GRAD 5104 Central Blog

Transformative Graduate Education in a Transformative Year

I have not blogged much this semester. In part because it was a weird semester in that I was not teaching (it is amazing how much that kept me on track with all of my other work!). I also was not taking any theory or content courses and I was not doing any of the Future Professoriate courses for the first time since Semester 1 at Tech. This program was one of the things that drew me to return to my hometown and earn my degree at Virginia Tech. Knowing I wanted to work in academia for my career as a faculty member, the program of preparing future faculty as teachers, scholars, and productive academic citizens greatly appealed to me.

This semester, I have still tried to be involved with Preparing the Future Professoriate (PFP) and Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) as I could. For one, the building of the Academy of Graduate Teaching (GTA) Excellence has gotten some press. I am proud of the work that we have done to build a community of current and future instructors/faculty. I am writing about TGE and PFP, because, though I am not yet a faculty member (someday soon I hope!), I am already seeing the strength of these programs that our wonderful Graduate School Dean has developed for us at Virginia Tech.

This year I was asked to serve as the graduate student representative for a subcommittee to a university project. This subcommittee has faculty, staff, administrators, and students sitting on it along with support staff for the project. The project has gone very differently than I was expecting in multiple ways. The one that has caught my attention time and again has been the lack of understanding of the basic functions of the university by faculty, including the mission statement and how that navigates decisions by administrators. Each time I am able to explain the functioning of higher education and our university, I am thankful for all the opportunities I have had within PFP and TGE. Each time I have a slightly different perspective of where higher education is and where it should go, I am thankful for the programs. I am seeing first hand how having courses and discussions and experiences that teach what life in academia will be and challenging the status quo within that is beneficial as I prepare to enter into the professoriate.

In the last 7 months I have also taken two trips (check out #gppecuador and #gppswiss15 on Twitter!) and in relation to TGE, which really were transformative. Each time I have returned from these trips with my colleagues from across colleges on campus, I have written in my notes that I am excited and proud of the future in higher education and research with them. We are the 21st century faculty. We are the ones who will be higher education, can change it, the ones who can challenge the status quo. More and more I think that takes on a global perspective. The world is getting smaller and smaller with access to Internet and easier travel. When we were at the Swiss Embassy in June, someone from the Council of Graduate Schools brought up that there are plenty of jobs available for finishing graduate students, if you look at the world as a whole rather than solely at the United States. I think our scholarship and understanding of higher education also should not be U.S. centric, rather than seeing the strengths and challenges of higher education around the world. How this looks for each of us, I don’t know. I am not even sure how I want it to look for myself at this point. That is something I am still wrestling with. But, I am confident that as 21st century faculty, we need to understand the global perspective.


Being a Faculty Member

The traditional way of looking at being a faculty member includes the three primary things that are looked at when a faculty member is going up for tenure and promotion—teaching, research/scholarship, and service. Those categories can be viewed as quite narrow or as umbrella ideas. None of it is as short as they might seem.

Teaching could be the traditional in-class teaching to undergraduate and graduate students but it could also include being a guest speaker for groups outside your own discipline or institution. Teaching can take up a large amount of your time, especially when prepping a new course. Grading, meeting with students, being in class, responding to e-mails, writing recommendation letters, and so much more goes into teaching. Those of us who are constantly worried about what we are doing and how it impacts the students it can feel as though the teaching cap is never off. We each have a different approach to teaching. This is part of why we have teaching philosophies. My own teaching philosophy discusses a lot about building the foundation for lifelong learning with students. Part of that is by providing a foundation of vocabulary and ideas from many different disciplines about a topic to help build towards critical thinking skills. Some ways to do that is to be available to the students, help them understand that they have a say in their education, and continue to learn yourself. One benefit of lifelong learning is being able to take the skills and ideas learned while in school and take them outside the classroom and outside the walls of academia.

Research is often the largest influence in tenure and promotion. This can include not only what someone does in the lab or what they collect data on but also includes publishing and presenting what they have been working on. We have this idea in academia of “publish or perish.” This is a way to quantify how much research someone is doing and how strong that research is by going through a peer-review system. Even many conferences are peer-reviewed submissions now. Research can look very different depending on the discipline you are in. For some it looks nothing like what we typically think of. For those in the arts, research can include more of performances and collaborations with people outside the institution. For others of us it is writing about our philosophical opinions on the state of the world.

Service frequently is ranked the lowest in terms of what faculty members need to devote their time to. Service includes many different things and they frequently overlap with teaching and research. Some ways people provide service is by serving on a committee for one’s department, college, institution, or discipline organization. It is often just regular meetings as well including attending faculty meetings. This can include providing some of the peer-reviews for journals or conferences. It could be extension work, such as talking to the media about what is going on at the institution or about your own research. Service could include doing a lot of the paperwork for your department. In an overlap with teaching, service can include advising students, meeting with prospective students, and recruiting.

