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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Summers can be great

One of the things I really like about being in education are the summers. In higher ed. you really don't have summers off, per se. Sometimes you are not paid much, but many times summers are seen as extra time to do research and other things that get pushed back during a hectic academic year.

However, though work is still being done, there is more free time...especially still as a grad student. This past memorial day we went to Minneapolis to see a couple of Twins games. On Friday we say a historic day when the new Twins ballpark bill was oficially signed into law. On this day we saw Twins greats such as Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, Kent Herbek, Carew, Gladden, and others. On Saturday we saw a couple of more historic events...Boof Bonzer got his first Major League win, and the Twins turned a TRIPLE PLAY against Seattle!

Summers are great for short mini-breaks like this. Hopefully we will have enough time and cash to go on a short vacation in August before school starts up again for the year.

Sometimes brilliance goes unnoticed

Last week I received a rejection from a journal that I had submitted my thesis manuscript to. This was after I had returned a third revision of this particular ms. Basically, the reviewer decided that I was unfounded in my conclusions and that I didn't know what I was talking about. Oh, rejection can be brutal...especially when you think what you have is actually good stuff.

My advisor and I both agree that the points that this reviewer found unsurprising and not worth of publication are actually quite interesting and could possibly be very usefull to educators. But so is the publication game in academia. Sometimes what you think is good stuff is really just seen as crap by a reviewer. All that needs to be done is some more revision, some retooling, and then send it off somewhere else.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Summers are hard

Summer has now officially begun for me. By officially I mean that I have decided myself that I will stop goofing off so much and actually get some work done. Over the past few years in Grad school, summers have usually been a bit of a reprise from school (as summer usually are for students). I have done quite a bit of work during the summers, but this usually consists of putting the finishing touch on my Thesis, or doing some reading for dissertation and thesis proposals. Work, but not reallyy difficult, "I have to think and really make sense of stuff" sort of work. Well, this summer is different. I am working on interpreting my results from my dissertation research and I am already begninning to get a headache from it.

My dissertation is a relatively comprehensive and applied study of study habits and goal orientation. Basically a big fat mess. For starters I am interested in something that is a hypothetical construct (motivation) and that makes things difficult to really understand and interpret. I am also working with applied data, not neatly controlled laboratory data. That makes interpretation diffucult becuase of all of the possible variables at play.

I have not really had to do this much thinking on my own during a summer and this is difficult for a few reasons. 1) it's summer and I want to play outside. 2) I do not have a set schedule and I therefore tend to sleep in, go shopping, read fun books, and other stuff. 3) There doesn't seem to be any hard deadlines and it is hard to be motivated to get stuff done when deadlines are so far away (like in November).

So I find it hard to get motivated to really do work. I do other stuff. But nonetheless, I need to keep truckin' and get a little bit done every day. Right now everything seems so big I don't really know where to start. What I need to do is make a plan of attack.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Who am I? Why am I here?

I guess since this blog is about the road to being an academic, I should tell the story of why I chose this particular profession. Well, it all started out when I was just a wee college student...

It was the mid-late 1990's and I was going to college at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul Minnesota. I had chosen this school because I wanted to be in the big city, go to a private school, and when I visited there were more cute boys around than there were when I visited Hamiline College (also in St. Paul). I entered college with really no true goals of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I just had always known that I would go to college. One of those givens in my life. I have always enjoyed school and so why not extend it beyond High School. I was also a pretty smart cookie and I knew all the smart kids went on to college. I did not want to think of what life with just a high school diploma would be like.

As I progressed through UST I found that I was interested in psychology. My first interest had started in high school when I took a high school psychology course from my teacher Mr. Beisel. Cudos to you Mr Beisel for getting my interested in the first place! I was interested in psychology after taking my first intro class and so in my just before my second semester as a sophomore, I decided to declare myself a Psych major.

