Category Archives: Preparing the Future Professoriate

The Future of the University… Is Outside It

If I could change one thing about higher education, it would be forging a better connection with industry. In my program, the focus is mostly on research, with the idea being that all graduates worth their salt will obtain tenure-track academic jobs. However, there are lots of students (me included) who are more passionate about teaching or clinical work than research. In fact, part of the reason why I pursued this degree was to have some variability in possible career outcomes (just being practical with the economy in its current state!). Yet I have learned very little about the different types of clinical jobs available and what skill set is required for each. Without the PFP certificate, I doubt I would be in any way prepared to apply for SLAC or other teaching-focused institutions; my program has never asked me to write a teaching philosophy, and attempts to upgrade or improve my syllabus would likely be regarded as a waste of time.

I don’t know if this sentiment applies across the university, but I have similarly heard from others that they know little about industry job opportunities and wouldn’t know who to talk to in order to receive mentorship about these paths. In my opinion, not only should graduate programs be proud to see their graduates go out and apply their skills in a variety of settings, but they should value the chance to network with companies both nationwide and in their local community, in order to provide additional training and career opportunities for future cohorts of students. Plus, networking could provide new populations for research projects and be of assistance in securing funding to pay for these projects (e.g., if a clinical psychology student does a practicum at a federally-funded clinic and, as part of it, does a research project that can be presented to the clinic and the department and then possibly submitted for publication). I am just having trouble seeing much of a downside for anyone, except that it could be construed as “taking time away” from research.

Does anyone else in other departments and colleges have this issue? If so, speak up in the comments!

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Pros and Cons of Service

This semester, I have engaged in a lot of service work. I am active in the GTA Academy, planning and attending events, and I have also been very involved as a Diversity Scholar and member of the Bouchet Honor Society. Although I have enjoyed making these commitments and find my work with them meaningful, they have not left much time for research. Fortunately, my dissertation is completed, so my department isn’t giving me too much of a hard time about it!

While I chose to devote myself to service, not only this semester but also in my future career, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the others involved in these activities were women and/or people of color. For whatever reason, my anecdotal experience suggests that non-privileged groups take on the lion’s share of service activities. Is it just that non-privileged people connect more easily with the need to give back to the community and contribute as mentors, because of their own experiences with struggling to have their needs met? Or do these groups labor under the perceived societal expectation that service commitments are part of their professional responsibility, in a way that is not the experience of members of more dominant or privileged groups? Of course, it is not fair that the responsibility for service commitments is not shared equally by all groups, as highlighted in this article. In addition, something I have personally experienced is the sense that my service work is not rewarded by my department, or at least not perceived as being anywhere close to as important as research productivity or grant funding achievements. I think that getting proper recognition for service work is important for reducing the burden of the work on non-privileged groups, because that acknowledgement would elevate the status of this work and make it seem like a worthwhile “extra” commitment.

I would be really interested to hear other opinions on this issue: do you do a lot of service work now, and why or why not? Are you considering making service work an important part of your career, or do you dread the extra burden?

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Open Access, Accessibility, and Burden Shifting

For this week’s post, I looked at the Archives of Scientific Psychology, an open access journal published starting in 2013 by the American Psychological Association. In its introductory article, the authors describe it as “a new journal for a new era.” The journal was created based on a desire for psychological scientists to interface more effectively with the public, and to make the process of psychological research (e.g., methodology) more transparent. Authors who publish in this journal are expected to make their data and methods available and to provide not only a scientific abstract but also a non-technical, jargon-free abstract that is more accessible for the public. Reviewer comments and author responses may also be published alongside the article itself, to make it more clear that the paper was rigorously reviewed, and reviewers and authors may choose to make themselves known to one another during the review process. Finally, the journal strives to produce new content frequently and on a timely basis after submission to keep things current.

All of these unorthodox policies are meant to demystify the publishing process and make scientific research more accessible to the general public. The introductory article states that the journal hopes that its model will one day be the norm for scientific articles. While the authors of this article acknowledge that the journal puts more of a burden on contributors (and possibly reviewers) by asking for extra information and speeding up the timeline, they also state that contributors will benefit greatly by having their article made available to a wide audience without a membership fee. Interestingly, I don’t see anything in this article about how much contributors will have to pay to be published here.

The journal explains its role in the open access movement in a scientific way, presenting data that argues for and against open access and sharing some statistics that suggest that open access is here to stay. Essentially, it seems like the journal’s creators are moving forward to keep up with this momentum and not attending to potential drawbacks.

Overall, I am supportive of this journal and curious to see how the articles in it actually look and read and how impactful they are on the field. It seems like the Archives goes beyond the typical standards for many other open access journals (i.e., available to a large audience without a membership fee, with the cost burden being placed on contributors instead). This journal really goes the extra mile to make the publishing process transparent and to try to benefit both the audience and the contributors (though perhaps more so for one than the other).

