|Historically, physiology undergraduate students across the world have undertaken a laboratory-based, fieldwork or critical review research project, their educational purpose for students to gain research experience. However, decreasing numbers of physiology graduates are going onto careers in research, many are leaving science altogether. It is therefore imperative that we, as educators, better prepare the majority of our students, through their projects, for the diverse range of careers they go onto.
Over the last twenty years, physiology and the broader global bioscience educator community, recognizing this diversity of graduate career destinations, have been expanding the range of projects available to their students, introducing for example, public engagement, educational development or enterprise projects. However, the focus and purpose of these projects remained for students to gain research experience. They were traditional research projects but outside of the laboratory. The literature and Accrediting Bodies project criterion still talked about students undertaking “hypothesis-driven research” and “project/research-based assignments”.
Whilst these traditional research projects may have been relevant fifty years ago, they do not enable the majority of current Bioscience graduates to be “work-place ready”. The world is currently going through its fourth industrial revolution (4IR), a world and workplace governed by robotics, artificial intelligence, digitization and automation. Graduate recruiters require graduates with different skillsets, the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) skills1.
I recognized that radical change was required, not only in my School of Biomedical Sciences, but across bioscience Higher Education globally. Collectively, bioscience educators needed to rethink the purpose, practices and outcomes of undergraduate research projects in order to better prepare our students for an increasingly challenging 21st Century global workplace.
My solution was to introduce project-based capstone experiences into my program. their purpose to provide students with opportunities for personal and professional development, and to gain real life work experience.
A highly experienced science communicator, I facilitated ethical debates in High Schools. I realized that this would make an ideal opportunity for my undergraduates – something different as their research project. Starting small, I collaborated with one of my project mentees to co-create and co-deliver an ethics-focused workshop for High School students at the 2005 Leeds Festival of Science2. The capstone experience, as an alternative to traditional research projects, was born.
Over the last sixteen years, I have progressively expanded the range of capstone opportunities in my course. Colleagues within my School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Leeds (UK), recognizing the benefits of capstones to students, joined me. In partnership with our students, we have created a sector-leading portfolio of traditional research projects offered alongside science or industry-focused capstones, and those with a civic or societal focus in the same course (Figure 1)3. Students select the project that best addresses their individual developmental needs and/or future career intentions. By offering this broad portfolio of sixteen opportunities, it is inclusive, there is something for each and every student to realize their full academic potential and personal goals.
Figure 1: Research and capstone project opportunities available to students
My students have wholeheartedly grasped this opportunity, excelling academically. Their course marks are significantly higher than students undertaking traditional research projects (2020: mean ± SD = 71.4±4.4% vs 68.4±5.8%, p<0.05). In 2020-21, 27% selected capstones as their first choice of project, a massive cultural shift given we are a research-intensive (R1) Institution where laboratory projects have traditionally been viewed by both students and Faculty as the “gold-standard”.
Our work as a team has resulted in the award of a prestigious national (UK) higher education prize, an Advance HE Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence.
My work came to the attention of other Bioscience educators. I was invited to run workshops at Institutions across the UK seeking to introduce capstones into their program. I re-wrote one of the two UK Bioscience Accrediting Bodies project accreditation criteria, incorporating my capstone ideas.
And then Covid struck!
With restricted or no access to research facilities, Bioscience educators globally struggled to provide alternatives to traditional research projects. To support colleagues across the world, in partnership with Sue Jones (York St John University, UK) and Michelle Payne (University of Sunderland, UK), I ran virtual workshops, sharing my capstone ideas and resources. I created and shared globally, guides for students4 and educators5, and resource repositories6,7. The workshops were attended by over 1000 educators from as far afield as Australia, Africa and America. The resources viewed 12,000 times from over 50 countries.
A year on, we surveyed both students and Faculty globally. All responding institutions had introduced capstone projects into their programs in 2020-21. More importantly, they are here to stay. Recognizing the benefits to their future employability and careers, a massive 94% of students wanted capstones to be provided alongside traditional research projects. Faculty thought the same. All are not only keeping capstones, but more importantly, are broadening their portfolios going forward. Each new format developing different skill sets and attributes, and therefore preparing students for additional career destinations. We have inspired sector-wide curriculum change!
Going forward, we cannot return to our old ways!
As the world opens up and returns to a new “normal”, we cannot go back to our old ways of just offering traditional research projects. We would be massively letting our students and wider Society down. We need to take the best from what we have learnt and achieved, both before and during the pandemic, and continue to develop and evolve our collective capstone provision going forward.
We are at the start of an exciting Global journey. Capstones across the world are predominantly conservative in nature, for example taught courses, senior seminar series or extended essays. Educators globally have yet to fully realize the transformative (massive uplift in skills and attributes) and translational (preparation for the workplace) potential of capstones.
We need to create capstones that are more representative of the work place for example, multi-disciplinary teams and sub-teams working on the same capstone, and capstones that run over multiple years, with current students taking the previous year’s project outputs and outcomes to the next stage. The events of the past two years have made Universities realize they need to better address their local and global civic and societal responsibilities and missions, so capstones that facilitate societal engagement. We need to move away from traditional dissertations or reports to more authentic real-world assessments.
Within my School of Biomedical Sciences and the broader University of Leeds, we have started down this journey. Ninety percent of the capstones in my course are now team-based. Students choose their primary assessment method (e.g. academic paper, commercial report, e-portfolio) – the one most suited to their particular capstone format and which best showcases their knowledge, skills and attributes. I have introduced Grand Challenges capstones where students work as to teams to create evidence-driven solutions to global Grand Challenges or UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The intention to develop these into trans-national educational opportunities, where students from the Global North and South work collaboratively on the same SDG or Grand Challenge capstone. We have an Institutional requirement that all undergraduate students, regardless of discipline, must undertake a major research-based assignment in their final year of study. I have been awarded a Leeds Institute of Teaching Excellence to work with Faculty across the University to introduce capstones into their programs and to create pan-university multi-disciplinary capstone opportunities for our students.
I do not do things by halves. My vision is not just limited to Leeds, the UK or the Biosciences, but Global!
I have created a global Community of Practice for stakeholders across the world to work collaboratively together, sharing ideas, expertise and resources, to co-create and introduce inspirational multi-disciplinary, multi-national team-based capstone projects that address globally relevant issues into undergraduate and taught postgraduate degree programs across the world. I want to make it a truly global and inclusive community, to include all stakeholders- students, alumni, educators, employers, NGOs, social enterprise, Global North or South, all disciplines or sectors….The list is endless.
