Category Archives: Career

Why Teaching? Why a Liberal Arts school?

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.
Home is Where the Heart(h) is – My Reflections as an Educator

I think I always knew, deep down, that I wanted to be a teacher.

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:

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.
  1. Log Cabin Quilts – A Short History. (AQSblog, May 15, 2012, http://www.aqsblog.com/log-cabin-quilts-a-short-history)
  2. Quilt Patterns Through Time: Log Cabin Quilts – Inspirations from the Past. (http://www.womenfolk.com/quilt_pattern_history/logcabin.htm)
  3. 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)
A reflection of my first three months as new teaching faculty

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Ask questions.

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?

  1. Stay organized.

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

References:

  1. 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.
  2. Junco R, Cotten SR. Perceived academic effects of instant messaging use. Computers & Education 56: 370–378, 2011.
  3. Junco R, Cotten SR. No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Computers & Education 59: 505–514, 2012.
  4. 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.
Diary of an Adventure Junkie – Part Deux:  The Path Diverges

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.

But then…

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 Emerging Role of Fixed-Term, Non-Tenure Teaching Faculty in Higher Education

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.

lecturer_smallFlash 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.

Jen Rogers Headshot

 

 

 

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.