Category Archives: Vocation

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…

Read More

April 15, 2012, 10:49 pm

The bubble within the bubble

http://www.flickr.com/photos/leecullivan/

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

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…

Read More

December 5, 2011, 7:30 am

The end of the beginning

It’s hard to believe, but we’re entering our last week of Fall classes here at Grand Valley. For those of you who only started reading the blog since it joined the Chronicle blog network in September, this was only my first semester at GVSU. I started here this fall, having left a tenured position at a small liberal arts college where I was on the faculty for ten years, uprooting my wife and three kids to move here to west Michigan in search of a better life for us all. It’s been an eventful time for us since coming here in July and therefore no surprise that fifteen weeks have gone by in what seems like a flash.

I can’t imagine getting off to a better start. My students have been smart, mature, and industrious and it’s been a pleasure to help them learn. My colleagues have been supportive in every way. I’ve really enjoyed the large university environment GVSU offers. My wife’s job…

Read More

November 29, 2011, 7:45 am

Four things running has taught me about teaching

This year, I did something new on Thanksgiving: I ran one of those 5K “turkey trot” races on Thanksgiving morning. It was actually the second such race I had done in the space of a week. There’s something invigorating about getting up early and joining a crowd of a few hundred people to buck the temptation to lie in bed or on the couch all day.

Running has been a hobby of mine since my 40th birthday (July 2010). Turning 40, I was overweight and constantly tired, and I decided to do something about it. So I declared I would start training for a 5K, to commence as soon as the birthday party was over. As for how that beginning actually went, I’ll get to that later. For the moment, it’s enough to say that running has always accompanied a reflective mood for me. As I was doing the race on Thursday, I got to thinking about the connections between running and teaching. I think I’ve learned a…

Read More

September 11, 2011, 12:04 pm

Why we fight, why we study (retrospective)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/96dpi/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/96dpi/

This is an article I first published here on the blog back on September 11, 2007, in remembrance of the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It seems incredible that 10 years have come and gone since that horrible day of confusion and chaos. I was in my first year at Franklin College in Indiana then. On 9/11/2001, the students I have today were around 7 years old, which is the age of my oldest daughter right now. Knowing how innocent yet knowledgeable my daughter is, I can begin to understand the awesome formative power of that day in their lives. I think the point of this article — you’ll see it in the last paragraph — still works today for me, and it’s the same lesson that I want to communicate to my students and to my kids.

————

I remember 9/11/01…

Read More

September 6, 2011, 8:00 am

What does being a “caring” professor mean?

There was a comment on this post back on the old site that I felt deserved more than just a reply. Raphael said:

…I flinched when I read this sentence:

“The ideal result is that the child/kid/student has a sense of being understood, cared for, and valued.”

There is one big difference between being a child and being a student. A child, I guess, has to be supported no matter what in the bounds of somewhat well-defined rules/values. You know your child is being stupid (like painting a green sky) but you still say it is doing great. It is part of the process.

As a student, I am on the verge of becoming a professional. What I need from my teachers (which includes other students, assisstants, professors) is honesty. If I do well, I need to hear that, true. But if I mess up, I need to know, too. And maybe the latter is more important. I have to learn my weaknesses so I can work on…

Read More