If you would like to join this Community of Practice and be part of this exciting journey, please email me (email@example.com). Please share this opportunity amongst your colleagues, networks and across your Institution. The broader the membership, the greater the collective benefits for all.
If we pull this off, the benefits for students, other stakeholders and Society will be phenomenal. Our graduates would be truly global graduates, equipped with the skills and attributes to become leaders in whatever field they enter. As Faculty, we would be providing an exceptional educational experience for our students, properly preparing them for the workplace. Universities, through student capstones, would be better able to address their civic and societal responsibilities and missions. Employers would have graduates able to take their businesses forward and to thrive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. We would be creating solutions to some of the complex problems facing mankind.
Figure 1: Research and capstone project opportunities available to students
1. Gray, A. (2016). The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/
2. Lewis DI (2011) Enhancing student employability through ethics-based outreach activities and OERs. Bioscience Education 18, 7SE https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3108/beej.18.7SE
3. Lewis DI (2020a). Final year or Honours projects: Time for a total re-think? Physiology News 119: 10-11.
4. Lewis DI (2020b). Choosing the right final year research, honours or capstone project for you. Skills career pathways & what’s involved. https://bit.ly/ChoosingBioCapstone
5. Lewis DI (2020c). Final year research, honours or capstone projects in the Biosciences. How to Do it Guides. https://bit.ly/BiosciCapstones
6. Lewis DI (2020d) E-Biopracticals (Collection of simulations & e-learning resources for use in Bioscience practical education. Available at: https://bit.ly/e-BioPracticals
7. Lewis DI (2020e) Open access data repositories (Collection of large datasets, data analysis & visualization tools). Available at: https://bit.ly/OADataRep.
Mari K. Hopper, PhD
Associate Dean for Biomedical Science
Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine
Disruption sparks creativity and innovation. For example, in hopes of curbing viral spread by moving classroom instruction outdoors, one Texas University recently purchased “circus tents” to use as temporary outdoor classrooms.
Although circus tents may be a creative solution… solving one problem may inadvertently create another. Moving events outdoors may be effective in reducing viral spread, but it also increases the skin’s exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The skin, our body’s largest organ by weight, is vulnerable to injury. For the skin to remain effective in its role of protecting us from pollutants, microbes, and excessive fluid loss – we must protect it.
It is well known that UV radiation, including UVA and UVB, has deleterious effects including sunburn, premature wrinkling and age spots, and most importantly an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Although most of the solar radiation passing through the earth’s atmosphere is UVA, both UVA and UVB cause damage. This damage includes disruption of DNA resulting in the formation of dimers and generation of a DNA repair response. This response may include apoptosis of cells and the release of a number of inflammatory markers such as prostaglandins, histamine, reactive oxygen species, and bradykinin. This classic inflammatory response promotes vasodilation, edema, and the red, hot, and painful condition we refer to as “sun burn.”1,2
Prevention of sunburn is relatively easy and inexpensive. Best practice is to apply broad spectrum sunscreen (blocks both UVA and UVB) 30 minutes before exposure, and reapply every 90 minutes. Most dermatologists recommend using SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Generally speaking, an SPF of 30 will prevent redness for approximately 30 times longer than without the sunscreen. An important point is that the sunscreen must be reapplied to maintain its protection.
There are two basic formulations for sunscreen: chemical and physical. Chemical formulations are designed to be easier to rub into the skin. Chemical sunscreens act similar to a sponge as they “absorb” UV radiation and initiate a chemical reaction which transforms energy from UV rays into heat. Heat generated is then released from the skin.3 This type of sunscreen product typically contains one or more of the following active ingredient organic compounds: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Physical sunscreens work by acting as a shield. This type of sunscreen sits on the surface of the skin and deflects the UV rays. Active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide act in this way.4 It’s interesting to note that some sunscreens include an expiration date – and others do not. It is reassuring that the FDA requires sunscreen to retain their original “strength” for three or more years.
In addition to sunscreen, clothing is effective in blocking UV skin exposure. Darker fabrics with denser weaves are effective, and so too are today’s specially designed fabrics. These special fabrics are tested in the laboratory to determine the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) which is similar to SPF for sunscreen. A fabric must carry a UPF rating of at least 30 to qualify for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. A UPF of 50 allows just 1/50th of the UV rays to penetrate (effectively blocking 98%). Some articles of clothing are produced with a finish that will wash out over time. Other fabrics have inherent properties that block UV rays and remain relatively unchanged due to washing (some loss of protection over time is unavoidable) – be careful to read the clothing label.
Some individuals prefer relying on protective clothing instead of sunscreen due to concerns about vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D activation in the body includes an important chemical conversion stimulated by UV exposure in the skin – and there is concern that sunscreen interferes with this conversion. However, several studies, including a recent review by Neale, et al., concluded that use of sunscreen in natural conditions is NOT associated with vitamin D deficiency.5,6 The authors did go on to note that at the time of publication, they could not find trials testing the high SPF sunscreens that are widely available today (current products available for purchase include SPFs over 100).
Additional concern about use of sunscreens includes systemic absorption of potentially toxic chemicals found in sunscreen. A recent randomized clinical trial conducted by Matta and colleagues investigated the systemic absorption and pharmacokinetics of six active sunscreen ingredients under single and maximal use conditions. Seven Product formulations included lotion, aerosol spray, non-aerosol spray, and pump spray. Their study found that in response to repeat application over 75% of the body surface area, all 6 of the tested active ingredients were absorbed systemically. In this study, plasma concentrations surpassed the current FDA threshold for potentially waiving some of the additional safety studies for sunscreen. The authors went on to note that the data is difficult to translate to common use and further studies are needed. It is important to note that the authors also conclude that due to associated risk for development of skin cancer, we should continue to use sunscreen.
Yet another concern for using sunscreen is the potential for harmful environmental and human health impact. Sunscreen products that include organic UV filters have been implicated in adverse reactions in coral and fish, allergic reactions, and possible endocrine disruption.8,9 In some areas, specific sunscreen products are now being banned (for example, beginning January of 2021, Hawaii will ban products that include oxybenzone and octinoxate). As there are alternatives to the use of various organic compounds, there is a need to continue to monitor and weigh the benefit verses the potential negative effects.