I then needed to start taking my core classes. I found out when I began planning my program of study that there was some aspects that I did not expect of a psych. major. Namely math. I had to take Statistics my sophomore year and really did not fully understand why and was a bit disheartened. I was never really good at math and had a bit of a math anxiety, but I took the class. You need statistics to be able to do research, which was the next class I had to take for my major in order to basically take any other upper level psych class.

Well, research methods was where I really fell in love with psychology. I found that I did enjoy the content of the field, I knew that from taking Intro. But somehow I knew I wasn't in it for the clinical or counseling part of psychology. No, now I knew where my niche was....Research psychology.

I loved conducting little experiments, designing studies and testing my hypotheses. During research methods I learned how statistics are used as a tool to answer questions (and I am still a huge stats nerd today!). Now after taking research methods I knew that I wanted to be able to do research....but where does one do that.

Moving on through my major I learned that the only place to really do research was in higher education. I also learned that I really admired my professors and I wanted to do what they did for a living. My psychology professors were more than just teachers...they were inspirations to me. My advisor, Dr. John Buri, is by far the best professor I have ever had. You can look him up at and see the rave reviews that he receives. And he earns every single one. Other noted professors I had were Dr. WilliamsMorris, Dr. Robinson-Reigler, Dr. Mabry, Dr. Chakley, and Dr. Hamdan. All of these faculty members were dedicated to their students' learning and also let all of their students know that they cared.

So when I was at the end of my undergraduate career, I knew that I loved research, I wanted to teach, and that I wanted to focus more on teaching than research (but not completely!). I knew I would go to graduate school, but I did not know what area of research I was interested in.

Because of this I took a couple of years off. I got married, lived in England for a while, lived in Oklahoma for a while, and learned that I had an interest in researching how technology is used in learning. I mostly got this interest because of my husband's computer-based training sessions when he was in training for the Air Force. I wondered, was it any good, what are different ways to program learning, what about the Internet. Keep in mind that as I was going through college, learning on the Internet was still relatively new. When I first entered St. Thomas we still had to use PINE to access our e-mail and none of my professors used PowerPoint or Blackboard in their classes (I don't think Blackboard even existed).

Now with the abundance of technology that can be used, we as researchers and educators have a duty to find out what works, what doesn't and what is just bells and whistles. When the time came and I was able, I applied for graduate school at the University of North Dakota and am now working with Mark Grabe, an expert in the use of technology in education.

So that is a short (too late) version of how I got to where I am now, and why I decided to do what I am doing. I have thoroghly enjoyed my Graduate career and in another post I will describe more of what these past four years have been like. But for now, you know a bit more about me.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The end of a long semester

Well, it's officially over (I hope)! I have just finished entering in the final grades for my students, and I should now be officially done with Spring 2006 semester. This has truly been a trial semester for me. I will not get into fine details, but I will say that I learned a lot about what it will be like to be a professor at a school with a larger teaching load.

I taught 3 different classes this semester, Intro to Psychology, Educational Psychology, and Developmental Psychology. It is interesting how each school I taught at had its own personality. Each class has its own personality as well. For example, in my Developmetal class I have students who are not psych majors, but are very motivated to get a high grade because this is a course that matters toward their GPA to get into other programs. So though they may not be interested in the material, they are really scrambling for A's. In my Intro class (at a local community college) there is basically no motivation, save a few individuals. Ed psych is a bit of a combination of the two.

Along with the different personalities of each course, I also had a series of student dramas this semester to deal with. Again, no details provided here due to confidentiality of the students, but let me just say, everyone seemed to have had a bad semester this Spring. My classmate and friend who also taught 3 classes this year can vouch for that.

On the bright side, I learned a lot. How to deal with students having personal problems, giving out incomplete grades and what that entails, etc. But now that the final grades are in, I guess I will just have to sit back and wait for any disagreements about final grades. I especially expect this from my Intro to Psych class. Many people just stopped showing up, never dropped, and therefor got the grade they deserved.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Moving on...

Well after a brief bit of post-rejection depression (the second to worse one next to my rejection letter from Macalester), I am now in the acceptance phase of what will look like my next 6 months or so.

