Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

June 25, 2013

Sistering Joists: Lessons in Collaborative Support and Group Efforts

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 1:45 pm
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When we began construction in our home, one of the first problems the contractor noted were the warped and termite weakened joists supporting the first floor.  No need to remove them, he explained.  Instead, they would be “sistered”, a method of surrounding the beam on either side with new, strong beams.  The result is a strong and lasting support that allows additional development above.

As I received the wonderful news of being granted tenure and full professorship, and with it the warm congratulations of family and colleagues, I reflected on the past 7 years, and what made the significant transition to academia possible.  There is no doubt in my mind that it was the “sistering” that many of my colleagues provided, that supported my professional growth, and allowed me to build the portfolio that would result in tenure.

First, there was the colleague that recruited me into academia, believing I had what to offer as a teacher and researcher.  From the outset, he offered encouragement and support, sharing his course materials and wisdom.  Other faculty did the same, welcoming me, offering advice, helping with the adjustment.  A senior colleague happily collaborated on a book chapter.  Another visited my office from time to time to ask questions about my area of specialization.  Where his academic credentials might have intimidated, his open friendship and interest boosted my sense of possibility . . . maybe I could really do this!  Another senior colleague, in the most genuine and gentlemanly way, offered large doses of respect and positivity.

When I got close to tenure, the year before the application, I felt a lot like the termite eaten beam in my basement, a bit shaky and full of holes.  The small “sisterhood” of female faculty offered warm support.  So appreciated was the guidance of a colleague who had been through the tenure process just before me.  He offered a road map that kept me focused, and encouragement and reality testing along the way that kept me calm!

There are two colleagues that offered critical support.  The Dean of the department, from the day he hired me, openly shared his confidence in my ability, and most importantly, understood what is necessary for success and provided it.  Whether I asked to attend conferences, for support to complete a publication, for research assistance, he found a way to say yes. I am convinced, however, that all this sistering and support would have been insufficient, had I not met my chief collaborator, a then pre-tenure professor in a related department.  We initially met because I wanted to hire her to provide some statistical consulting on a project.  We clicked personally and professionally, with overlapping areas of interest.  It was a no-brainer to invite her to consider a partnering rather than a consultant position.  It was when our first collaboration resulted in a publication that I accepted the possibility that I really could, after so many years in clinical positions, make the shift to academia.  We have been collaborating on publications, presentations and research ever since, and I know I am so much stronger in my work because of this sistering.

I have expressed my thanks to all of my colleagues and received virtually identical responses.  “You did it, I didn’t do anything”  or  “You deserved it, you earned it”.    I know very well that I worked hard, and am proud of what I accomplished.  But I also know how much I was supported, and that without the generous strength and experience others shared, I don’t know if it would have been possible.

There is one more support that, like the sistered beams hidden in my basement, remains unseen but makes so much possible.  It will be 29 years since my husband married me, and in all those years there has not been a stronger advocate, supporter, believer and encourager in my life than him.  He is the ultimate partner and it is the strength of his conviction that I will be successful, and the knowledge that he will help in any and all ways, that often propels me forward.

The news of tenure comes as schools are finishing, children are happily leaving desks and homework for sprinklers and ball fields.  Parents and teachers exhale, preparing to enjoy 2 glorious months where support demands are significantly lessened.  But my tenure news reminds me how powerful and enduring support can be, and what great things we can accomplish when we know there are others there for us.  In that way, all teachers, parents and grown-ups can be “sisters” – connecting to our young charges to strengthen, to allow growth and success.





  1. Mazal Tov, Professor Novick. Yeah for the sisterhood.

    Lynda M Zentman

    Comment by Lynda Zentman — June 25, 2013 @ 2:14 pm |Reply

  2. ditto the mazel tov to a “sister mentor role model”- sharona benoff

    Comment by sharona benoff — July 28, 2013 @ 3:05 am |Reply

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