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, October 26, 2006

Giving Psychology Away

This week has been a busy one for me. There is an old saying and I cannot remember who said this but as a field we must be willing to give psychology away. Meaning, that we should openly disseminate our research findings to the public and not keep our "trade secrets" so to speak. For me these past two weeks have been all about giving psychology away. Tis the season for conference presentation submissions. This month our deapartment will hold our annual Northern Lights Undergraduate Psychology Conference. This is a small regional conference dedicated to having a welcoming atmosphere for undergraduate and graduate students present their research. A good starter conference. This year I am only presenting a poster, but in the past I have often given short talks.

In addition to preparing my poster for Northern Lights, I have also engaged in the exercise in brevity that is submitting abstracts to the Midwestern Psychological Association. This submission requires that you send a 400 word abstract to be reviewed and a 50 word abstract for publication should your presentation be approved. It may not wound so difficult, but it is really hard to shorted a whole research study into 400 words in a way that convinces a reviewer that it is worthy of their conference. However, it is done and now I have one more abstract to write for APA which is due December 1.

I have also been working on a draft of my jab talk. When applying for academic jobs, it is customary to be asked to "give a short talk" on your research. This short talk is usually about 45 minutes long with about 15 minutes of questioning. However, the trick is to try to relay your program of study to an audience who may have little to no background in your research field in a way that is both academic and engaging. No small task....but I am up to the task. The graduate student organization I am in is giving students a chance to practice their talks in a non-threatening environment tonight. I committed to doing this pretty much to get my butt into gear and to have some sort of presentable topic. This will surely not be my final version of my job talk, but I am hoping that this practice and the critiques that I will receive will be useful for preparing the final product.

Now I just need an interview in which to give my talk.

But this encompases the idea of giving psychology away, at least to the psychological community. Most of these events are geared toward psychologists and students of psychology. To truely give psychology away we must package our information in a way that the public as a whole can have access and, more importantly, understand. But that is as science has been. We get so specialized and so technical that we can often forget that this knowledge might be useful to the public.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Feedback and Assessment

These past two weeks have been pretty interesting for me. During these past couple of weeks students in one of our introduction to University living courses have been given the task of interviewing one of their professors. They are instructed to ask questions about the professor's college days, the profs first year in college, why the prof chose to be a prof, how they make relationships with their students, and advice on struggling students and overall first-year success.

I have been interviewed now by about 10 of my Intro to Psychology students, which makes me feel pretty good. I know that my students feel comfortable enough to ask to talk to me one-on-one. This is not that surprising since I'm not too far removed age-wise from most of my students. But it also gave me a chance to reflect on my own ideas of what higher education is all about and the advice that I would give to new college students. In general I tell them to keep up with the classes, go to lecture (I found that one out the hard way my first semester of college), get a good social network, and to become involved in all that their school has to offer from sports to organizations, to the traditions of the school. For me higher education is so much more than simply getting a degree to get a job, it is about an experience to help one discover who they are and to further broaden themselves as a person. I am a firm believer in the Liberal Arts tradition of higher education.

I also asked my class to complete an annonymous course assessment letting me know what resources they are using and how useful they find them. Generally the comments are good and the use of the resources is not surprising (most like my lecture notes that I post after lecture, fewer actually use the textbook). But what I liked was the free comments that I allowed students to give. Again, generally good, but it let me know that I should slow down just a bit during lecture. I tend to go a little too fast, but if I slow down just a bit between introducing a concept and then giving my examples it should help those who feel I go a bit fast. But I got the general feeling that my students are enjoying coming to my lectures and find my lecturing style useful and educational.

So yeah for me, I am doing a pretty good job and now I have some concrete feedback that I am doing a good job too. Hopefully this will translate into my next big challenge of teaching Abnormal Psychology next spring, which is more outside my comfort zone.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The joys of departmental process

Today I got to sit in a full faculty meeting becuase I am the chair of the department's Curriculum Committee and I needed to be present to take notes on an issue that was up for discussion. This is not the first time I have been in these meetings. I have been a student representative for my class twice, so I am well aware of how these meetings typically go.

What never really fails to impress me is how office business is conducted in higher education. Now I only have knowledge of how things work at the department level within my own department. But it is amazing to me how slowly things seem to move. I am also impressed by how passionate some individuals become on certain topics. Sometimes these passions are not shared by all and results in long disucssions of items that people outside of the group (and perhaps in the group) might view as unimportant, mundane, or nit-picky. I am quite sure that this is not unique to the department that I am in.

But I am very glad to have experienced these meetings and have been introduced to all of the issues that academics must think about. Some of the issues that I would have thought unimportant, I can now see how it could greatly affect one's career such as how teaching, research and service are assessed within a system. Questions that I would not have thought to ask on my (hopeful) job interviews, I now can ask with knowledge and realize the importance of the answers to these questions.

There are so many behind-the-scenes activities that I was never aware of, and probaly would not have been unless I had decided to actively participate in the activities of departmenal business. I have been very fortunate to have leadership in my department that allows graduate students to have these experiences.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The ups and downs....

As with any other job out there, academic life also has it's highs and lows. This past week, I had a review article that I wrote for one of my comprehensive exams accepted for publication in a journal called Computers and Human Behavior, that same day, I once again had a manuscript based on my Master's Thesis rejected outright. What is strange about that was my advisor thought that the results should have come out the other way.

Now this week the job emotional rollercoaster has already began. I am very interested in a particular institution and have just been informed that they had already conducted some phone interviews and are in the process of requesting on-site interviews. I had not been contacted, which means once again, I was not one of the top candidates. One reason why may be because they are searching for a different field of interest, but the position sounds very interesting and having a chance at it would make other decisions a little easier as far as employment for my husband, Caleb.

Then today, I was interviewed by one of my Intro students for her Intro to Ulife course. I was touched that she chose me out of all of her professors this semester. I basically was asked questions about why I chose to be a professor and what my beliefs about higher education and some advice to freshman students would be. Also knowing that I am an avid Minnesota Twins fan, she asked who myy favorite player and what my predictions for the playoffs were.

So my life has many ups and downs now. However, it will really start when rejection letters and requests for phone interviews start coming, hopefully in the next month or so. For now I keep plugging away at teaching, research and generally trying to graduate and have some sort of livelihood in the future. Things should work out in the end, it is always a ride though!