I just finished with a meeting with my advisor on the analyses for my dissertation thus far. I am happy that he is interested in what I found. He can at times be a bit unreadable as to whether what I find interests him. Usually I find that what I find interesting is not what he finds interesting, but we have different interests and agendas in our research interests.

I also was impressed that he asked for MY help in learning what exactly to do with some stuff that he is doing. I am definately sensing a change in our mentor/mentee relationship. I find it becoming more equal, though he is certainly still much more experienced in research than I am.

I am still unsure as to what definatly lies in front of me as far a what my activities will be in the fall. Still bouncing the NDSU idea around, but I really do not want to deal with an hour long drive 5 days a week. My sister-in-law does that already, however it was forced upon her, and she dreads it. Plus with the weather here and gas prices, it may not be worth it. Maybe there will be something at Northland.

Well, it seems thought that I can relax a bit more, take more time with the dissertation and write up something really cool.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A new start...

The content of this blog is intended to be a diary of sorts to track my life as a (hopefully) soon-to-be academic. I am currently a fourth year graduate student in Experimental Psychology. For most of you, no, this does not mean that I will be seeing clients, helping people with pathology, or "shrinking" heads. No I am much more of the prototypical "lab coat" scientist. My future goals include wanting to be a faculty member at a 4-year college or university, teaching, conducting research and engaging in service activities (aadvising, committee work, etc).

I have intended to start a blog now for a year or so, but I did not seem to be at a so-called "starting point" in my life where it would make sense to really start. Though I am not yet at a "starting point" truely, I am to some extent.

Today finished a year-long process of attempting to get my first real job. Within academia, the job process is very long, very stressful, and very annoying. Becuase of the academic year, job postings come usually around August or September for tenure-track jobs. I started my journey into the job market with high hopes and excitement. Just last year, another graduate student in my program sucessfully obtained a job after being granted several on-site interviews. This year, seems that the market was flooded by highly qualified individuals, as myself and two other graduate student in my program did not fare so well. Out of us three I had two phone interviews, and one invitation to one of the schools which I declined due to a lack of research resourses. The end of the semester came and an opportunity to get a one-year position at my university came up and I ended up competing with my classmate and friend for this position.

What a way to end 9 months of job hunting....a temporary job where I was competing with my friend of 4 years to obtain. Today the committee that was chosen to give a recommendation of which candidate to choose held their interviews, and disappointingly my friend, not I, was offered the position.

Now don't get me wrong, I am happy that my friend got the job. She really needed it financially more than I did, but yet I am disappointed and what an end to a generally disappointing year. However, there are positives. I do not have to rush to finish my dissertation. I can take my time and do a quality job. Also possibly this eliminates some difficult decisions that will need to be made in the future concerning my husband's job and moving.

Therefore, after this year, I do sort of believe that I am back to a starting point. I will most likely continue to be a graduate student for at least another semester if not another year, and I will begin the job hunting process once again. So in a way this is a new beginning. Many unanswered questions that I had yesterday are now answered and I can go on with my life knowing that I will be here and not totally stressed out trying to finish a dissertation and prep 3 classes that I have never taught.

I have always had the idea that I will end up where I was meant to. Through my hard work and dedication to this point I have prepared myself to be a good academic (I think). Now it is up to the Higher Power to help guide me to where I truely belong. But hopefully that will be somewhere near the Twin Cities in a liberal arts school :)

So here begins a written account of my going on's and doings as a wannabe academic. I do believe that I already am an academic, I just have not yet found a permanent home. Within this blog I expect to give accounts of my progress in teaching and research as well as reflecting on what it means to be a new academic. I also will use this to post ideas that I think about as they relate to my research interests and career. Hopefully others will find this blog who are in similar situations. Finally, there is some emerging research that suggests that activities such as blogging help cognitive functioning as we age. Though I am but a late 20-something, I do feel that I must do all I can to keep my mind from slipping...I certainly don't want to become the "absentminded professor!"