Although the use of sunscreen is being questioned, there is the potential for a decline in use to be associated with an increase in skin cancer. Skin cancer, although on the decline in recent years, is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. It is estimated that more than 3 million people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancers each year (cancer.net). Although this is fewer than the current number of Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 20, 2020) – changes in human behavior during the pandemic (spending more time outdoors) may inadvertently result in an increase in the number of skin cancer cases in future years.
While we responsibly counter the impact of COVID-19 by wearing masks, socially distancing, and congregating outdoors – we must also continue to protect ourselves from damaging effects of the sun. As physiologists, we are called upon to continue to investigate the physiological impacts of various sunscreen delivery modes (lotion, aerosol, non-aerosol spray, and pumps) and SPF formulations. We are also challenged to investigate inadvertent and potentially negative impacts of sunscreen including altered Vitamin D metabolism, systemic absorption of organic chemicals, and potentially adverse environmental and health outcomes.
Again, solving one problem may create another challenge – the work of a physiologist is never done!
Stay safe friends!
- Lopes DM, McMahon SB. Ultraviolet radiation on the skin: a painful experience? CNS neuroscience & therapeutics. 2016;22(2):118-126.
- Dawes JM, Calvo M, Perkins JR, et al. CXCL5 mediates UVB irradiation–induced pain. Science translational medicine. 2011;3(90):90ra60-90ra60.
- Kimbrough DR. The photochemistry of sunscreens. Journal of chemical education. 1997;74(1):51.
- Tsuzuki T, Nearn M, Trotter G. Substantially visibly transparent topical physical sunscreen formulation. In: Google Patents; 2003.
- Passeron T, Bouillon R, Callender V, et al. Sunscreen photoprotection and vitamin D status. British Journal of Dermatology. 2019;181(5):916-931.
- Neale RE, Khan SR, Lucas RM, Waterhouse M, Whiteman DC, Olsen CM. The effect of sunscreen on vitamin D: a review. British Journal of Dermatology. 2019;181(5):907-915.
- Matta MK, Florian J, Zusterzeel R, et al. Effect of sunscreen application on plasma concentration of sunscreen active ingredients: a randomized clinical trial. Jama. 2020;323(3):256-267.
- Schneider SL, Lim HW. Review of environmental effects of oxybenzone and other sunscreen active ingredients. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2019;80(1):266-271.
- DiNardo JC, Downs CA. Dermatological and environmental toxicological impact of the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone/benzophenone‐3. Journal of cosmetic dermatology. 2018;17(1):15-19.
All images from:
Royalty Free Stock Pictures – Public Domain Images
Prior to accepting the Dean’s positon at Sam Houston State University, Dr Hopper taught physiology and served as the Director of Student Research and Scholarly Work at Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM). Dr Hopper earned tenure at IUSM and was twice awarded the Trustees Teaching Award. Based on her experience in developing curriculum, addressing accreditation and teaching and mentoring of medical students, she was selected to help build a new program of Osteopathic Medicine at SHSU. Active in a number of professional organizations, Dr. Hopper is past chair of the Chapter Advisory Council Chair for the American Physiological Society, the HAPS Conference Site Selection Committee, and Past-President of the Indiana Physiological Society.
There is an ever increasing need to train evidenced-based clinicians among all the health disciplines. This is particularly true in the relatively young profession of physical therapy, where the educational standards have shifted from entry level bachelor’s degree requirements to clinical doctorate training. The increase in educational standards reflect the growth of the discipline, with an effort to increase the depth of knowledge and level of skill required to be a physical therapist while moving from technician to an independent direct access practitioner. This evolution also marks a shift in standards of evidenced-based practice from clinical observation to an ability to provide mechanistic understanding which includes fundamental scientific insights and transforms clinical practice. The profession also recognizes the need to advance the profession through research that provides a scientific basis validating physical therapy treatment approaches. As a result, there is an expanding, yet underappreciated role, for the basic science researcher / educator in Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs.
Strategies to integrate and infuse the basic science into practice:
1. Faculty training:
How to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical education? As dual credentialed physical therapist and basic scientist these influence Sonja’s teaching approach, to serve as a “bridge” between foundational science content and clinical application. Teaching across broad content areas in a DPT curriculum provides opportunities to “make the connection” from what students learn in the sciences, clinical courses, and relate these to patient diagnosis and therapeutic approaches.
While dual training is one approach, these credentials combined with years of ongoing contemporary clinical practice, are rare and impractical to implement in an academic setting. Most often DPT programs rely on PhD trained anatomists, neuroanatomists, and physiologists to teach foundational courses, often borrowed from other departments to fulfill these foundational teaching needs. Thus, Chris’s approach is through crosstalk between scientist/physiologist and clinician to serve as a role model and teach the application of discoveries for identifying best evidence in clinical decision making. By either approach, we have become that key bridge teaching and demonstrating how foundational science, both basic and applied impact clinical decision making.
2. Placement of foundational science courses (physiology, neuroscience, anatomy):
Traditional curricular approaches introduce foundational sciences in anatomy, neuroscience, and physiology in the first year of the DPT curriculum, followed by clinical content with either integrated or end loaded clinical experiences over the course of remaining 2.5-3 years. Our current program established an alternative approach of introducing foundational sciences after the introduction of clinical content and subsequently followed by a full time clinical clerkship/ education. Having taught in both models, early or late introduction of foundational sciences, we recognized either partitioned approaches lead to educational gaps and makes bridging the knowledge to application gap challenging for students.
Regardless, the overall message is clear and suggestive of the need for better integration of foundational/scientific content throughout the curriculum. These challenges are not unique to physical therapy, as this knowledge to clinical translation gap is well documented in medicine and nursing and has been the impetus for ongoing curriculum transformations in these programs. These professions are exploring a variety of approaches on how to best deliver /package courses / and curriculum that foster rapid translation into clinical practice. Arena, R., et al., 2017; Fall, L.H. 2015; Newhouse, R.P. and Spring, B., 2010; Fincher et al., 2009.
Recently, new curricular models have emerged within the doctoral of physical therapy curriculum that complement the academic mission to train competent evidenced based clinicians Bliss et al., 2018, Arena R. et al. 2017. These models leverage the faculty expertise of physiologist/scientist, research, and clinical faculty to create integrative learning experiences for students. These models include integrated models of clinical laboratory learning and/ or classroom-based discussion of case scenarios, that pair the basic scientist and the clinical expert. It is our belief, that teaching our clinical students through these models will lead to enhanced educational experience, application of didactic course work, and the appreciation for high quality research both basic and applied.