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We’ve Got the Power: Technology, Research, and Collaborative Science

A lot of instructors seem to be intimidated by the idea of bringing technology into the classroom. Personally, I have vacillated between feeling annoyed at students who can’t seem to look up from their laptops at the most engaging moments in my course and feeling as if I, as the teacher, should be doing more to incorporate tech into my instructional style. In my summer Developmental Psychology course, I asked students to present evidence on either side of controversial parenting practices using an interactive discussion board. This semester, in Abnormal Psychology, I used Instagram to illustrate how unfair societal norms regarding women’s bodies contribute to the development of eating disorders. As with all innovations in pedagogy, the response has been mixed, but I don’t regret trying this out.

Benjamin Wiggins’ article, A Pedagogy That Spans Semesters, describes the use of a technological tool that allowed him to carry over the same assignment across multiple semesters. In his Risk and Society class, one major assignment is for students to collaborate on a timeline. Unlike class discussions, the fruits of which tend to evaporate as soon as the first student out opens the door, this assignment preserves student efforts and uses them to set up the work for the subsequent class. As Wiggins points out, no assignment will work indefinitely, as eventually everyone runs out of ideas. In addition, the expectations of each cohort are a bit different: the first cohort has to build a strong foundation, and the last cohort may struggle to connect with the first cohort’s efforts or find little room to expand when adding their contributions.

As I was reading this article, which comes from a history teacher’s perspective, I was struck by how relevant such a framework would be for scientists. After all, isn’t research inherently a long-term collaboration, in the sense that my work builds on those of my predecessors and (hopefully) inspires the next generation to take my ideas a step further? It is relatively easy for me to find out who cited my papers, but it is harder to know exactly how others will take my ideas and what the responses are, unless someone writes a published letter to the journal. In other words, I don’t often get the satisfaction of knowing “how the story ends.” I think it would be so interesting to apply this concept to science courses, in the sense that students would be exposed to the real-world research process and come to appreciate their efforts and how they map onto the network of collaboration rather than merely being interested in the end product.

Technology enables this kind of innovation, and in my view, we should harness its power for good, not evil 🙂

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The Divide

Lately I have been struggling with what I view as an issue of student entitlement. Most of my students consistently fall into three categories: those who attend and participate regularly, showing a genuine interest in the subject matter (this group is much smaller than I wish it was); those who attend but remain quiet, apparently listening but probably spending a fair amount of class time surfing the web; those who never attend but turn in assignments as expected. Most of the time, I adopt the policy that my students are adults and which category they want to join is really up to them. If they choose not to attend class, they know from my syllabus that they are likely to miss information and reminders, and I expect them to accept the grade they earn as a result. Same goes for those who are there but barely pay attention. Personally, I’d rather invest my energy and enthusiasm into the students who actually want to be there and learn.

The students I struggle most with fall into a slightly different, but ultimately loud, category. These students may overlap with any of the three categories above, but they tend to be either low-attention or low-attendance students. These are students who can’t be bothered to attend office hours but bombard me with emails, inquiring about information that can easily be found on the syllabus. Those who claim to not understand why they earned a certain grade despite the fact that I provided a clear, point-by-point rubric. Those who try to get a friend to turn in assignments for them that I set up to necessitate attendance, hoping that I won’t notice I didn’t see them in class that day. Those who only show up to class to come argue with me while I am trying to set up the lecture and go on with my daily plan.

The major problem I have with these students is a lack of accountability and responsibility. They fly in the face of my decision that college students are adults and should be treated as such, and they bring up unfortunate stereotyping that my more diligent students don’t deserve. I didn’t think it was too much to expect students to write down and monitor their own deadlines, to plan ahead to make up missed work effectively, to approach me respectfully when bargaining. But these students act like I’m out to get them, chasing down and beating them with a rolled-up copy of the syllabus, gleefully punishing them at the first sign of confusion or lack of preparation. More importantly, for many of these students, they act like I haven’t helped them before, haven’t ever taken pity on them and let a deadline slide a bit. I don’t have any problem getting constructive feedback; I take issue with being criticized only when you feel slighted. Why is it always about this unspoken “pay for an A” contract, and never about learning something from the course?

I guess this is something that everyone faces, and you have to decide to either soften your course policies to make them more palatable for these students or stick to your guns in the name of teaching students how to be more responsible. My problem is that students like these make me question why I care so much in the first place. This creates a divide between my passion and excitement for teaching and their lackluster, passive reception of my work, and it makes me pull my hair out to set students up to succeed and still get the feedback that the class wasn’t “clear” enough. Why spend so much time trying to make class interesting and engaging if a number of the students won’t bother to attend anyway? Why shape my deliverables to be more application-focused if students will just complain that I ask too much of them, and it would be better if I just had three tests and nothing else like the rest of their teachers? And, in my current course, why share my knowledge of and appreciation for real-world issues in mental health if no one cares to really listen?