There are so many different aspects to being a faculty member and I know I didn’t get them all. They are not always going to be exactly the same for each person who is on faculty at an institution and they will continue to change over the years. However, that is part of the beauty and part of the drawback—no two days or weeks or years will be exactly the same but it can be a huge challenge to juggle all of the different responsibilities one person has as a faculty member.

Are We Losing Sight of the Students?

There are many challenges that face Higher Education right now and many directions that it could go. Many of what is discussed revolves around the financial situation of institutions and the students who are attending. However, through all of these discussions there is one thing that seems to frequently get lost—the students. Sometimes it feels like the lack of focus on students, mentoring and teaching them, means that we are losing sight of the real reason for higher education.

Part of that is how so many people who are working at these institutions of higher education lose sight of teaching. My classmate, stser, linked to an interesting piece on what people who work at many different institutions would change in higher education. The bit written by Daniel Bakos from Western Georgia University rang true to me. He wrote, “Firstly, I believe too many of the faculty at institutions of ‘higher learning’ are not interested in doing their job, which I specifically believe to be in the vast majority of institutions, classroom instruction. It seems they all want to teach one or two classes and earn six figure salaries. Dedication doesn’t exist anymore.”

What Bakos argues can be seen time and time again at many different institutions, including ones that are meant to be teaching and student focused. This could be due to too many time commitments and people start feeling overwhelmed so it is the interactions with students that falls through the cracks. But is that the best system? Are we doing a disservice to the students who come to these institutions to learn and grow? What more could we be doing? We already have teaching vouchers that are considered a great commodity for professors but I have to wonder if they do more harm than good. Maybe it would be more beneficial to adjust expectations for everyone to teach, do research, and service in a more manageable way where nothing has to fall through the cracks. That is probably wishful thinking, though.

Losing Single-Sex Education

I am a graduate of a single-sex institution (also known as an all-women’s college). I am quite proud to have gone to a single-sex college. I feel like it prepared me for my career path and the world better than any other institution would have.

Today I started noticing that many of my fellow alums were writing about a different women’s college that has a vote this week whether it will remain single-sex or will become co-ed. About once a year there are one of these stories. It is always a toss-up as to whether the Board of Trustees (or whatever each institution calls their governing board) decides whether to remain a women’s college or not. It is always due to financial situations at the institution. This time it is Chatham University in Pittsburgh.

I understand that institutions must be financially sound (my undergrad was a debt free institution). However, does that have to be at the detriment of losing single-sex higher education?

There is often the stereotype that everyone who goes to a women’s college is a lesbian or will become one. If that was true why are there so many heterosexual engagements that happened with my Hollins friends this year? And what about Hillary Clinton—she is in a heterosexual marriage and went to a women’s college. It is people like her that come out of these single-sex institutions. In fact, many of the most successful women (in the traditional sense) are women’s college graduates.

Many people who go to women’s colleges had no intention of doing so. It was not that they were looking for a single-sex institution. It was other factors that drew them to their schools. For some, it is the professors, the extra curricular activities, the majors offered, the class sizes, and many more reasons.

Women’s colleges offer a living, learning environment in which intelligent, ambitious women are the ones who are doing it all. We are the ones who are participating in class. The ones getting prestigious internships. The ones running the Student Government Association. The ones going on to get into amazing graduate schools and get amazing jobs in locations around the world. One of my fellow alums wrote that while at Hollins, “I learned to share my ideas, to volunteer for causes that I care about, to take risks when they need to be taken. I cultivated my compassion, leadership, ambition, confidence, and creativity. Hollins prepared me for the real world by teaching me the tools I’d need in a supportive, enriching environment, and continues to support me through the extensive network of alumnae and friends. I would certainly not be the woman I am today if it wasn’t for my time at Hollins.” This is similar to what everyone has been writing about their experiences at single-sex institutions, not just Hollins or Chatham.

The young women of Chatham realize the benefit of going to a single-sex institution. They are trying to be vocal about their disapproval of going co-ed. In fact, they held a small protest last week first on campus and then off campus. There is a plan for another protest on Thursday, the day of the vote.

But should single-sex institutions become co-ed? Is there really a benefit to going co-ed? Or are there ways that all of these schools that are considering moving from single-sex to co-ed can succeed while still remaining true to their mission of educating women or educating men?

Online Presence

According to this Chronicle article– –building an online brand is an essential way for a professor who wants to connect with students and when scholars share about their personal lives are rated to having the most credibility.

Is this true in all cases? Even in small towns or small campuses where people know you and your family?

Disclosure about personal things to students is something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about and is a frequent topic of discussion within my department. I agree that students want some idea about who you are outside of the classroom but I don’t think they have to get those ideas from your online presence. By maintaining just a professional voice on your online presence and still disclosing in person would have the same benefits.

All of this technology is great. And we need to be open to the changes that are here and that are coming. But I also think we sometimes should slow down and think about what we are doing from all angles before jumping on the bandwagon.

