Following is a brief overview of findings from studies or discussion pieces compiled from academic journals, trade publications, university professional development materials, dissertations, and popular blogs. We present the

  • annotated bibliography of the resources
  • common obstacles or barriers faced by mid-career faculty (female mid-career faculty in particular)
  • frequently identified resources or positive factors

Many thanks to Leah Heilig for working to compile and annotate these resources.


You can visit our mid-career bibliography via zotero. This page is on our site and links to the zotero bibliography where the citations are annotated and in many cases include links to the full articles.

Obstacles and Barriers to Mid-Career Faculty

There were several clear trends regarding obstacles and barriers to mid-career faculty. The main themes encountered were struggles with promotion to full professor; service and administration workloads; departmental climates; and issues of attitudes, perceptions, and/or identity.

Promotion to Full Professor

A dominant concern was the policies, criteria, and plans for associates to move to full professorship. As commonly cited, men far outnumber women in full professor rankings, with statistics from the National Center of Education claiming women only make up 26% of full professors (NCES, 2010). Studies indicated that a reason for this disparity is the reliance on external cues to determine eligibility for promotion due to unclear promotion criteria (Buch et. al, 2011; Gardner and Blackstone, 2017; O’Meara, 2011; Stout, Staiger, and Jennings, 2007; Terosky, O’Meara, and Campbell, 2014).

External cues, such as being advised to go up for full promotion by a mentor, senior faculty, or colleagues, often work to the disadvantage of female faculty (Gardner and Blackstone, 2017). Female faculty have also reported that going up for full professor is a “demoralizing” and “shell shocking” experience (Stout, Staiger, and Jennings, 2007), with disparities between workload, personal values, and promotion requirements (Terosky, O’Meara, and Campbell, 2014). A main area of such disparity is the role of service work and its value to the academy.

Service and Administrative Work

The connection between service or administration work, job dissatisfaction, and delayed promotion to full professorship was clearly addressed in the literature reviewed. Several studies cited survey data collected by the 2011-2012 Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), which gathered responses from 13,510 faculty members at 69 four-year institutions (public and private) (Jaschick, 2012). Based on this survey, associate professors ranked consistently less satisfied at job duties related to service and administration than any other academic rank, as well as having less job satisfaction overall (Jaschick, 2012; Mamiseishvili, Miller, and Lee, 2016; Williams, 2012).

Typically, service work was framed as being unfairly distributed to mid-career faculty, and an interference to research and teaching duties (Buch et. al, 2011; Flaherty, 2014; Mills, 2000; Misra and Lundquist, 2015; Ziker, 2014). Service work being devalued by the institution and not accounted for in promotion criteria was another major obstacle to faculty, particularly for women (Misra, 2011; O’Meara, 2015;) and faculty of color (Baez, 2000).

Departmental Climate

Departmental climates are indicated to have major effect on both promotion to full professor and service work requirements. As previously stated, knowing when to submit materials for full professorship is largely dependent on external factors–chief among them being departmental in the form of advice or recommendations from chairs, senior faculty, mentors, and colleagues (Gardner and Blackstone, 2017). Research has indicated that environmental factors, such as  collegial relationships, climate, and administration, has a higher impact on women’s overall job satisfaction than men (McCoy, Newell, and Gardner, 2013).

Gendered institutional practices, such as women in the “emotional support” role or lack of departmental assistance for family planning, have also posed barriers to job satisfaction or performance (Carraher, Crocitto, and Sullivan, 2014; O’Meara, 2015; Stout, Staiger, and Jennings, 2007). In other studies, departmental colleagues were identified as constraints to female faculty agency (Hesli and Lee, 2013; Rockquemore, 2012; Terosky, O’Meara, and Campbell, 2014). A lack of departmental or institutional support has also been frequently identified as an obstacle to female faculty advancement for those in mid-career (Mamiseishvili, Miller, and Lee, 2016; McCoy, Newell, and Gardner, 2013; O’Meara, 2015; Stout, Staiger, and Jennings, 2007). These obstacles no doubt influence internal factors for women in mid-career stages of the academy.

Attitudes, Perceptions, and Identity

Finally, internal factors were also frequently investigated in relation to job satisfaction. For many mid-career faculty, attitudes or perceptions of stagnation, depression, burn-out, and/or loss of motivation were reported (Baldwin, 2005; Blanchard, 2012; Harper, 2004; Mills, 2000; Misra and Lundquist, 2015; Paris, 2017; Shapiro, 2001; Stout, Stager, and Jennings, 2007; Williams, 2012). For female faculty, these feelings were reported at higher rates than their male colleagues, and higher still for minority female faculty (Hesli and Lee, 2013). Women reported their academic identities being compromised once they hit mid-career, largely in part due to overloaded service or administrative appointments (Rockquemore, 2012).

While most of the literature reviewed focused on barriers and obstacles for mid-career faculty, studies also indicated trends for positive action.

Identified Resources

This section will discuss actions or frameworks found beneficial to mid-career faculty. Throughout the literature reviewed, main trends for positive factors were an emphasis on mentoring and networking, positions on service and administration, and pursuing non-academic opportunities.

Mentoring and Networking

Mentoring and networking were frequently discussed as positive or enabling factors in the research surveyed. Mentoring, both from senior faculty and from peers, was mentioned as desired for mid-career faculty members (Buch et. al, 2011; Canale, Herdklotz, and Wild, 2013; Lee, 2014; Lee and Won, 2014; Misra and Lundquist, 2015; Rockquemore, 2012). Mentoring is seen as a resource for preparing for promotion to full, learning how to balance new service or administrative workloads, and facilitating research. Self-selected and/or professional networking was also repetitively discussed as important for goal-setting, external review of promotion materials, collaboration opportunities, friendship, feeling connected, professional development, and support (Bevevino and Moore, 2011; Rees and Shaw, 2014; Rockquemore, 2012; Terosky, O’Meara, and Campbell, 2014). Of all positive or desired resources, mentoring and external networking were the most consistently requested or suggested.

Service and Teaching

Two studies focused on framing service work and teaching as positives (Baez, 2000; Mills, 2000). Baez argues for the importance of preference in selecting service work, as faculty of color reported using their service work for social change and resistance. In a case study, Mills states that faculty claimed to find satisfaction in teaching new subjects or courses, mentoring students, and improving their teaching skills. Both perspectives appear to have important potential in serving as places for mid-career faculty resources.

Non-Academic Resources

While not as extensively discussed in the literature reviewed, finding outlets outside of academia is another potential site for resources. In informal publications, associate professors make claims for the importance of external opportunities in addition to academic work (Blanchard, 2012; Koh, 2016). In particular, visiting columnist Adeline Koh suggests exploring industry as an entrepreneur or consultant. For technical communication specialists, this might be an appealing topic for resources and professional development.

If you have additional resources to share, please contact us.