I know the answer is that other students do benefit from that effort. But in the end, are they the majority or minority?

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Psychology, Research, and Ethics

For my blog post this week, I looked at the case of David Anderson. ORI found that David had tampered with the data shown in figures in several published papers. Specifically, he removed outliers or replaced them with mean values in order to make his results match up with his hypotheses. It appears that he did this in 4 papers over the course of 2-3 years. His work was done while he was a graduate student in Oregon and being supported by two R01 grants from NIH and NIMH. As punishment, David’s work has to be supervised, he has to certify the legitimacy of any future work, he must retract his published papers containing the fabricated figures, and he cannot serve in an advisory capacity (e.g., reviewing articles). This punishment began in June 2015 and will remain in place until June of next year.

Upon consulting the American Psychological Association ethics code, I see that David’s violation is addressed in two different places, Section 5.01 (“Avoidance of False or Deceptive Statements”) and 8.10 (“Reporting Research Results”). The code is clear that psychologists (and psychology students, like David) are not to fabricate data in any way, and that they are to retract publications that they discover contain “significant errors” as soon as they realize the mistake. The code also clearly states that psychologists may not make “false, deceptive, or fraudulent” statements concerning their research or its results. In my program, we have an entire course on ethics and are expected to review the code in its entirety at several points (e.g., beginning practicum). I also reviewed the code and discussed it as an undergraduate psychology major. So, if David’s education was anything like mine, he really had no excuse for his unethical behavior!

I did think it was interesting that David’s was the only psychology-related violation I could find in the list of ORI case summaries. I wonder if perhaps it is more difficult or complicated to try to replicate our data, as opposed to data from the natural or biomedical sciences, because of the complexities of psychological variables and individual differences. Alternatively, perhaps there is more oversight before the publication stage is reached, such that fabrications and other types of ethical misconduct are caught by supervisors and committee members in earlier stages of the process.

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The Cost of Tenure

I spent some time this week thinking about tenure, which we discussed in detail in class this week. Since my focus is on teaching and clinical work, as opposed to research, I don’t know if I will ever be in the position to go up for tenure. However, I decided to do some research about the pros and cons of tenure, just to get a better sense of why it is so important, supposing that everyone in higher education is supposed to have the right to academic freedom.

What I came across was a really interesting and poignant speech, “The Great Shame of Our Profession,” delivered by Kevin Birmingham upon winning the Truman Capote award for one of his books. Birmingham, the first adjunct instructor to receive the award, used this platform to discuss the difficult relationship between tenured and non-tenured faculty. He talked about how adjuncting is a precarious lifestyle, one that makes planning long-term risky and difficult, and yet many universities depend on adjuncts to do the majority of their teaching. This is no coincidence: students have most of their contact with adjuncts so that tenured faculty can devote more time to their research. Graduate students and postdocs carefully tailor their projects and experiences in an effort to secure one of those precious tenure-track jobs, and if they don’t obtain it, they sometimes feel that their years of training were wasted.

This speech was very powerful and it struck me after reading it that the author is describing sacrifices at multiple levels. It’s disappointing and a bit ironic that others have to sacrifice academic (and other) freedoms in order to support the tenure-track system, and even more so that graduate students seemingly have to choose between true academic freedom (like pursuing an outside interest or investigating a controversial question) and the kind of path that is most likely to lead to a tenure-track seat. No wonder my image of a tenure-track professor is that of a tired old man who wants to do the least amount of work possible — anyone would be exhausted after that uphill battle. Moreover, who would want to take the risk and spend the energy to try to change the system once you’re at the top?

So many people suffer at the hands of the tenure-track system, and yet it seems like blasphemy to think about getting rid of it. Is tenure necessary to operationalize academic freedom? Or would higher education be better off without it?

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Communicating Science

The Communicating Science workshop we did in class this week was really interesting. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we started, but what I eventually realized is that the workshop was meant to teach me how to monitor my non-verbal cues and show more of my natural enthusiasm when discussing my work. We did an interesting exercise where we went around the circle and introduced ourselves and our research, and then did it again while introducing ourselves and listing some of our hobbies. People seemed much more open, casual, and relatable when discussing their interests as opposed to retreating into their specified research bubble. There was less emphasis on choosing precisely the right words or making your work sound important or complex. It reminded me that all of us in academia have a “private” life (i.e., when we are at home in our sweatpants on the weekends) that is often very separate and different from our “public” and professional life.

