• September 3, 2015

The Rules of Faculty Club

The first rule of Faculty Club: Don't tell your adviser about reading this article. He will tell you that you are wasting your time. Never tell your adviser about anything other than how hard you are working on your dissertation. Make sure to always have a stack of books with you when you visit your professor, demonstrating that you are completely immersed in your research.

If your adviser tries to change the subject from a discussion of your dissertation, shove one of the books, preferably one that is so new that you are confident your adviser hasn't read it, into his hands: "Um, have you seen this yet?" No doubt his frantic attempt to scan the bibliography and see if his work is cited will sufficiently distract him.

The second rule of Faculty Club: Don't tell any of your fellow graduate students about reading this article. They won't understand, either. Only talk to them about your research, since some of them will one day be your colleagues. Never tell a fellow student something that you wouldn't want a colleague to know. Always show your professor and your fellow students that you are single-minded in your devotion to your research.

The third rule of Faculty Club: You must be a teacher to enter the club. Your adviser will not tell you that; your fellow graduate students won't understand that. So enjoy the research nirvana that is graduate school but know that you will be descending back into the cave if and when you are hired by a university. You may have difficulty accepting this rule. If you can't, stop reading this immediately and go back to work on your dissertation. Cease and desist. Only precede to Rule No. 4 once you have fully accepted and understood Rule No. 3. Once you do, then you must not expect to be given any actual guidance from your department on how to be a teacher. You will only be able to obtain those skills through your own efforts.

The fourth rule of Faculty Club: Your students will only know you as their teacher and do not care about your research unless you require them to know about your research. If you require them to know about your research, they will figure out your argument without understanding the complex road that you took to get there. That leads students to believe that the point of education is to tell a professor what he or she wants to hear rather than to think through the material for themselves.

The fifth rule of Faculty Club: Convincing peer reviewers of a journal that your argument stands out from the rest has little to do with getting students to think through a problem for themselves. Students need a ladder to climb up the building rather than a vantage from which to peer down with trepidation at the street below. You must be able to convey on a syllabus the course objective and the road map that you will be employing to get students there.

The sixth rule of Faculty Club: Regardless of your discipline, you must be a philosopher of education. You will profess your philosophy in your job cover letters, in supporting documents in your application materials, in your campus interview, in your annual reports, and in your tenure narrative. Nobody will ever tell you this, but your career will, in part, rest on having a well-thought-out philosophy of education.

The seventh rule of Faculty Club: Teaching is a science. Be as methodical about developing teaching strategies and a teaching philosophy as you are in your research. Every discipline publishes a journal that presents innovative and effective teaching strategies for presenting the subject matter and cultivating the skills of the discipline. Familiarize yourself with those journals. Read at least one book outlining various philosophies of education so that you will have the theoretical concepts to characterize your own approach to teaching and learning.

Do not say in your cover letter that you run a student-centered classroom purely because that was listed in the job description. Everyone says that they teach Socratically even when they have no idea how Socrates taught. Never put something in your cover letter that does not reflect what you actually do and believe. Develop classroom strategies that work for you and be able to explain these in your job applications and interviews.

The eighth rule of Faculty Club: You must have enough teaching experience to handle Rules No. 5 and No. 6. It used to be that you did not need teaching experience to get a university position; that is no longer the case. Even if you get a job without teaching experience, you don't want teaching to be on-the-job training when your tenure decision will require that you have a developed classroom methodology, as evidenced by high teaching scores.

Ideally, by the time you go on the job market, you should have taught at least one section of each of the bread-and-butter courses that you hope to teach in a full-time position. That will allow you to present syllabi for those courses on job interviews and to explain effective strategies that you employed in each one.

Don't get lost in adjunct alley under the mistaken belief that teaching more and more courses will increase your chances of landing a tenure-track job. Teaching experience has a diminishing return. Stay focused on your research while being cognizant that you are preparing for a career as a teacher. Finish your dissertation, publish your research, and get enough teaching experience so that you will not be caught off guard by the untold secrets of joining Faculty Club.

Adam Fulton is the pseudonym of an assistant professor at a university in the South.


1. earlwizemann - November 05, 2009 at 09:18 am

1st Rule of Faculty Club: Nobody talks about Faculty Club.

2. geequegal - November 05, 2009 at 09:40 am

I completely understand the need for teaching experience before inflicting yourself on a classroom of real students. However, why is there never any advice for those of us who teach in disciplines that do not have an undergraduate component? Higher Education Administration and/or Student Affairs areas, for example. Extensive professional experience is key here, of course. However, faculty positions (especially in theory) still require teaching experience, and I have yet to find any sage teaching advice for those of us in this predicament. Suggestions?

3. rorabaugh - November 05, 2009 at 11:47 am

Faculty Club indeed. It should be no surprise that Tyler Durden is the sexy researcher and "the narrator" (Ed Norton) is the lowly teacher in this metaphor. Thank you "Adam Fulton," for ripping yourself away from your support groups and pulling back the veil for us. At first it was a frustrating experience, but I was humming "Where is My Mind" by the time your essay concluded.

Pete at allistelling.blogspot.com
- a blog of the academic, culture, indie-music, and single parenting

4. szakin - November 05, 2009 at 12:28 pm

brilliant. thanks.

5. ffprofessionaldev - November 05, 2009 at 01:31 pm

If I had a half-dollar (I used to say, " a penny." times have changed) for all the 2 - 4 am queries from post-docs and new PhDs worried about how to represent teaching they haven't done, we'd ALL go to anywhere we wanted to forever. Good development programs can help future faculty begin to conceptualize effective practice in ways that at least arms them well for the interview. Talk well about possibilities; don't dwell on what you think are "holes" in your development experience. And of course, I'm constantly leaning on PhD students and others to garner as many teaching opportunties as they can. Successful applicants need not have a long resume listing "traditional" semester-long experiences. And poorly presented multi-year teaching is worse than well documented and discussed guest lectures.

Right, "Where is MY Mind?" Great memory prompt Rorabaugh...I've gotta go sell some soap.

6. mignon - November 05, 2009 at 02:57 pm

This is depressingly normative. Be yourself, have integrity, experiment, speak up. That's what every profession needs, but higher education needs it more than most.

7. archman - November 06, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Rule #7 I will disagree with. It reads rather naive in my opinion. Teaching is primarily an art, with a bit of basic science thrown in as a foundation. If there's any major science component, it's the science of instructor documentation and records keeping showing rigorous and/or dynamic approaches in the classroom.

And most of the output from education journals merely rehashes common sense practices into "new" terminologies. I would have thought that almost anyone who's taught in higher ed for a while would have caught on to that. Heck, it's like the #5 water cooler topic in my department, year afer year!

But I will agree on the strong need for keeping up with the current educational research lingo. The assessment drones don't look favorably on syllabi that lack the most up-to-date edu-speak. Swapping out nouns and adjectives every few years is tiring, but hey! I'm innovative and progressive! This is critical to Rule #6, which I emphatically agree with. Shutting up the assessment drones early on is key to devoting more time and energy to effective teaching.

8. cwebstuff - November 09, 2009 at 11:39 am

The person who wrote this is poorly infomred.

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