How to Publish Without Institutional Support

My institution defines me as a teacher. I knew this when I accepted a job teaching a 5-5 load a community college. Publication is not a part of my tenure review process, but teaching evaluations are, and I take part in an elaborate observation of my classes each year. The thing is, I am trained as a researcher and I define myself as a scholar, which to me means equal parts research, writing, and instruction. I was one of those people in graduate school who couldn’t wait to start my dissertation. Even as I have come to see myself as more of a teacher and found real meaning in working with my students, I feel a need to go beyond the classroom, to try and solve the systemic problems I see in my institution and community colleges more generally through inquiry and writing. This post is a look at my ongoing struggle to make space for the part of myself that is a writer in a teaching-focused job.

Problem 1: No Writing/Researching Community

Research is not exactly frowned upon at my institution, but there are not many folks around me who see themselves as researchers or academic writers. Lacking the environment of a research-focused community, I have to seek out like-minded scholars elsewhere. We have a four-year college in our town, and so far I have been lucky to meet junior scholars (on the tenure track and adjunct) to talk with about writing. I am learning to go out of my way to maintain scholarly community. I have no conference funding, but there are ways to finagle some travel money from our professional development funds at my college. Most importantly, I have become more assertive with my communications within my field. If I am writing something, I send emails to senior-scholar acquaintances I met during graduate school. I have them read my work. I have them suggest others I should be engaging with. Some senior scholars ignore my emails. But by and large, I have had great success and continue to nurture connections in my field.

Problem 2: No University Library

Books, articles, dissertations. I had no idea how lucky I was to have access to a university library system for 10 years of my life in higher ed. I have not figured out how to work around this constraint. I can interlibrary loan one book at a time for a few weeks, and our library provides access to some databases (JSTOR primarily). But electronic journals- no. Ongoing acquisitions to maintain an up-to-date collection- definitely no. Opportunities to suggest books that I would like to see in the collection- nope. The library budget is extraordinarily limited at community colleges with most of the focus on students and their needs. Fair enough. But this makes me more or less an independent scholar. Open access is my rallying cry. There is no such thing as academic meritocracy if some scholars have their access limited by paywalls.

Problem 3- No Research Funding

This problem has been surprisingly simple to get around. I have started applying for funding through professional organizations and external grants (I’ll let you know how that goes). I also have the option to spread my salary out over 12 months. With the academic year of about 9 months, this leaves me the entire summer to travel, write, and get my work out. The main problem is the timing. I managed to get two articles out this summer, but I will not likely have the time to return to them until winter break at the earliest. Depending on the time reviewers spend with the drafts, I may not be working on those pieces again until next summer, with actual publication dates some time in the year after that. I can see my current summer-writing strategy working for shorter pieces like articles and book chapters, but my ambition to complete a monograph does not seem feasible when I can only write for 2-3 months of the year. And there is that furious voice in my head that says no one should produce academic work without compensation. This is why we are increasingly undervalued as workers and professionals. I am not currently compensated for my scholarly work. Should I give it up? I can’t see myself doing that any time soon.

I am certain there are more and more of us in this position. How many scholars are spread between adjunct gigs, postdocs, visiting assistant professorships, and community college jobs? I imagine a lot of us struggle with finding  resources- be they time, money, community, or the promise of professional advancement- to keep writing. If research without compensation is the new norm, we are going to need to think seriously about how to pay for scholarship, and create access to all of us doing scholarly work.

 

 

When Teaching is Like Social Work

I am writing from the 11th week of our semester and kicking myself. What was I thinking agreeing to write a post at the end of April? So here you have my most honest and unfiltered thoughts now that I am nearing the end of my first year teaching community college full time.

Wow. It is hard. It is brutally hard on my body in a way that is completely unfamiliar from my previous experiences in higher ed. Teaching so many students at two different campuses requires much more communicating than I have done as an academic introvert. And it’s not just the teaching/ meeting with students/ grading responsibilities. While my students try to complete freshman writing, they are dealing with childcare worries, hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction in their families, and significant health concerns. Continue reading

Beginnings

Each year we welcome new faculty to campus. Some are beginning the tenure process, some are visiting (including postdocs, adjuncts and folks on sabbatical) while others are making a mid-career transition. Hopefully when you arrive, orientation helps you understand the culture of the place. The topics tell you what is important to the institution. Hopefully you can start to get a sense of what is expected of you by many different constituencies – the administration, the faculty, your department (and chair), the staff, your students (both in courses and those whose research you supervise) and your advisees.   Orientation also can help you understand what kind of support you can expect from these same people.