3. Appreciation and value of foundational sciences through participation in faculty led research:
Capstone experiences are common curricular elements for the physical therapy profession. This model is believed to 1) prepare future physical therapy generations to provide high-quality clinical care and, 2) provide research needed to guide evidence-based care, and 3) foster the appreciation for evidence and advances in the field. We believe these pipeline experiences could allow for advanced training incorporating strong foundational (science) knowledge that is relevant to the field, which can be applied broadly and adapted to integrate the rapidly growing knowledge base. Such models may assist in integrating the importance of scientific findings (basic and applied) while facilitating the breakdown of barriers (perceived and real) that silo clinical and foundational content (Haramati, A., 2011).
Contributing to the barriers are that relatively few of the basic sciences and translational studies are being conducted by rehabilitation experts. Furthermore, like medicine disciplines, it is unlikely that DPT faculty will be experts as both a clinician and scientist. Rather these emerging models promote teams of scientists and clinical faculty who work together to promote scientific, evidence-based education (Polancich S. et al., 2018; Read and Ward 2017; Fincher et al., 2009). Implementation of these education models requires “buy in” from administration and faculty who must recognize and value a core of outstanding clinician-educators, clinician-scientists, and basic scientists, and reward effective collaboration in education (Fincher 2009).
Although these models are flowering in research intensive universities, the challenges of integrating the basic sciences are greater in programs embedded within smaller liberal arts institutions that lack the infrastructure and administrative support for creating teaching-science-clinical synergies. Often these programs are heavily weighted towards clinical education faculty who emphasize clinical teaching and development of clinical skills, with a less integrated emphasis on the fundamental science in clinical decision making. Our own experience, having taught foundational (physiology and neuroscience) sciences, are that faculty in these programs are more reluctant to embrace and value foundational sciences. A possible explanation may be the limited exposure to and unrecognized value of contributions to the field from such basic and translational approaches. It is frequently implied if it works, it may not be necessary to understand mechanistically how it works. While this might suffice for today’s practice approach, this will not be enough for future clinicians in a rapidly evolving clinical environment. Programs that may not foster scientific curiosity, may be missing the opportunity to instill lifelong learning. We agree with other educators that the integration of basic science is critical for the student progress toward independence and essential competence, and that health science educators should support the teaching of basic science as it aids in the teaching of how to solve complex clinical scenarios even if clinicians may not emphasize the basic science that underlies their reasoning (Pangaro, 2011).
Physical therapy departments particularly those within major academic centers housing a mix of research, education, and clinically focused faculty can successfully operate a curriculum able to synergize education, research, and clinical initiatives. Creating synergies early in a curriculum by pairing clinical specialists with science trained faculty will facilitate connections between clinical practice and science (Bliss, et al., 2018). While curricular change can be challenging, programs that implement a collaborative model where faculty with a shared area of expertise (e.g., orthopedics, neurology, cardiopulmonary, pediatrics and geriatrics) and unique complementary skill sets (i.e., research, education, and clinical practice) come together to transform student educational experiences – completing that bridge between basic science and clinical practice.
Arena, R., Girolami, G., Aruin, A., Keil, A., Sainsbury, J. and Phillips, S.A.,
Integrated approaches to physical Therapy education: a new comprehensive model from the University of Illinois Chicago, Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 2017, 33:5, 353-360, doi: 10.1080/09593985.2017.1305471.
Bliss, R., Brueilly, K. E., Swiggum, M. S., Morris, G. S., Williamson, E.M., Importance of Terminal Academic Degreed Core Faculty in Physical Therapist Education, Journal of Physical Therapy Education. 2018, 32(2):123-127, doi: 10.1097/JTE.0000000000000054.
Fall, L.H., The Collaborative Construction of the Clinical Mind: Excellence in Patient Care through Cognitive Integration of Basic Sciences Concepts into Routine Clinical Practice, Med.Sci.Educ. 2015, 25(Suppl 1): 5, doi: 10.1007/s40670-015-0192-9.
Fincher, M., Wallach P., and Richardson, W.S., Basic Science Right, Not Basic Science Lite: Medical Education at a Crossroad, J Gen Intern Med. 2009, Nov; 24(11): 1255–1258, doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-1109-3
Haramati, A., Fostering Scientific Curiosity and Professional Behaviors in a Basic Science Curriculum, Med.Sci.Educ. 2011, 21(Suppl 3): 254, doi: 10.1007/BF03341720.
Newhouse, R.P. and Spring, B., Interdisciplinary Evidence-based Practice: Moving from Silos to Synergy, Nurs Outlook. 2010, Nov–Dec; 58(6): 309–317, doi: 10.1016/j.outlook.2010.09.001.
Pangaro, L., The Role and Value of the Basic Sciences in Medical Education: The Perspective of Clinical Education -Students’ Progress from Understanding to Action. Medical Science Educator. 2010, Volume 20: No. 3. 307-313.
Polancich, S., Roussel, L., Graves, B.A., O’Neal, P.V., A regional consortium for doctor of nursing practice education: Integrating improvement science into the curriculum. J Prof Nurs. 2017, Nov – Dec;33(6):417-421, doi: 10.1016/j.profnurs.2017.07.013.
Why Teaching? Why at a Liberal Arts school? These are two questions that I am often asked. I used to give the standard answers. “I enjoy working with the students.” “I didn’t want to have to apply for funding to keep my job.” “A small, liberal arts school allows me to get to know the students.” But more recently those answers have changed.
A year or so ago, I returned to my undergraduate alma mater to celebrate the retirement of a biology faculty member who had been with the school for almost 50 years. As I toured the science facilities—which had been updated and now rival the facilities of many larger research universities—I reflected on where I had come from and how I came to be a biology professor at a small liberal arts school in Iowa.
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In fact my parents still live in the house they purchased before I was born. My parents valued education and believed it was their job to provide their three children with the opportunity to go to college. Because there were three of us, it was expected that we would attend college in Pennsylvania. At that time, the way to learn about colleges was to go to the guidance counselor’s office or to sift through all of the mailings that came to the house. One of the schools I chose to visit was Lebanon Valley College (LVC), a small, private, liberal arts institution in Annville, PA (central Pennsylvania). LVC had a strong biology program but my reasons for choosing LVC were I liked the campus, the school was neither too big nor too small, and it was far enough from home but not too far from home. That is how I ended up at LVC.
