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, November 30, 2006

It's the attack of the 3-ring binders!

Yes, it is that time of year once again. Students are frantically finishing their end of course projects and turning them in. Instructors are frantically trying to deal with the enourmous amount of paper, folders, and binders that 200 some odd student projects produce. Today was the day that my Intro students turned in their Psychology Concept portfolios. I had requested that they use the report covers or slim folders, but inevitably I received bulky 3-ring binders that cause things to fall into disaray rather easily!

I am actually pretty excited about grading these projects. I did a similar project like this in my own undergraduate Social Psychology class. Students were required to look for media images, reports, examples, or personal examples of psychology concepts covered in class or by their text book. This is the first time I have had one of my own classes do a project like this however. I am actually hoping to mine some of these for my own use for class examples. I've looked through quite a few of the portfolios already and some are very well done with some great examples.

Luckily this year I also get to share the pain of grading student projects with my 4 TA's. I have split the work between the 5 of us, to a more manageable 30-40 portfolios each. I just hope that the interrater reliability is good. I put pretty straightforward grading rubrics for both the students and graders to follow. So hopefully all will be good. It is always a daunting task to grade student work.

Monday, November 27, 2006

End of semester drag

Usually the end of the semester seems to be the longest for me, and probably for other folks as well. This is the time when I need to hurry up the final touches of the last lectures that I had put off until later (later always seems to come faster than you think), when final projects come in for grading, and especially up here in North Dakota, the weather begins to take a dramatic turn for the worst.

It starts to get to the point where I really look forward to the weekends to do my own work (dissertation and such) while I still have weekends that are free. Most of the weekdays are spent finalizing course preparations and getting final projects graded and final exams written. But on top of all of this, we are expecting a winter storm up here in North Dakota. Seems to be a backward storm to. Winds from the east and snow turning to freezing rain. I am glad that I do not teach tomorrow because I imagine the roads are going to be terrible. I'll work from home and avoid the drive. We haven't had much weather up here yet, so people still haven't quite relearned how to drive in inclement weather.

But only two weeks of classes left and finals. I am glad to be done with my coursework and am able to focus on my class and my dissertation this year. I am excited to see the final projects that my students will be handing in. I am requiring a media portfolio demonstrating psychology concepts. I hope to get some good ideas for examples from these for my future classes. Just wish that grading them wouldn't be so time consuming!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Tom Petty once wrote "the waiting is the hardest part." How true to life this is, especially in the academic job search. Let me describe the basic procedure.

In August to about October applicants furiously search the advertised job postings, Internet, print, e-mail listserves, you name it. After collecting about 30 or 40 or even 50 advertisements you begin to review your job postings eliminating the ones that looked good at the time, but now you feel you don't really qualify for. This eliminates about 5...

Then you begin getting your job materials together: update the vita, write your research and teaching statements, and write your individual letters of intent. The letter of interest or intent involves skill, you must describe yourself in a glowing manner in 2 short pages outlining why you want to go to that institution, why you fit it, what you can teach, and other information. This requires research on each school, usually done by the Internet if you cannot find someone familiar with the institution.

After all of this, (and proofing everything for spelling errors!) you make a list of all of the materials that each school wants. Not all schools want the same thing, plus you modify your materials for the type of school (research vs lib art). Find out how many teaching evaluations, syllabi, evidence of teaching effectiveness (whatever this might entail) and reprints of your research and head out to your local Kinkos or Office Max and lay down a small fortune in printing fees.

Then you go home start printing out your vita, teaching and research statements, and others off your printer, praying you don't run out of ink or that the printer doesn't decide to die. Now you have all of your materials, lay them out neatly and begin stuffing envelopes (I haven't described the process for making envelopes look nice or getting information to your letter writers for sake of brevity...oops too late).

Now you have a stack of envelopes each about 1 lb or so, head out to the post office and lay down yet another small fortune in postage. This is all done in about a week's time.

Now it's November or December. Not as many job ads are being posted for tenure track (this is when the fixed-term start to be advertised). And you have nothing to do but wait........and wait.......and wait. For MONTHS! Waiting to hear if you'll even get a request for a phone interview....waiting to see if they want to bring you to the school for an onsite interview....and then after that!......waiting for an offer! And the worst thing about it (I think) is that now you feel helpless about where you might end up, and even if you'll have a job next year.

This is my second time through this process. Last year was an eye opener for me. This year, I have better credentials, more publications, more teaching, and am much closer to a graduation date. But it is still excruciating to wait! But I will wait, as patiently as I can. I expect in the next few weeks to start expecting the first skinny envelopes to arrive (rejection letters), but I am also expecting many more offers for phone and on-site interviews.

But truly "the waiting is the hardest part."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Reflections on Psychology and Specialization

I attended my University's Undergraduate conference last week. See my previous post for a link. I listened to the keynote speaker, Dr. Frank Farley. He is a very interesting guy. His research has focused on the idea of the type-T or Thrill-seeking personality. An intriguing topic that suggests that some people through a gene-environment reciprocal relationship are more or less likely to take risks in their lives. These risks may be either intellecutal (like Einstein) or Physical (like the Kinevil clan - Hope I spelled the name right). Of course there is a continuum between the Big T and the little t, with most people in the middle somewhere.

But beyond this information, I enjoyed listening to him explain his theory. He is of the camp that suggests that psychology as a field is trying to make things too complicated. He likes his theory as it is, simple...parsimoneous, and resists other psychologists' urges to break down his theory even more (such as what are the type of intellecual Big T's). I am also somewhat of an advocate of this vision. My research is not necessarily limited to just one theoretical viewpoint or to the investigation of one sub-concept of a larger concept. I realize that this makes me difficult to categorize, and perhaps makes others uncomfortable when I suggest that both cognitive and learning theories can explain a phenomenon.

However, I see my research area (educational technology and its uses) as inherently interdisciplinary. If I did not allow myself to investigate phenomenon using other theoretical viewpoints, I feel that I am limiting myself. Additionally, because I usually do applied research, I must be willing to work with messy data that can potentially be expalined using several different theories (was it motivational goals, or operant conditioning that contributed to differences in online study behavior - my answer, probably a little of both).

I feel that this allows me to see more of a big picture, something that Dr. Farley emphatically emphasized. We need to study things that are of importance to society and not be afraid to give our results out to the public in general - or give psychology away. I got a chance to briefly speek to Dr. Farley during our social after the conference. He appeared to be impressed with my research area and shared philosophy of psychological research. Too bad that he got to witness me sing kareoke later that evening in a rendition of "Proud Mary" with the chair of the forensic program and department chair later that night!