So what do you do if your institution does not have support structures in place that you think you might find helpful? Most institutions have someone designated to mentor faculty development.   It could be a vice-provost, dean, associate dean or head of a teaching and learning center. It might make sense to check in with this person and ask what is possible. Would you like a mentor outside your department? Would you like to set up weekly lunches with a group of junior faculty? Would you like to have a writing group that helps keep each other on task and productive?

Here are a couple of suggestions to start the teaching year, especially for those on the job market or tenure-track: (1) set up some peer observations and (2) make plans for formative assessment. Continue reading

Flailing

I am failing.

OK, it’s probably not that dire, but that’s how I feel many, many days this semester. I thought it was all going so well, and in so many ways, it is.  I have a ‘lab’ now, with people in it ranging from undergrad to postdocs. I have settled into my job, and the class I’m teaching this semester is going fairly well.  Two papers will be submitted by the end of the month, and I continue to love my job. Most of the time.

However, I’m totally flailing with all of the extra parts of work, and I’m not sure how to fix it. For the first time since I started in academia, I feel like I’m dropping balls.  Nope, I AM dropping balls. And my own personal giveaway for pent-up stress has returned (for me, episodes of TMJ). Luckily, I have a very physical reminder that I need to take care of myself, and am good about heeding those reminders.  But these small things—stress, bad habits, unhealthy ways of coping—have a tendency to build up and become canalized, so I need to address the root of the problem.

A TSW reader recently suggested a post on what the day-to-day job of a professor looks like, and this post can partly address that, at least for a public research university. So what do I have on my plate that is causing me to feel like a failure? Continue reading

Dealing with disrespect in the classroom

One of my clearest memories from middle school is the time that my class made our teacher break down and sob on her desk. She was a new teacher who seemed passionate and kind, and the increasingly vocal disrespect and general meanness from the class culminated in her total loss of control of the classroom and herself.  The principal came in and give us a severe talking to, but we never regained respect for our teacher.

Part way through my second semester I’m thinking a lot about how I can improve as a teacher. As I’ve mentioned, my research-focused training didn’t prepare me for a teaching-focused career. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that I don’t have complete control of my classrooms. Continue reading

The hiring process from the perspective of a new hire: Part II

This is the second part of a two-part post detailing my (a new faculty member) experiences on a hiring committee.  For Part I, go here.

The campus interviews

We had our three candidates on campus for interviews over a period of seven days.  Each candidate flew in the day before the interview and had scheduled activities from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm. Candidates had a meeting with the department faculty, meetings with each of us individually, time with the Dean, lunch with the graduate students, gave a seminar, and had dinner with the department. Overall, the three candidate each did a great job – one of the best things about doing phone interviews first is that collegiality and competence come through pretty well on the phone.  All the candidates were personable, prepared, and would probably be successful in the position.

Continue reading

Graded musings

It’s that time of the semester when many of us in teaching positions lock ourselves away in “grading jail”, as we cope with stacks of term papers, exams, and other miscellaneous assignments. As the name implies, grading jail is not a place we go to have fun. It’s a poorly-kept secret that grading is many faculty members’ (and TAs) least favorite part of the job. For me, it’s been a consistent low point in my professional duties – one of the things that hasn’t gotten easier or more enjoyable as I’ve gained more experience.

Image by Jorge Cham, PhDcomics.com. Originally published 2/6/2008. Click link to go to original. Thanks Dr. Cham for so well depicting our collective grading angst!

Image by Jorge Cham, PhDcomics.com. Originally published 2/6/2008. Click image to go to original. Thanks Dr. Cham for so well depicting our collective grading angst!

Professional wisdom and tradition suggest that grading is important. Or rather, giving timely, frequent, and constructive feedback on students’ work is important to help students learn and to evaluate the job we are doing as teachers. Conversely, letting the grading stacks pile up for weeks or designing our syllabi to minimize grading decreases student interest in learning. Continue reading