I was a biology major, pre-med my entire four years at LVC. The biology department at LVC was fantastic. The professors had high expectations, held students to these high expectations, and helped the students to reach those expectations. The professors gave me a solid background in the sciences and opportunities to work in a lab. Both the knowledge I gained and the lab experiences I had allowed me to succeed as a scientist. However, during my journey at LVC, I found that there was more to me than being a biology major or a Pre-Med student. From the beginning of my time at LVC, my professors saw something in me that I could not and chose not to see. My professors saw a person who loved to learn, a person who loved to explore, and a person who loved to share information. They saw an educator, a leader, and a communicator. But regardless of what they saw or what they said, I had to find these elements on my own and for myself.
During my time at LVC, I did not understand what the liberal arts meant or what the liberal arts represented. Back then if you had asked me if I valued the liberal arts, I probably would have said I have no idea. Even when I graduated from LVC, I did not realize the impact that my liberal arts education would have on me. It is only now when I reflect on my time at LVC that I can appreciate and value the impact that my liberal arts education had on the achievement of my goals. It was the courses that were required as a part of the liberal arts program and the professors who taught them that made me a better scientist. The writing and speech classes provided the foundation for my scientific communication skills that continued to develop after graduation. It was in these classes that the professors provided constructive feedback which I then incorporated into future assignments. The leadership, language, literature, philosophy, and art courses and professors provided opportunities to develop my ability to analyze, critique, and reflect. The religion courses taught me that without spirituality and God in my life, there was little joy or meaning to what I accomplished. The liberal arts program provided me with skills that were not discipline specific but skills utilized by many academic fields. These courses allowed the person who loved to learn, the person who loved to explore and ask questions, and the person who loved to share information to flourish. These courses taught me to value all experiences as opportunities to learn and to become a better person. Lebanon Valley College, through the people I met and the education I received, put me on the path to finding the elements that form my identity.
After graduation from LVC, I explored. I accepted a position as a research technician in a laboratory where I remained for three years. During that time, I improved my science skills, but I also had the opportunity to use and improve those other abilities I learned at LVC. After three years, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school. I loved asking new questions, performing experiments, and the feeling I had when an experiment worked and provided new information. I also liked working with students. I loved sharing information and guiding students through the process of learning. I applied to graduate school, was accepted, earned my Ph.D, and then completed two postdoctoral fellowships. My graduate advisor and postdoctoral advisors were supportive of me and allowed me to teach in addition to my research. After two successful postdoctoral fellowships, I had to decide where to go next. I chose teaching and I chose Clarke University. I chose teaching and specifically Clarke because I wanted to go back to my roots. I wanted to take the knowledge and skills I had attained and share them. I chose Clarke University because I saw similarities between it and LVC. I chose Clarke University because of its liberal arts heritage and its focus on the students.
Now, 10 years later, I am a guide for a new generation of students at Clarke University. While there are so many differences between my generation and this generation, I still see similarities. I see students eager to come to class so they can learn. I see students excited when they understand a difficult concept. I see students who want to make a difference in this world. I do not know what a student would say if I asked them if they valued their liberal arts education or me as their teacher. My guess is that many of them are just like I was and do not know what the liberal arts represent. Some might even say they do not value the liberal arts or the professors. I can only hope that one day, when the students I teach reflect on their undergraduate careers, they can recognize and appreciate the influence Clarke University, the liberal arts program, and their professors had on them. I know that without my professors and without my liberal arts experience at Lebanon Valley College, I would not be me—the educator, the scientist, the author, the leader, the life-long learner. Nor would I be me—the mother, the wife, the daughter, the sister, the friend, the colleague. Lebanon Valley College and my liberal arts education helped me become the person I am today.
|Melissa DeMotta, PhD is currently an Associate Professor of Biology at Clarke University in Dubuque, IA. Melissa received her BS in biology from Lebanon Valley College. After working for three years at Penn State’s College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, she received her PhD in Physiology and Pharmacology from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Following postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Arizona and Saint Louis University, Melissa joined the Biology Department at Clarke University. Melissa currently teaches Human Physiology and Exercise Physiology to physical therapy graduate students and undergraduates. She also enjoys teaching non-majors life science courses as well.|
Sure, I considered myself ‘pre-med’ from the time in second grade when I told my best friend that I wanted to be a heart surgeon, until the last day to sign up for the MCAT my junior year in college. If I’m being honest, I flirted with the idea of transferring into the MD/PhD program after my first year in graduate school. In any case, after falling in love with my SLAC (small liberal arts college), I knew what I was going to do:
- go to a medical school and earn a PhD,
- do a post-doc, and
- set up my own little corner in the best of both worlds – teaching at a SLAC, with a small, but productive lab, comprised of talented and driven undergraduates.
In fact, when I arrived at the Physiology department (at what is now known as the Lewis Katz School of Medicine) at Temple University for my PhD program, I emphatically announced my intent. While I loved my time in the lab, and particularly my work in cardiovascular physiology and the heart transplant research program, I was meant first and foremost to be a teacher. I took advantage of the few teaching opportunities in the medical school to hone my craft, I took adjunct work when available, and appropriate, at a local college, and I looked for a post-doc which presented me with the opportunity to study a model system which could be done relatively inexpensively at a small school.
Then “life” happened; in 2008 I got married, entered the job market, and found out I was pregnant. If you recall, 2008 was not a good year for tenure-track candidates. The words “hiring freeze” were pervasive and debilitating for those of us on the market. As a result, I continued to hold an adjunct position, working part-time to try to stay relevant as an educator, while also being a part-time stay at home mother. I questioned everything that led up to this moment – I had the blinders on from the time I was seven with regards to my career progression. Now, in my new role as a mother and only partially employed, I wondered if the years of higher education and the student loans were worth it. I was also keenly aware of the problem of watching my employability dwindle away with each passing month, and the competitiveness of the field.
The silver lining of this situation was that it forced me to do what I had refused to do pretty much my entire life – slow down, reflect, and figure out where I was headed. I ended up applying for, and getting, a job as an Assistant Professor at a small liberal arts school, teaching pretty much whatever biology course I wanted, and coordinating the Anatomy and Physiology courses for the health professions. The down side was that this position was teaching-heavy and while scholarship was not only strongly encouraged, but pretty much required for promotion, there were limited resources and very little time or space to set up a lab. This meant opportunities had to be made elsewhere and on my own time.
