lee’s “inability to socialize” and “fit in.” (bias report on ethnicity, race) The chair, also an Asian immigrant, regarded Lee as undergoing the typical adjustment period of a new faculty member struggling to shift from star graduate student to novice teacher while keeping up a high research profile. The chair encouraged a sympathetic senior faculty, not directly in her research area, to mentor her (bias report on mentoring; best practices). After an initial lunch meeting with Lee to offer his mentoring input, the senior faculty member drifted away from the arrangement, too busy to set appointments.

During her first three years at the university, Lee presented four conference papers on sophisticated, technically rigorous statistical analysis methods, complementing the work she did in her dissertation; she also published one journal paper based on her dissertation. She improved her undergraduate and graduate teaching ratings by working with professionals at the university center for teaching and managed to attract two graduate students to work closely with her. She also expanded departmental offerings in her field and created a sequence of two undergraduate courses in econometrics. (bias report on mentoring).

At the time of her third-year critical review, her chair conveyed the review committee’s warning about her lack of publications. He encouraged her to stay in touch with him and to work closely with two other colleagues “to generate more papers.” After being initially taken aback by this criticism, Lee agreed with her chair that she would “appreciate some advice.” She sought out faculty her chair helped identify as her mentors (bias reports on mentoring, gender), sharing two new conference papers with them and asking them for editorial criticism and guidance on improving her publication record.

Although the two mentors worked in different fields, they recognized that Lee’s papers were hampered by her awkward written English and her tendency to rely solely on complex formulas to demonstrate her arguments. One suggested that Lee improve her grammar and general writing skills by studying an English composition text, and the other encouraged her to read The Wall Street Journal and some American novels to develop a more fluid style. They also encouraged Lee to think about applications of her theoretical models to their fields, finance and macroeconomics.

Lee worked hard to improve her English and accepted the offer to collaborate on an article with one mentor. He devoted time during the process of co-writing to show her how to put together a scholarly argument, and he helped her understand how they could manage the journal reviewers’ comments in revision. Lee’s other mentor took a less active role in improving her productivity, suggesting two applications of her theoretical method that might prove promising. She wrote one paper designated for a journal suggested by this mentor, who offered comments before she mailed it off. Benefiting from the advice and contributions of these senior scholars, Lee managed to get two articles (one collaborative) accepted in her fourth year. In her fifth year, she wrote two archival papers, one with her previous collaborator and another on her own, which were also published. Her mentors complimented her on greatly improved writing skills.

One mentor, fascinated by Lee’s application of her theories to his subfield, developed and submitted a proposal for funding based on this method to an agency, citing their joint paper as the basis for the work. However, Lee was neither consulted nor included in the development of the proposal or as a co-investigator. ( best practices, ethics) She was visibly upset when she learned of this from another colleague who commented that he understood that her mentor was now working in the same field; confronting her mentor, he informed her that there is no monopoly on good ideas and he was in the best position to develop this premise within his own subfield. With that, the mentoring relation ended, but Lee decided to keep the situation it to herself given the fact that the department chair had recommended this mentor and was his close associate. (report on gender bias; PTAC surveys; best practices)

Three letters of reference commenting on her tenure and promotion case were very positive, indicating that her publications posit original, rigorous theoretical claims. Two others referred to further interesting applications. The sixth highly positive letter comes from a senior scholar, known for being Lee’s mentor’s first graduate student. By the time Lee comes up for promotion and tenure, she has published five scholarly articles (one in Econometrica, the leading journal in her field, and four applying econometric analysis to other fields), given an average number of conference papers, and participated on two department committees. A member of the promotion and tenure committee questions whether this level of productivity demonstrated largely within fields other than econometrics justifies promotion and tenure at the university. Another member cites that he has input from a former mentor that Dr. Lee is intelligent but is difficult to communicate with and to work with. (bias report on mentoring; best practices) As another member of the committee, how would you respond to these concerns about Lee’s productivity and collegiality?