It took a little bit of digging but I was able to find a couple of different journals that look at family studies and/or queer studies. Only one was based in the United States. The other three were out of Canada, Finland, and Australia. Even the journals from international locations have editors from more than one country (even the U.S.) including some of the top people in the field.

All of the journals are peer-reviewed and all indicate a dedication to presenting strong research. Many of them are also interdisciplinary in nature, partly due to the topics discussed don’t solely get studied in one department.

Even when discussing being open access, they say how they support academic pursuits and desire to ensure the validity and reliability of research. Part of why the journals are open access is to make what is being studied more visible.



Journal of Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology:

Journal of Queer Studies in Finland:

International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies:

Journal of Family Strengths:

Ethical Research and Publication Within Family Studies and Sociology

As we have been reading and talking about ethics during the last week or so I was reminded of a case that has been continuously in the news within my discipline for almost two years now.  So, instead about reading and talking about ethics in other disciplines, I decided to bring up this one. In 2012 a study conducted by a sociologist from the University of Texas was published that claimed to have produced the first rigorous scientific evidence showing that same-sex families harm children. Following the publication there was an outcry by many in the fields of sociology, family studies, and psychology who have done much research with the exact opposite findings.

As people started digging and looking into the research, the publication process, etc. a lot of things started to emerge about how the study was conducted.

Part of what came out was that the author strategically selected groups for comparison. Part of this was not making the experiences other than having a gay, lesbian, or bisexual parent exactly the same. Those who were in the heterosexual parent group had parents that were continuously married throughout the participant’s life while those in the other group did not necessarily even live with that parent.

The researcher did not contact any other scholars on the subject before starting this research (it was outside his normal research practices), including those within his own department. Which on the surface is not a big deal, but the fact that there has been so much research looking at similar questions, it is surprising that he did not reach out to understand all of the nuances of the topic.

Part of the concern over this researcher’s study is how biased he was in even initiating the study. If you read any of his popular news writings (or even study his CV closely) you can see how biased he was to find the finding he did. There was also the problem that the entire study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute (a conservative group) in which the researcher never disclosed while publishing the research. He even tried to hide the fact during the initial outcry after the publication.

At this point his reputation is almost completely ruined within the field. Even as an “expert witness” courts are viewing his research and opinions as useless. In fact, recently, a Michigan judge said something in that realm. However, as he continues to write and defend himself, he seems to not believe that he has done anything wrong and that he is on the right side of the research ethics.

This is a case that will continue to play out but is also a good teaching point for all of us.

First Year Seminars

I’ve noticed a pattern emerging in Higher Ed. of institutions building programs for first year students. Frequently it is a part of the Quality Enhancement Plan for accreditation purposes. The point of it is to help students become acclimated to the school and to help them with writing and thinking, since we all know that many students are coming out of high school without those skills.

As I was reading through an article from Hollins University ( stating that the first-year seminar courses were geared to emphasize traditional skills needed to succeed in the classroom but also to help student’s find a passion in learning, to learn collaboratively and have an interdisciplinary approach to learning. All of these goals definitely tie in with Hollins’ mission statement. However, do these first-year seminars or classes that institutions (including Virginia Tech, at least within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences) are forcing students to take really help the students in the long run?

An Interesting Blog To Follow

For those who might be interested, there is an interesting blog out there called The Professor is In.

You can find it here:

The woman who writes it used to be in academia but decided to leave a few years ago and has some interesting insights into the world of academia (positive and negative). She definitely keeps her finger on the pulse of colleges and universities, though her big pet project has to do with advocating for people in adjunct positions.

Mission Statements from Women’s Colleges

This is the first blog entry for my Future Professoriate class. The blog will focus on thoughts, musings, and reflections of the class, for the class, and of higher education in general.

The two Mission Statements I pulled were Hollins University and Wellesley College. I chose these two institutions because they are both women’s colleges. Being an alum of a women’s college I know the benefits that they can provide and these are two top liberal arts institutions in the country.

Hollins University is in Roanoke, VA, not far from Virginia Tech. It is smaller than Wellesley with only about 1000 undergraduate and graduate students. It is located on the outskirts of the city, which provide a more rural feel. The mission statement can be found here:

Wellesley has around 2300 students. It is located in the more urban area of Wellesley, MA near Boston. The mission statement can be found here:

Both of these mission statements discuss that their primary purpose is educating women. Not all mission statements for women’s colleges do that. Many just indicate that they are educating students. Both of the mission statements (and included in the values listed with the mission for Wellesley) discuss taking what is learned within the institutions into society as a whole. There is also a clear dedication to liberal arts education, service, diversity, and creativity. There is also an essence of the history built by both of these institutions within their statements. They have graduated some great women who have gone on to be strong leaders and that legacy is reflected.

Overall, the mission statements have many similar ideas, which is not too surprising since they are both top liberal arts colleges that are dedicated to educating women. However, one thing that Wellesley did but Hollins did not, was go into further detail of what the institution believed in and valued. It gave the reader a better idea of the institution because it gave more depth to how the institution viewed it’s mission.