Then, about three years ago on a whim, I checked the job ads. The first position that appeared was for a Physiology Educator at my graduate school alma mater. The questions started. Did I want to leave my job? Was I qualified? Did I really want to go back “home”? Long story short, the answers were “for the right opportunity”, “apparently yes”, and “absolutely”.
This is where I come back to my title – Home is Where the Heart(h) Is.
As I came back to Temple, I noticed that some things had changed while others had stayed the same. It is an incredible privilege to teach beside my own professors and mentors, and I truly feel like I came back home. One of the changes, as seen both in the curriculum, as well as in the hallways, was the infusion of more humanities. Student artwork is now found along the wall near the Medical Education offices. I started thinking about what I, as an alumna, could contribute.
My interest and passion for art far exceeds my natural ability, although I have taught myself to quilt over the years. My interest blends modern with traditional – couldn’t you just see an art quilt of the anatomical heart mounted on that wall with the photographs, oil paintings, and charcoal sketches? – but I am also interested in the history of quilting and the more traditional patterns.
One of my favorite patterns, and one of the most versatile yet symbolic, is the Log Cabin quilt. The American version dates back to at least the 1800s, although there is evidence that a similar pattern has been traced back to Ancient Egypt1,2. This pattern gained popularity in the United States around the time of the Civil War. While the components are the same, the colors can vary and the blocks can be arranged in many different ways, conveying different feelings and even meanings.
The basic pattern is as follows: Rectangles of fabric (“logs”) are arranged around a center square (“heart” or “hearth”). The color of the center square is thought to provide symbolism; for example, red means “hearth”, yellow means “letting light in”, and, anecdotally and through oral history, black is thought to have been used to discreetly identify stops on the Underground Railroad1,2.
I have made several Log Cabin quilts over the past decade, but I find myself using red for my center. Home is where the heart is. A metaphor for my career progression thus far, as I started at LKSOM as a physiology student in the cardiovascular group almost 20 years ago, which makes Temple the heart. Each subsequent stop on my journey – the colleges for which I taught as an adjunct, my role as a mother, my previous Visiting Assistant Professor and Assistant Professor positions, my mentors and role models – all serve as logs that make up my cabin. My cabin looks different than those of my colleagues and my former classmates, who may have taken other paths, like careers in industry, scientific writing, or a traditional academic position, or as a physician.
Our cabins might all look different, but in the center is the fire that burns in the hearth, or the light; it is that which centers us and from where our passion comes. For me, my passion is as an educator.
I am forever grateful for those who mentored me along the way, and who continue to serve as mentors and as inspiration. What I learned (so far) on my journey:
- Apply for the job
Although it might be human nature that we are apprehensive to take a chance, surveys have shown that more women have the tendency to not apply for a position unless they feel 100% qualified, and more women cite the fear of failure and therefore wasting time as a reason why3. However, you don’t get 100% of the jobs you don’t apply for.
- Keep an open mind
The career you think you want might not be the career you end up in for a number of reasons. Don’t get so hyper-focused that you miss other interesting opportunities.
- Don’t be afraid to listen to your heart and follow your own path
I spent my undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral career preparing for a job I didn’t know if I would get, and as it turns out didn’t really exist at the time. I took every biology course I could in undergrad, assuming I would need to be well rounded to teach in an undergraduate program. I took time to work on my teaching skills during my graduate and post- doctoral studies, so that by the time I finished, I already had several semesters-worth of teaching and evaluations that made me more marketable for an undergraduate teaching position.
- Make your own opportunities
I attended an in-house conference a few years ago. One of the panelists suggested that we take care to be more proactive in letting supervisors know if we are interested in a particular opportunity that becomes available. He relayed a story in which he needed to fill a position, and his mind immediately went to colleagues who had expressed an interest, even if there were several people who were qualified. I took this advice a few months later and subsequently found myself not only assigned to a new opportunity, but was also invited to participate in related working groups and committees.
- Don’t discount your previous experience
I was concerned when I left an undergraduate institution to go back to the graduate and professional level. Would I remember the level of depth and nuance that wasn’t appropriate in the courses I had gotten used to teaching? Not only did I find it easier in some ways (it’s easier to teach physiology when students have already had physics and chemistry!), I found that my experience working with undergraduates provided me with insight that is unique in that I had a better as to where the students were coming from.
- Keep in mind work-life balance
This is something I am continuously working on. Does this even exist? If anyone has any advice, I’m all ears.
Maybe it’s time I dust off my sewing machine.
|Dr. Rebecca Petre Sullivan earned her Ph.D. in Physiology from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Interdisciplinary Training Program in Muscle Biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She taught undergraduate biology courses at Ursinus College and Neumann University. As an Associate Professor of Physiology, she is currently a course director for two courses in the Pre-Clerkship curriculum at LKSOM; in addition to teaching medical students, she also teaches cell physiology and cardiovascular physiology in Temple’s dental and podiatry schools and in the physician assistant program. She was the recipient of a Golden Apple Award from LKSOM in 2017 and the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award from Neumann University in 2012.|
- Log Cabin Quilts – A Short History. (AQSblog, May 15, 2012, http://www.aqsblog.com/log-cabin-quilts-a-short-history)
- Quilt Patterns Through Time: Log Cabin Quilts – Inspirations from the Past. (http://www.womenfolk.com/quilt_pattern_history/logcabin.htm)
- Are Women Too Timid When They Job Search? (Forbes, September 11, 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2014/09/11/are-women-too-timid-when-they-job-search/#7fe6961a411d)
I got the job offer over a phone call at 9 pm on a Tuesday evening at the end of May. I wasn’t really expecting it and I sent the call to my voicemail because I didn’t recognize the number. It took a total of about 10 seconds before I fully processed that the area code was from the D.C. area and that I probably should have answered it. By that point the voicemail had already buzzed in and after listening to a vague message, I called back and got the news that they wanted me to become a professor. After I hung up I stood there in my living room (I had been pacing while on the call) for about 5 minutes before the reality started to sink in.
In all honesty, I shouldn’t have felt scared because, over the three months that I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to know my fellow faculty and started to really find a groove in the work. There is definitely a learning curve. You do your best as a postdoc to prepare for moving up to a professorship, but there comes the moment when you’re the one left holding the ball for some of these things… problems with exam questions, creating course syllabi, student questions about lectures, and all other manner of things that go with the territory.
