Tuesday, June 07, 2005

BrightStar's Introduction

Many thanks to Mel for getting this group together. I've enjoyed reading your introductions so far.

I just finished my first year as an assistant professor. I finished grad school / submitted final revisions of my dissertation in July of 2004 and started my new job this past August. I work in the field of Teacher Education, which means that much of my teaching involves working with undergraduates who want to become elementary school teachers, and I also teach graduate courses -- for teachers who are working on their masters degrees in my sub-field and for doctoral students who take courses in my sub-field. I teach two courses per semester.

Something particular about my line of work is the capacity problem in my sub-field: There are often more available faculty positions than qualified candidates available to fill them, so recent Ph.D's on the job market may have multiple job offers. This sometimes leaves people like me wondering, "Do they really think I can do this, or did they just need someone to teach the courses?" I am finally at a point where I believe I can do this line of work, and I believe my department / colleagues believe this as well, so that's a relief... but I wanted to acknowledge that it's complicated taking a job on faculty even when they're not so difficult to come by.

In terms of my response to the introduction of the book, my life as a professor so far has not matched the expectations I developed in graduate school, even though structurally the institutions are similar. I work at a Research I university, and my teaching load is somewhat similar to those who mentored me during graduate school. My expectations were not met, though, because in my work environment I have found the following:
"...seasoned junior colleagues who were horribly stressed and well on their way to a state of 'burnout'; and too often a tense, competitive atmosphere in which personal achievement (often the single-minded pursuit of stardom) was valued over collegial exchange and communal responsibility." (p. xiii)
To be fair, I have found collaborators in my department already, which I see as a blessing, but I have been surprised at how much research and academic work goes on in private. I hoped for more intellectual exchange among colleagues. Also, the pressures for tenure appear to lead decision making in ways that make me uncomfortable, such as tenure track faculty discouraging me from attending meetings, such as those discussing the improvement of the undergraduate curriculum, because that's service and (apparently) I need to focus on research.

The idea of owning up to my own academic dysfunction appeals to me as well. I can see how I contribute to the intellectual isolation I feel at work. Sometimes I resist taking the risk of initiating dialogue about research among colleagues at work because it's initimidating to bring up research issues if others appear to be avoiding those sorts of discussions. It's threatening. I get my ideas evaluated all of the time through reviewers -- why go through that informally at work? (Well, I had informal conversations about research during graduate school, but really only with professors / committee members. I honestly wasn't so great at initiating informal research conversations with fellow grad students.) It makes me vulnerable among my colleagues to bring up those ideas in conversation. It's safer to deal with my intellectual life between me and my computer and my grad students and the few internal reviewers I typically interact with. It would be useful for me to reflect upon how I can be the bright candle I am looking for in my workplace.