Category Archives: Life in academia

July 31, 2012, 8:00 am

Finding your next job: Variety is the spice of (professional) life

The first two parts of this series (part 1, part 2) on Finding Your Next Job were about coming to terms with the motivations and parameters behind looking for a next job in the first place. These aren’t stressed enough in most discourses on job searching. The last thing you want is to blunder into a job search without a good idea of why you’re doing it, what you hope to accomplish, and who (besides yourself) needs to be involved.

But once you’re done with this kind of soul-searching, you have to begin. This part of the process can be just as varied as the first two parts, so rather than lay down a “how to” list, let me just share some experiences and what’s worked for me and people I know. Here I’m going to focus on one important and often-overlooked point about what sort of job you consider when you search.

For people looking for a second or subsequent job coming out…

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July 30, 2012, 8:00 am

Finding your next job: Three things to do before starting

We’re continuing a series on Finding Your Next Job. In the first post, we stressed the importance of identifying your motivations and coming to terms with the why behind the search. Now we need to think about getting started. Hitting the EIMS website and beginning to compose cover letters is not the start of the job search in my opinion. That comes next. But first there are a few more things to do. Three things, in fact.

1. Determine who the stakeholders are in this upcoming search. This would be any person, other than your current colleagues, whose daily life will be altered by your move to the next job. This is a different and much smaller list than that of the people who careabout your search — hopefully there are a lot of those kinds of people, but it’s likely you have few true stakeholders. The last time I was on the market, in 2010, I identified five stakeholders other…

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July 27, 2012, 9:25 am

Finding your next job: Understanding “why”

I’ll be at MathFest next week, and one of the things I’ll be doing is participating in this panel discussion. I’ll be speaking about “Finding Your Second Job” and then leading a breakout group to discuss this issue. It’s a little funny that I’ll be speaking on this, since I’m actually on my third job right now (and I hope it will be my last one!) but I won’t let that get in the way.

Finding “the next job” in academia is a very complex issue on a number of levels. I only have 15 minutes to do my schtick in Madison and so there’s no way I can touch on all the nuances. So I’d like to take this week leading up to MathFest to blog about this issue in detail. There may be some people out there who are planning to go on the market in the fall — or wrestling with the possibility of doing so. If you can make it to MathFest, I encourage you to stop by the panel…

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May 17, 2012, 12:15 pm

What constitutes peer review for textbooks — and who cares?

Via Inside Higher Ed, The University of Minnesota has started a web site to curate “open source” textbooks in a variety of subject areas. Right now, the mathematics selection consists of 15 titles, many of which can be considered open-access classics, including Strang’s Calculus, Bob Beezer’s “A First Course in Linear Algebra”, Tom Judson’s excellent Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications, and the Whitman Calculus book. In other words, these aren’t new titles created specifically for this website. But it’s nice to have these all curated in the same place. (I don’t know if UMN plans on solicit new works specifically for their website.)

The claim here is that open-access books** tend to have slow adoption rates because of the lack of “peer review” (and also because many faculty don’t know that open-access resources are out there), and the UMN website will provide some of that review …

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April 15, 2012, 10:49 pm

The bubble within the bubble

This op-ed from the Times Higher Education raises an important point about the demands placed on the personal lives of academics:

Robert Markley has made it to the promised land, securing a tenured post at a large research-intensive university that would be the envy of a thousand early career hopefuls.

But it’s not all milk and honey. He is on his second marriage (and attributes the break-up of his first directly to his work), sees his new wife only during holidays and on occasional weekends, and spends up to 40 per cent of his income on the travel and two homes that make even this possible.

The professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is among the scholars in our cover feature who go to extraordinary lengths – and accept…

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March 19, 2012, 6:38 am

Lecture Fail?

Jeff Young from the Chronicle has started a flame war conversation on the future of lecturing in higher education by having students send in videos with their thoughts on lecture, followed by professors sending in their videos on the same thing (and to rebut the student comments). Here’s my response, which shows up at the main discussion thread but a few slots below the main professors’ video:

To sum up my main points from this video:

  1. The discussion shouldn’t be about whether we are pro-lecture or anti-lecture, but whether lecture works in terms of student learning, where by “student” we mean the learners that are actually there in the classes we are teaching at the moment.
  2. When you frame it that way, lecture by itself is often a poor choice and we need to be open to using whatever combination of teaching tools best enables our students to learn.
  3. Something that…

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March 7, 2012, 9:30 am

3 Quick Points About Productivity and Writing

This week is Spring Break, which means students get to go on vacations while faculty get caught up on work. And get caught up I did. Yesterday I set aside the entire day to focus on a single project: the completion of a draft of an article that I started in May 2011 (!), which got back-burnered last summer during our move to Michigan, and never quite made it out of neutral. The unfinished nature of that paper has been weighing on me for almost a year, so I wanted the thing done.

Rather than try to tweak and edit the existing manuscript, I just threw the whole thing out and started over again with a clearer concept, a clearer argument, and a clearer mind. Four hours later, I had completely rebuilt a 15-page article from the ground up, and I should be able to send it off to the journal by the end of the week. I’m a little shocked by this. It brought to mind three points about writing an…

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February 8, 2012, 11:00 am

Covey on education: Are we superficial?

Here’s a quote from Stephen Covey’s classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I am reading right now. Covey here is talking about the difference between improving one’s life through the “Character Ethic” (think: Ben Franklin’s autobiography) versus simply changing how you interact with other people without a corresponding shift in your worldview, which he refers to as “technique” or the “Personality Ethic”. All emphases are my own:

To focus on technique is like cramming your way through school. You sometimes get by, perhaps even get good grades, but if you don’t pay the price day in and day out, you never achieve true mastery of the subjects you study or develop an educated mind.

Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm—to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest? The farm is…

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February 1, 2012, 7:55 am

Why I believe in technology

Saturday was the fifth anniversary of the day when we received our middle child, Penelope, in China. My wife and mother-in-law traveled to China to receive her and complete the adoption process, while I stayed home with our then-2-year old (who was also adopted from China). Celebrating “Gotcha Day” for our two daughters is always a fun and meaningful time for us. But there’s another anniversary that shares the same date as Penny’s Gotcha Day: It’s the day that I mark as the precise moment in time when I became 100% sold on the power of technology, both in my personal life and in my teaching.

Here’s why:

  • At about 2:00 PM local time in Nanchang, China on January 27 — a Sunday — Penny was brought into the room where my wife and mother-in-law were waiting, and they met for the first time. Lots of pictures were taken with our Canon PowerShot digital camera. This was 2:00 AM local…

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January 18, 2012, 7:12 am

What I learned in 2011: There is always a backstory

Here’s a previous article in an ongoing series of What I Learned in 2011.

While it was still on TV, the show LOST was a favorite of mine. No, that’s not strong enough — it was an obsession. I discovered the show about halfway through its fourth season when I downloaded the series pilot from iTunes on a whim. I was hooked. I proceeded to watch the episodes online at a rate of about one per day — sometimes two or even three — until I caught up. I read the blogs, edited the wiki, listened to the podcasts. I was completely and totally absorbed. And this is coming from a person who otherwise watches TV maybe about an hour a week (modulo football and kids’ shows).

What was it about that show that I found so engaging? For me, the main thing was the deep humanity of the characters. In the first few episodes, it was very easy to pigeonhole them all. Sawyer was the criminal you had to…

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