There are moments that have left me feeling overwhelmed (my first student with a serious mental health issue), more than a few moments where I felt a little exasperated (how did you miss that question on the test???), the occasional bits of confusion (where is that building on campus…), but overall, it has been a lot of fun and one of the best learning experiences I’ve had up to this point in my academic career.
As I reflect back on the past few months, these are the things that have really made a difference in making sure that my transition has gone more-or-less smoothly. And really, I think these are tips that would work well for any transition.
Identify your mentor(s).
I think I’m lucky that I’ve never felt alone during this period of transition to being new teaching faculty. The other members of my department have been supportive and welcoming. What has truly made a difference, though, is when I really started developing a closer working relationship with one of the senior faculty. Learning can take place one of two ways. You can bang your head against the wall and figure it out for yourself, or you can learn from someone else and figure out how to improve on what they’ve already done the hard work on. Having a mentor gives you place to go when things get tough, when things are just a little bit too overwhelming, and when you really have no idea w
hat is going on. More importantly, that mentor is a great source of backup when the really tricky situations come up.
There’s no way that anyone could have expected me to know everything the day I walked in. After a rigorous process of doing a Google search, checking the department and program websites, reading the faculty handbook, and tossing the Magic 8-Ball around (Reply hazy try again), sometimes I just had to find someone that already knew the answer to some of my questions. I would say the most important part of the process is attempting to find the answer on your own first. It may be cliché to say this now that I’m faculty, but did you read the course syllabus before coming to ask me a question?
The start of any sort of transition like this is going to get busy and a little bit crazy. New employee orientation, setting up benefits with your HR representative, creating slides for your first lectures, remembering to eat dinner… it all adds up. This is the time to be meticulous with your schedule keeping and time management. You also want to stay on top of all the paperwork that is coming and going right now as you don’t want to miss out on having one of your benefits because a box didn’t get checked or a detail that you had discussed verbally with your department chair didn’t get added to the final version of your offer letter and contract. Details matter all the time, but especially right now.
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
As a grad student and postdoc, I’ve joked around that the best way to make sure I wasn’t bored was to go talk with my PI because my to-do list was guaranteed to get longer. At this point, my to-do list seems to be mostly self-driven, but there are at least a dozen things that need my attention at any moment. From answering emails to completing that online training module that HR forg
ot to add to my new employee checklist, to the student at my door right now to ask a question about this morning’s lecture — hold on a minute, I’ll be right back — there are always tasks competing for your attention. I’m constantly finding myself looking at my list of things to do and asking, what is the next thing that has the highest priority for being completed. It definitely plays back into the previous point of staying organized.
Say no (when you can).
Part of the prioritizing above comes with the responsibility of saying no. Time has long been my most precious commodity, but it feels like it has gotten more valuable lately. Of course I can review something when the associate editor of the journal emails me specifically about an article sitting in their queue. And when my department chair needs a thing done, absolutely. But there are things that I just have to say no to. Sometimes it is work related things like the 3 other journal article reviews that showed up in my inbox today that I had to decline, sometimes it is personal things like the dinner last night with some other new faculty because I still had work to do on my lectures for today.
Focus on one thing at a time.
Humans are really bad at multitasking. No matter how hard we try, there is a bottleneck in our brain processing capabilities(1) that keeps us from effectively multitasking. There are limits to the cognitive load that we can handle (4) and studies have shown that learning and performance decrease with increased load handling (2, 3). So what can we take away from the science? Put away the phones and close the web browser window with your insta-snappy-chat social media account on it and focus on the highest priority item on your to-do list. You’ll finish you better and faster than if you let yourself be distracted.
Remember that there is life outside the office.
At the end of the day, it’s time to shut down your computer and go home. Read a book for fun, get some exercise (at least a minimum of 3 times per week for at least 30 minutes per bout of exercise). Go have dinner with friends. The work will be there tomorrow.
On that note…
Seven tips feels like a good number. It’s a nice odd number. No matter if you’re a brand-new grad student in your first semester or a new faculty, I hope these tips will serve you well. And is there something that I missed? Comment below and let us know what you recommend for making sure that your transition to a new position easier.
- Gladstones WH, Regan MA, Lee RB. Division of attention: The single-channel hypothesis revisited. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A 41: 1–17, 1989.
- Junco R, Cotten SR. Perceived academic effects of instant messaging use. Computers & Education 56: 370–378, 2011.
- Junco R, Cotten SR. No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Computers & Education 59: 505–514, 2012.
- Mayer RE, Moreno R. Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist 38: 43–52, 2010.
|Ryan Downey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology at Georgetown University. As part of those duties, he is the Associate Program Director for the Master of Science in Physiology and a Team Leader for the Special Master’s Program in Physiology. He teaches the cardiovascular and neuroscience blocks in the graduate physiology courses. He received his Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from UT Southwestern Medical Center. His research interests are in the sympathetic control of cardiovascular function during exercise and in improving science pedagogy. When he’s not working, he is a certified scuba instructor and participates in triathlons.|
As many scientists within our group look back over their training paths, they see a straight, hard-packed trail, with a few stumbling rocks, that led from graduate school, to a postdoc, to a bench-based, classroom-based or combination faculty position. This relatively scripted path is one which many have traveled before us and many more will traverse in the future. Without this path, science as we know it would cease to exist. We require scientists in the laboratory and in the classroom, educating, influencing, inspiring and guiding the next generation; but what happens when some of those newly-minted scientists want to educate and train and motivate others in new ways? Meet the proverbial fork in the road…
Over the past year, my road forked and I took the other path…twice. So, what happens to a bench-trained educator who leaves the classroom for life in the society lane? Semi-adventure takes over and they drive on the shoulder and decide to direct a medical society while staying in the same comfortable location. Being an executive director for a small society forces you to see education from a whole new perspective. Questions arise, what are the hot topics, what is interesting, what is required…and who will teach it? In this paradigm, the teacher becomes the student again, but also shifts into a motivational role, instilling an enthusiasm for teaching, fulfilling that ever-present need to educate.
