The Life of a Wannabe Academic

Detail of the life a new academic. The progress from graduate training to professor. Includes reflections on the job hunting process, research in technology and education, and what it is like to be a new college professor.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


To anyone who might follow this blog, I have started a new blog through my college which will be a focus of some of my more professional opinions, thoughts, ramblings. At this point I plan to keep this blog active (well, as active as it has in the past which is to say...not extremely) as a venue for some of my more personal opinions, thoughts, ramblings. Not really sure how long this two-blog system will continue. But for those interested in following the other as well as this blog here is the address:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Student Conference Travel

Tonight I write this post from a hotel room in Kearney. Sitting comfortably in my Rodeway Inn bed I have been reflecting on what a great experience it is for the students to come to these conferences that are student-focused. I can see the dedication of the students, their nerves, and their pride in their research and in sharing their research. Morningside Psychology department has a great tradition in traveling to these conferences. Today people were asking me if our college would be returning next year. I had to say "of course"! It is getting to the point in our department that it is expected that we travel to Great Plains Undergraduate Research Conference (a traveling conference mostly in MO, NE, OK, and KS).

I know the students also really look forward to this every year. Talk of past trip is often tinted with reminiscence and the idea that this is the last GP conference often seen as a somewhat sad experience.

I wish I had taken more advantage of the conference travel as an Undergraduate. However, our department really only supported one conference, whereas we travel to 3 and sometimes 4 here at Morningside. I am also appreciative of the support given to our students by our department, student government, and administration. This could not be possible without that much needed support.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Conference Travel Season

Today I booked the last of the three different conferences that our department will be traveling to this year. Our department has a good history of supporting and encouraging student travel to both regional and some national conferences. This is a great opportunity for our students and we typically have a pretty good contingent that travels. This year we will be taking about 6 students to Great Plains undergraduate Psychology Conference, 9 to the Midwestern Psychological Association, and 4 student to the national conference APS in San Francisco. Several of these students are simply attending these conferences, but we do have quite a few that will be presenting their own work as well.

I enjoy traveling with students to these conferences, however, the planning that must come beforehand is a killer. Applying for funding from various sources and then attempting to discover just how just out-of-pocket cost there is for each student is a headache. The biggest reason for the headache is that some money can only be used for certain things (like just for housing and registration). Other funding can be used for other costs, but then each student received a different amount of funding from some places. I wanted to poke my eye out with my pen after a while, and honestly just quit after a bit. But I will need to figure out this weekend's expenses very soon.

I am glad however, that our student government and dean are so supportive of student travel. Most cost is minimal for the student especially for the types of larger conferences we go to.

I myself am very excited to go to APS this year with the students. we have 2 students presenting, one on the normal professional program! It is in San Francisco and I am excited to be able to spend some more time in that city than I did last time I visited. I will definately be visiting Alcatraz this year! And even more exciting is that I get to present some of my own research at both MPA and APS! YaY!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spring break looms

It is the week before spring break here and I have been in a bit of an unusually good mood so far this week. I'm sure part of it has to do with a nice vacation soon to begin, but I have also had a pretty low-stress work week. I have been caught up on grading now since late last week and there have been very few assignments, test, papers this week.

With some of the newly freed time I will have time to start preparing a couple of poster presentations and a manuscript. Last semester I conducted a comparison study between my two developmental psychology sections. One class used a personal response system and the other did not. All other aspects of the course here held constant (assignments, reading questions, questions asked in class, tests, etc.) the only difference is that the 'clicker' class answered questions via the response system and the other class did it the old fashioned way.

I predicted no difference in test scores or class performance but possibly a higher measure of engagement. I found neither to be the case, however, I have some qualitative data to support that the students enjoy using the clickers.

My hypothesis now is that it is the issue of the 'wetware' or personnel in the classroom that really has the largest impact on student learning. The hardware may enhance this slightly, but no hardware will compensate greatly for bad teaching. This is not a new argument, but i know of little research that was designed in this manner that would allow for a speculation such as this. I taught both sections and there was little significant difference in the performance and engagement level of the students. Now I am also assuming that I am a decent instructor and not a bad one, I suppose that would be a logical additional variable, but probably unethical for me to teach two more classes poorly.

So for most of the rest of the day I will begin my writing process. It is not a process I necessarily enjoy, but I do get excited about sharing my ideas. I need to at the very least have my two posters ready by April as I travel at the beginning and middle of may for my two conferences.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I can see the light & feel the ocean breeze!

Once again I am embarrassed at the date of my last post (Jan 25th). I do have to admit that these past 4 weeks have probably been the busiest that I have had thus far. I find it amazing how easilty time is sucked away from all of the other responsibilities of the job. For instance, it was my responsibility to go to breakfast and dinner with a number of job candidates for psychology this past month. I am still of the mindset of college and grad school that when food is offered and paid go! But this takes up mornings and evenings when I can be doing something like....oh grading and prepping.