The workshop helped me to reflect on the fact that I am lucky to be in psychology. I find that my work, although it requires a knowledge of jargon and appreciation of complex constructs just like any other science, is often more palatable and interesting to the general public, as most everyone has taken a personality quiz or read an article about an unusual social phenomenon at least once in their lives. At the end of the workshop, when we got a chance to practice injecting more passion into our descriptions of our research, I felt like it was relatively easy to connect my work to pop culture and get a few laughs from my audience. I imagine this would have been a more difficult exercise for those in other fields.

I’m curious about what everyone else in class thought of the workshop — share your thoughts below?

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When Teaching Becomes Resistance

I am of the opinion that education, by its very nature, is threatening. True education, not indoctrination — the kind that involves critical thinking, open discussion, and questions that may not have one right answer, or a right answer at all. More than ever, though, it seems like teachers are now in the position to make a major difference in how the upcoming generation perceives and responds to our political climate. There is a sense of urgency in my teaching now.

In conferring with colleagues from various disciplines and in various positions, I have come to realize that many of us share this sense. Every day there is a new example that I can use to bring the message home to my students. It’s hard not to care about stereotype threat when people are being actively blocked from entering this country based purely on their religion or national origin and people already in the U.S. are scrambling to distance themselves from the image of an ISIS terrorist. Healthcare access issues just became very, very relevant for my ongoing Abnormal Psychology class.

Of course, getting political in your teaching tends to draw fire. I have puzzled for long hours over how to balance my gut feeling that I need to say certain things in my class — things that should be nonpartisan facts — with my desire to be supportive and inclusive for all of my students, even those who voted for Trump. After all, talking over them is no way to help them see the mistake they made. No one has made waves about this yet, but I do worry sometimes that I will say something that goes too far or talk about something in the wrong way and the complaints and censorship will roll in.

So, I reach out to my colleagues — are you bringing current political issues into your classroom? How are you walking this balance, if at all? And what is your view on your role as an academic or educator in this very unfriendly time?

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Mission Statements

For my first PFP blog post, I compared the mission statements from my undergraduate university (University of Mary Washington), a small liberal arts university in Fredericksburg, VA, and my graduate university (Virginia Tech), a Research I land-grant institution in Blacksburg, VA.

Both of these universities are in Virginia. One is close to Northern Virginia and the suburbs of DC. The other is in the midst of rural Southwest Virginia. However, both are in a suburban setting, and both are public. UMW is a liberal arts school, with a focus on teaching and undergraduate research. VT is larger and primarily research-focused, with many more opportunities for graduate training.

University of Mary Washington (UMW)

UMW’s mission statement focuses a lot on interdisciplinary and lifelong learning, which is supported by faculty-student collaboration. Their commitment to teaching is based on their desire to inspire strong relationships between students and faculty and opportunities for hands-on learning, particularly research opportunities. The statement also describes the importance of citizenship and notes that campus is located between the state capital and the national capital, implying that it is centrally located for political action and public service.

Looking back on my experience as a UMW student, I definitely felt like teaching was prioritized and I had strong relationships with my teachers. In a way, I think I was “spoiled,” because I can now see that there are varying degrees of interest and skill in teaching when you consider a wider sample. This is the kind of environment that I’d like to teach in. Something else that sticks out to me is that students are clearly viewed as future professionals, in the sense that they are expected to be actively involved in global affairs and working on research at an early point in their training. Again, as a graduate student I have learned that not everyone was so fortunate to get this level of research training and involvement before applying to graduate school. While the university’s support for its teachers and students is clear, I wonder what broader kind of support (e.g., state funding) is being provided to the university to help them accomplish the goals in their mission statement.

Virginia Tech (VT)

I immediately notice that this mission statement is shorter and a bit more vague in terms of its goals. Like UMW, the VT mission statement takes a global perspective and challenges students to be active participants in improving the world around them. My hypothesis is that the statement has to be applied in a broader way to diverse departments and communities within the university, and therefore it cannot be as detailed and specific as the one from UMW. However, it leaves me with the sense that I don’t really know what a VT student should be like or what we are supposed to accomplish. It also suggests that there is no “typical” career path for someone graduating from VT.

The upside is that I can see how my experience fits in with this mission statement. As a student here, I have been challenged to develop a variety of skills, and I have been given opportunities to connect with others around the world and actively do something to make the world a better place. However, I can also see how people could graduate without having those global connection opportunities, if they choose not to seek them out. Perhaps greater integration of these skills would be beneficial. The other thing I notice is that this statement doesn’t feel as openly collaborative as the first one did. Students are expected to diversify and contribute, but less is said about what support is available.

Overall, I think I prefer UMW’s statement. The message, to me, is that the community has to work together to create positive change, rather than relying on the next generation to do that work alone.

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