Sunday, February 24, 2008 marked the 10th anniversary and this is the 850th posting of the Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List (ML). In light of this milestone I wanted to give you a brief recap of the history and impact of the List and some thoughts we have as we look forward to the next ten years.
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10th Anniversary of TP Mailing List
The Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List (ML) began with an e-mail announcement sent on February 24, 1998 to approximately 700 individuals, mostly academics who were known to me through the writing of my book, Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering (IEEE Press, 1997). These individuals were told that they would be automatically subscribed to the List unless they indicated that they wished otherwise. Approximately 200 of the initial 700 individuals chose not to be subscribed. An additional 100 or so subscribers chose to unsubscribe from the List within two to three weeks of the first posting. From this initial seeding most of the subsequent growth has come from "word of e-mail," most likely through the re-mailing of selected postings to colleagues at various institutions.
The List, which is sponsored by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Stanford Product Realization Network is a twice per week, 1,000 to 2,000 word set of postings on higher education sent electronically to, at the moment, 25,180 subscribers at more than 650 academic institutions in over 100 countries around the world.
The goals of the List ("desk-top faculty development, one hundred times per year") are to provide:
* provocative and practical material on current issues and problems in higher education
* insights on how to prepare for, find, and succeed at academic careers in higher
* a forum for a contemporary ideas on ways to improve teaching and learning.
ML postings fall into one of five categories:
(1) Tomorrow's Academy
(2) Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs
(3) Tomorrow's Academic Careers
(4) Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
(5) Tomorrow's Research
The majority of the ML postings consist of excerpts chosen by the editor from books and journals provided on a complementary basis by a number of higher education publishers. The quid pro quo in this arrangement is that full attribution is given in each posting along with the publisher's URL. To date almost 50 journals, magazines and publishers have provided material for the List.
How the ML Works
Only the ML editor has authorization to post messages. The e-mail addresses of subscribers are carefully protected and are never made available to publishers or other academic institutions. A software program has been developed to enable sorting of the subscriber base by academic institution.
A ML website [ http://ctl.stanford.edu/Tomprof/postings.html] houses all past postings sorted by the five ML categories. Subscribers can also comment on and topic by going to the MIT sponsored blog at: http://amps-tools.mit.edu/tomprofblog/
The editor spends approximately ten percent of his time on the ML, primarily in selecting and preparing articles for posting and responding to subscriber inquiries. A part-time employee spends an average of five hours per week on the maintenance of the ML website and subscriber list, the gathering of statistics, and the typing of postings.
Subscribers are found across the academic spectrum, from graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, to professors and university administrators, to those interested in higher education at foundations and government agencies, and even individuals in private industry. Subscriber percentages by discipline and professional status are as follows:
Percentage of Subscribers by Discipline
Social Sciences 23
Physical Sciences 16
Life Sciences 9
Subscribers by Professional Status
Professional Status Percentage
Assistant Professor 24
Full Professor 20
Graduate Student 18
Associate Professor 9
Higher Ed Administrator 9
Part-time/adjunct faculty 5
Impact of ML Postings
The ML has had a significant impact on a number of its subscribers. Below are as small selection of unsolicited comments received over the years from more than 1,000 subscribers.
(Note: titles listed were accurate at the time e-mail was received).
From a senior academic administrator:
"The Tomorrow's professor ML is fabulous and very useful. I really enjoy it." Nancy Cantor, provost, University of Michigan
From a college dean:
"The ML has been of great benefit to our profession. It uses the medium (frequency of messages, excellent editing, and so on) in a way that allows the information to be easily shared." Tim Snyder, dean of science Georgetown University:
From a department chair:
"The Association of Communication Administration is comprised of about 350 department chairs/deans of communication departments/colleges. Much of the TP ML would be of interest to ACA's membership and would serve as an excellent source of on-line discussions." Janesl Gaudino, Executive Director, National Communication Association
From a senior professors at major research university:
"I read it religiously and recommend to many of my colleagues." Eric Mazur, Physics, Harvard University
From an assistant professor at liberal arts colleges:
"It's like professional development right here at my office...and, being at a small college where it is sometimes difficult to have discussions on select topics, it really helps." Markita Price, Mathematics & Computer Science, Stephens College
Elements of a Successful ML
The survey results presented above suggest that the following elements contribute significantly to the Mailging List's popularity:
(1) The ML is "pushed" at subscribers via twice per week e-mail messages, rather than requiring
subscribers to "pull" postings from a website.
(2) Each posting is brief (750-1500 words) and self contained.
(3) Postings are limited to two per week, 100 times per year.
(4) The postings contain interesting, practical, and/or provocative material.
(5) Follow-up sites for additional information are available.
(6) The ML website contains all previous postings sorted by category.
(7) Subscribers obtain information that is not widely know to their colleagues.
While a subscriber base of over 25,000 is impressive, there are still a number of untouched faculty and graduate students particularly in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, and South America. The search engine, Yahoo.com lists over 14,000 academic institutions in over 120 countries world-wide.
Internet connection limitations, particularly in Africa, South America and parts of Asia, native languages other than English, and differences in the structure of academic institutions, are factors that limit expansion of the subscriber base to these areas.
While many subscribers in the above regions indicate an interest in U.S. and Canadian thinking about issues in higher education, a broader range of postings from work outside of these two countries would also be desirable.
Specific strategies to address these issues might include:
* Ask existing subscribers to specifically inform colleagues about the ML. Also provide a sample announcement template.
* Obtain faculty e-mail address from institution URL's and use these to send sample postings.
* Check international professional societies for mailing lists and obtain their endorsement for mailings to their membership.
Over the last 10 years, the Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List has developed a reputation for brief, compelling, and useful postings of interest to a broad community of academics. The task ahead is to bring the benefits of the List to more students and faculty, particularly those outside the United States and Canada. Subscriber thoughts in this regard are most welcome.