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.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Am I qualified to help with career advice?

This past week I have had the task of informing students about the types of jobs that they can get with a psychology degree. I have a basic idea of the types of jobs (we have lists of them to hand to students), unfortunately my own experience is one of the more rare for undergraduate students...not many will go on to grad school to be an academic.

So even though I feel I am quite capable of informing students how to go about getting to graduate school and the types of jobs that this extra training affords, I am not as good with the types of jobs related to psychology that one can get with a B.A.

Luckily at the Majors Fair the college held this Wednesday there were a couple of recent graduates who were working in areas related to psychology (VISTA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters). Had they not been there I would have felt a bit of an impostor I think. I simply need to speak to more people about what types of jobs there are for students who are interested in working in a field related to psychology, but do not want to go on to post-graduate school (or at least not yet).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Respect in the classroom

Recently I received a call for writers who might be interested in contrbuting to chapters of a proposed book about respect in the classroom. I have since kept this call for proposals and might be thinking about writing about an interest in contributing to a chapter in this proposed book. I have an interest in how instructors can illustrate respect for their is a component in my teaching philosophy statement. However, my problem is that my thoughts on this issue are just rationalizations of what I personally think are behaviors that help to show respect for my students and not part of any real empirical research that has been conducted.

A few of the behaviors that I try to demonstrate include starting classes on time and finishing at the end time (not 5-10 min early), having high expectations for course work and test performance but also giving ample opportunity to ask questions and practice the tasks, giving both positive and negative feedback on assignments and papers, and trying to hold that sometimes elusive position of being seen as a professional and expert without coming off as unapproachable or unreachable.

These are behaviors that I see as being respectful, however, I wonder if students see these same behaviors as being exemplars of respect. I am thinking of taking some time in one of my classes to ask what students see as ways that faculty can act that demonstrate respect. I wonder if the same types of behavior that I believe show respect are the same as the student.

The reason that I think there might be a difference is perhaps what the different definitions of "respect" might be. For me showing respect to a student includes not only treating them as a responsible adult who is responsible for his/her own actions, but also to demonstrate that I expect and recognize that through hard work and pushing oneself beyond their confort level they can accomplish great things - even if they do not necessarily believe they can or don't want to. I wonder if a student would see this aspect of respect or if a student would interpret it as a professor being a bit of a hardass. However, I believe this part is crucial becuase sometimes students are not aware of what they are capable of if they are not pressed. Showing a student their true capacities can really help them grow as a person and also demonstrates that I feel that they can better themself - that they are not just a student who does not have the ability or smarts, but someone who if they apply themselves and have the proper amount of guidance, can do great things.

Perhaps if I choose to write a proposal to this call for proposals this is the angle I would take. It is one that has been studied pretty extensively. A book chapter would be a great thing for me at this point in my career, I just wonder if I could coherently write my thoughts on the subject. I am sure that there are several others out there with this same idea who might have more name-power than I do. But it might be worth a try!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Writing as a process means more work for me

I usually have a few short (2-3 page) papers that I expect students to write in my classes. I require this not because I enjoy seeing students suffer (though they may feel that way). No, I do this because I am a believer that writing ability is not something that should be only practiced during one semester of composition class.

When I taught at a state university I would typically get complaints from students that they should not be required to write in anything but an English class. One written complaint even said that they were required to do more writing in my Ed. Psych class than in their Freshman Comp. class (a pretty sad state if that is true becuase there were only 2 papers in my Ed. Psych class!).

However, at my current school (small, private college) I do not get these least they aren't directed at me. Additionally, our school encourages a "writing across the curriculum" mindset. As such I have found less complaining toward my assigned papers and more toward how I choose to grade said papers.

Becuase of some comments that students did not understand my grading scheme, I have decided to take a new approach to the first couple of papers in my classes. I am giving more detailed descriptions (so detailed that I tell students that they must write an introduction and a conclusion....something I would have thought they should be aware of) and giving them an opportunity to revise their first 2 papers for a higher grade.

It goes like this....students get the paper assignment, I get them back, write a bunch of comments (good and bad), assign a grade, hand the paper back, describe to the class common mistakes, and then allow students to revise and resubmit for re-grading. I must say that I was aware at some level how much work this would require on my part (several hours of intense writing and thinking of more useful feedback than simply writing a question mark in the margin). I was hoping though that it would be worth it.

What I found was, HOLY COW IT WORKED! My developmental psychology class handed in their second paper last week and I have finished grading them (the first draft). I used just as critical an eye as the first paper and the average grade in the class rose by a whole letter grade! I hope that the students are seeing these improvements in themselves as well. I've let them know how happy I am that I have seen the improvements, I just hope they see it as well.

I took on this approach for two major reasons beyond the comments I received from students last year. 1) I had several issues with plagiarism that I felt could be addressed by allowing a revise and resubmit policy on the first couple of papers. 2) I realized that I did not really learn to write well until I was in grad school where our major projects (thesis and dissertation) is really writing by revision and resubmission.

I understand that this takes a lot of time and effort on my part, and when I do this again with two sections of developmental I'll likely hate the policy. But I think that it is a positive step in my students' development in writing ability. I'm going to elicit comments from my students after this second paper to see what their opinion is on this policy. Hopefully they will give some meaningful input on ths for me. I think the response will be positive, but I've been surprised before.