However I have learned that these 'unofficial' events of the job interview is where many important things are learned. Does the person fit socially as well as academically. Fit is vital, especially in a small department like ours. We work closely together and we do this best when we all get along.

Then there are all the little meetings and other events that take your afternoon time away. Committees, stdents meetings, event meetings, faculty meetings, department meetings, etc. Plus I've been very good about keeping up with my fitness and going to the gym at least 3 days a week. More time away for that, but time well used.

With all of this and the crazy business that has been this year I am really looking forward to my spring break which officially starts at about 3:30 next Friday for me! My husband and I are going to a tropical location for a vacation by ourselves. We have not had a big vacation on our own for several years. It will be very nice.

I can also tell that the students are ready for a break. Being a private college, we do not have the typical federal holidays off that the publics usually do, so no 3-day weekends thrown in here and there for MLK jr. day or President's day. Just another day at work for us. I never realized how nice those little 3-day weekends were until I had lost them. Some students seem to be at a breaking point. A little time away will be healthy for everyone.

I was also contacted by a grad school friend this week to help with her dissertation. She says she reads this so "Hi Alison!" So far it is looking promising and what a neat experience for some psyc students to be a part of someone's dissertation research! I hope it all works out. It's very cool to still have the connections at UND and that I can still be of help to folks up there!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The other side of the table

For the next 2 weeks we will be bringing in 4 candidates for our open position in the psych department. Our college is blessed in that we will be hiring for all open faculty positions. Other places are certainly not that lucky. And perhaps even more interestingly we are bringing in 4 people to interview on campus. Again this is interesting because we pay for the candidates' travel expenses and food.

We have brought one person in so far with the next three late this week and early next. I find it interesting to be on 'the other side of the table' so to speak in this process. I have been involved in the interview process in grad school, but this feels much different. I will no longer be the most junior faculty member. I am also finding all of the things that I was taught when I was being mentored in my own job search that the on-site interview is often about the more personal interactions. I am asking myself, does this person fit with this school, will they be able to work with our undergraduate students, is this person willing to put personal research celebrity away and focus on student research, and finally of course, will I want to work with this person on a day-to-day basis.

I was fully aware of these things when I interviewed a couple of years ago, but I am finally learning just how much these characteristics are important for me personally. I am very glad that I did all of my homework for the schools I interviewed at and did not just try to sell myself and my research program to the school. That approach really would not have worked well at my college.

I look forward to meeting the next three people, but when decision time comes, I think that it will be a very difficult decision. I have never realle felt this much control and I'm not sure I like that responsibility. Luckily I don't have to make decisions like this everyday.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Remember that thing called 'time management'

So I am now into the semester with my first full week behind me. My weekly ritual this year has been to create a sort of 'to do' list on Friday afternoon for my work in the next week. This is actually something that I started when I was in grad school, but I wasn't always so ritualistic.

I've learned to do this for 2 reasons: 1) I can cross stuff out when I finish them (feels like I'm actually accomplishing something) and 2) so that I'm not surprised at the amount of work I need to do for the week when I come in Monday morning. With my first year of full faculty responsibilities I am learning that time management is absolutely critical. I sometimes balk at the way my weekly calendar seems to just magically fill up with meetings. I've actually started to highlight in my book as well as just writing in times. Otherwise it would just look like a jumbled mess and I wouldn't be sure when it was class time, meeting time, or office hours. Call me anal about it, but I love to have things planned and organized. If I didn't do this, I would be an absolute mess because my memory fails me on these issues.

I'm not yet to the point where I am scheduling in my 'free time' but I fear that I may not be far from that. It is already difficult to protect my lunch time and even then I have an obligation every Friday to provide lunch. I often believe that students (at least lower-level students) often are not aware of just how incredibly busy the average faculty member is. But it is mostly the ignorance on the part of the student of what a faculty members job actually is. Teaching is just a part, and that takes up a lot of time out of the lecture hall! There are also student to meet with for advising and research, multiple committee assignments, student organizations, and an attempt to do some sort of scholarly work. On top of this we try to keep current with the research and have long reading lists. I now currently have a stack of journals with articles I intend to read that is quite literally (in the true sense of the word) a foot high (and these journals are the size of a common magazine). Not sure yet when I'll get to those, but I really should. Oh, and I do like to spend some time with my husband and try to squeeze in time for exercise.

So here is to why I value my long breaks and extended summer vacations. I know it's a great job and that there are a lot of people who probably work a lot harder that I do with fewer breaks, but I will not be ashamed of the privileges that my job affords me.