The phone rings and it’s my dream job calling. This job is perfect and halfway across the country, where housing and new schools must be found, in space-limited high-priced high-rises. Cue the Indiana Jones theme music. Giddy with the prospect of yet another fork, I swerve back onto the road; ducks in a row I apply, interview, accept the offer and then panic! The onslaught of changes has thrown me into the ditch, wheels spinning without gaining traction. Late sleepless nights looking for apartments, reading about schools and worrying about downsizing by half. This is feeling less like an adventure and more like a nightmare. And then it happened, my junior adventure junkie said, “I’m ready for this adventure, it’s going to be fun.” That’s when I re-committed to my belief that adventures are scary, but without them we don’t challenge ourselves, we don’t grow and we don’t change. So, I said yes we will move and downsize and take on this adventure. The adventure starts this summer, but the prelude has been fantastic. So, what is the lesson here? Challenge yourself, jump out of the airplane, take the unpaved path or the unnumbered exit and be confident that you will land in the best possible place.
|Jessica C. Taylor is a physiologist, medical educator and adventure seeker. Previously, a classroom educator, she spent a brief stint as the executive director of the Mississippi Osteopathic Medical Association and is now the Sr. Manager of Higher Education Programs for APS.|
The Back Story: I did not set out to become a college professor. My “aha” moment came half-way through my Master’s program when I counted the number of course credits left to complete and realized that I had not yet learned all that I wanted to learn. This led to a Ph.D., followed by a post-doc, followed eventually by a tenure-track faculty position.
Flash Forward to Today: I am now a Lecturer. Leaving a tenure-track position at a small private college to be a Lecturer at a large, research-focused university was the right career choice for me; however, as with everything in life there have been trade-offs.
The primary difference between Lecturers and tenure-track faculty at our institution is the research component. As a general rule, Lecturers are full-time faculty members specifically hired to teach numerous courses so that tenure-track faculty may focus upon their research areas. This is a good plan in theory. Tenure-track faculty benefit from a reduced teaching load. Undergraduate students benefit from courses taught by faculty who have specialized in teaching. For many Lecturers, it is a career “win” to teach in a college or university setting without the expectation to pursue external grant funding and simultaneously balance research against instructional requirements.
And yet . . . there is an element of sensitivity surrounding the “Lecturer” title.
Originally I wondered if perhaps it was my own sensitivity. Interactions with other teaching faculty, from my institution and others, suggest this uneasiness is a more prevalent and widespread issue. Perhaps it is fueled by the uncertainty of uncharted territory.
Whereas there are a handful of Lecturers who have held the job title for 10-20 years, the substantial growth of fixed-term, non-tenure teaching opportunities is a relatively recent phenomenon. A non-tenure teaching position is not the traditional career path, leading to questions such as: What exactly is a “Lecturer”? How stable are fixed-term appointments? By accepting a Lecturer position now, does it limit future job prospects down the road? From the other perspective, I sometimes wonder what tenured faculty think about teaching faculty. Are we consulted as valued and knowledgeable peers within the department and/or college? This matters.
Teaching faculty seem to be placed in an ambiguous category ranked somewhere between graduate students and tenured faculty. Part of the unease comes from the lack of clarity of our roles and the paradox of having demanding departmental responsibilities while being denied full faculty status. The students do not appreciate the difference. In their minds, we are essentially all the same—the bodies up at the front of the room challenging them to learn about the amazing human body.
This is where you, the PECOP reader, come in. Although I have only the lens of my own experiences, it would be interesting to hear the perspectives of other tenure- and non-tenure track faculty regarding the emerging role of teaching-specific faculty at other academic institutions across the country. These are the questions that I will throw out to foster discussion; feel free to add your own!
Question 1: What role do fixed-term, non-tenure track faculty play at your (or other) institutions?
This is a basic question. I have been a Lecturer at one institution, admittedly not a big sample size. Are courses at other colleges or universities primarily taught with the “old” model of tenured faculty, or are teaching faculty trickling in? Does the size of the academic institution influence the use of non-tenure teaching faculty? What is the general perception of teaching faculty and scope of their contributions to the department and college?
Question 2: What should our job title be? (… And remind me again why it is that we cannot receive tenure?)
“Lecturer” appropriately describes what I was hired to do, to teach four courses a semester, but it is a relatively small part of what I actually do on a daily basis. The time outside of lecture is spent predominantly on trouble-shooting student issues to the effect of “I forgot my Clicker, can I still get the points?” and “Is this [insert your own small, random fact] going to be on the test?”, acting in a more administrative capacity to coordinate coursework across numerous sections and numerous instructors/TAs, participating in departmental matters and curriculum development, answering endless e-mails, and so on.
There are, however, other titles describing teaching faculty. Listed below are a few that are relatively common:
- Lecturer (as mentioned): with possible promotion to Senior Lecturer
- Instructor, Teaching Instructor, or Teaching Professor: sometimes Associate, Professor status (still non-tenure, though)
- Assistant, Associate, Professor of Practice
A confounding issue is the wide range of abilities across the fixed-term, teaching-focused, faculty spectrum. Unlike the tenure structure, there is not a strong model in place to differentiate levels of ability and professional achievement.
Is one title more representative of the job at hand than others? Should different titles be used at community colleges compared to 4-year colleges or universities?
Finally, with a significant amount of my time centered around communication and administrative-type tasks, a small part of me sometimes wonders where is the physiology? Which brings me to my next question:
Question 3: What are the opportunities for professional growth and development for non-tenure/teaching faculty?
(Hint: volunteer to write a blog or a blog post!) The obvious answer is to engage in educational research and strategies to promote student learning, since this is precisely what the job description entails. As scientists, we have a natural curiosity to explore the correlations between teaching practices and outcomes. If we have data to support the anecdotal experiences—even better! It is one way to utilize the skills developed over time in the research setting. So, this is one very viable solution to promote professional growth and development.
What are other options for remaining engaged in the study of physiology if the basic science research component is minimized by the nature of a teaching faculty position? I have come up with a handful of potential solutions, but it is my guess that many of you may have faced similar questions. What do you do to stay professionally active and engaged once the research opportunities are minimized?
In summary, I predict that teaching faculty will become more common in upcoming years, paralleling the continued evolution of the undergraduate experience (fueled by educational research regarding effective teaching strategies, of course). For now, though, there is no obvious roadmap for continued professional growth for fixed-term, non-tenure teaching faculty. Just as we invest time and energy to provide our students with the tools for success, it is important to consider how to do this with our teaching faculty colleagues.
Jennifer Rogers received her Ph.D and post-doctoral training at The University of Iowa (Exercise Science). She has taught at numerous institutions ranging across community college, 4-year college, and university settings. These varied educational experiences set the foundation for her interest in student readiness for learning and incorporation of effective teaching strategies for academic success specific to different student populations. Jennifer regularly teaches Human Physiology, Human Physiology Lab, Applied Exercise Physiology, and other health science-focused courses.