Sunday, 19 September 2004

Looking back at a month of gainful employment

Tuesday will mark my “one-month anniversary” as a professor, which—I suppose—is not much of a milestone, but it will do. Overall, I think things are going well and I’m starting to settle in, and everyone has been quite supportive thus far. There are a couple of outstanding concerns, however:

  • Is my teaching good enough? The “being thrown to the wolves” approach to teacher training that I experienced may have its virtues, but it wasn’t much preparation for the different sort of instruction that’s expected at a liberal arts college (the group dynamics of 15 relatively bright students aren’t close to those of 100 with wide variance), so I feel like I’m basically “muddling through” with a combination of lecturing and my vague recollection of graduate seminars.
  • Should I put some more focus on my research? The oblique advice I’ve gotten from my committee is that most potential employers want publications, even from newly-minted Ph.D.s; on the other hand, it appears that the administration here would rather I focus on teaching and departmental service, and I’d rather stay here than go elsewhere, ceteris paribus (of course, part of that isn’t really up to me). I suppose the correct answer here is “both.”

Anyway, we’ll see how things are going again next month.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

good luck with the teaching, Chris. I think it will just get easier after you do it for a semester or two. Maybe ask some of the other faculty for tips. My advice: find any excuse to throw in random references to J. Lo, Brad Pitt, and Britney Spears. Wakes ‘em for a second ot two.


As someone who’s currently seeking the kind of problems you are experiencing, I’m mildly sympathetic. :)

In a perfect world you would focus on teaching—if that’s your forte’—and only publish when you really have something to add to the body of knowledge. In this world they expect both and in fixed quantities.

I spent a good part of the evening reading a professor’s papers (prepublication) coming up with proposed abstracts for them, to get us in the mode of reading the literature. A fellow student suggested she was pawning off work on us, but I corrected him: she’s accomplished and doesn’t need newbies to write abstracts on her own research.


The teaching will get easier as time goes on, I have no doubt. Just relax, do the best you can there, and always keep striving to improve.

Based on what little I know about academia (as a student, as a graduate teaching assistant, and as administration at the college of pharmacy here), though, I’d be shocked to hear that they’d really want you to focus on teaching vice research when it comes time to make a tenure decision. I hope your administration is giving you accurate information, but I’m dubious.

Good luck!

[Permalink] 4. Rick Almeida wrote @ Mon, 20 Sep 2004, 11:55 am CDT:

My experience was that I pretty much got 0 research done my first year as faculty, and I think that’s par for the course. I’m not sure what your specific situation is, but I went from teaching 1 class a semester as a grad student to 4 a semester as faculty, and the increase in work isn’t linear. I also chose to revise my intro class from the ground up, and, anyway, I pretty much lost a year.

Are you on a 1-year contract or tenure track? If the former, is it likely to be extended? If you’re on the tenure track at a 4/4 school, research probably isn’t a priority to the institution. Your department or college ought to have written tenure and promotion criteria – what do those say? Does presenting conference papers count towards tenure? Who got tenure most recently in your department? What’s her vita look like?

About your teaching, it’s probably good enough. If your teaching load consists of a lot of gen ed sections, it’s pretty much definitely good enough – welcome to the world of low expectations. How do your classes with majors go? Do you get a lot of participation? Do folks seem engaged? Is attendance decent?

Good luck!


Laura: Yes, I’ve had to upgrade my references a few years; the kids don’t seem to know who Frankie Valle is, for some reason. ☺ Non-remarkably, Dan Rather gave me a whole week of material for class; helpful guy, that Dan.

Len, Rick: For tenure, the expectation is both teaching and research. Unfortunately, I’m in the weird position of being a one-year with aspirations of getting the tenure-track position doing exactly what I do now. So the things that might help me edge out competitors for the tenure-track job here (teaching, service, being attentive to students) aren’t going to do squat for other positions, where my lack of pubs puts me at a disadvantage, and being able to be “jack of all trades” in terms of teaching isn’t a selling point—and could very well be a negative.

The specifics: I have a 3–3 load (9 actual contact hours, 12 “paper” hours, between 15 and 30 students per class), with 5 total preps. I am half of a nominally three-person department, which is actually a two-person department because one faculty member is a full-time administrator (the executive VP and dean of the college, hired from outside a few years ago); my chair/other colleague got tenure around 1996 or so, under a different administration. He teaches 1 intro to American politics section a year (a core curriculum distribution elective), and the rest comparative and IR; I teach all the rest of the American curriculum (2 intro sections and 3 upper-division classes) and research methods (once a year). We have around 80 majors (the college has about 1300 students total).

Allegedly we may be able to hire a second position (in addition to mine) in 2005, but the college’s finances may be an issue in the way of that—also, the college really needs another psych professor too, so there may be competition for resources. Ideally (if I stay) we should hire an American institutionalist who can possibly also teach some normative theory, which would (a) free me from having to teach things like constitutional law and the presidency, where I am well outside my expertise, and (b) free the chair from needing to teach intro; these two things would allow us to build the major, put some more emphasis on undergraduate research, and offer a reasonably diverse curriculum.

So far, my students (both majors and non-majors) seem to mostly be engaged, with a few exceptions; I think some of that is the expectations of the department’s chair, who has socialized the students to participate in his courses, and some of that is the environment of the college in general.


The courses will be easier the second time around. But Lo, Pitt and Spears will only get you in with the terminally unhip students. Incubus, Insane Clown Posse and Ludacris will raise your hipness quotient much higher.

I still recall the time I saw this 19 year old in a class with a Dead Kennedys shirt on (the DK symbol), and I commenced to quoting from “MTV Get off the air” (circa 1989?). The dropped jaw was priceless.

Good luck!

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