Tag Archives: higher education

Billable Hours-Faculty Edition

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I was recently caught off guard in the very best way. I was on a Zoom call with some colleagues in both academia and in industry and the call was wrapping up. We were sharing ‘good-bye’s’ and ‘have a good day’ sign offs and I brought up a big conference that we would all likely go to. As I mentioned it, my colleague, who is in industry, brought up a good point that we in academia often forget about.

“I lose so many billable hours if I go to this conference.”

As I get entrenched in the grants and contracts portion of my position, I had never thought about my work the way my colleague in industry does, as a billable hour. We talk about our time in percentages and buying out our time means x number of hours per week, but I had NEVER considered how many billable hours I would be able to give to each of my projects and then figure out the value of those billable hours. If there’s 40 hours in a typical workweek, I’m spending 10-12 of them grading and class planning, which is more than 20%. When you think about it, it’s a skewed model, but what if my ONLY job was to work on grants and contracts?

What does it mean to be a younger faculty member? It means counting that, acting as your own boss in many ways, and hustling for the next collaboration, grant submission, and publication while teaching, advising, and participating in service for the university.

When we begin thinking of ourselves as entrepreneurs, what happens to the public science for the public good? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If I start thinking of my time in billable hours instead of science for the public good, will it change or alter the nature of my work? Will it devalue it or help it increase in value? I don’t know the answer, but it’s caused me a pregnant pause.

Back to the conference conversation: I can’t go due to a major event that I cannot miss, but when I think about it in billable hours, it makes even more sense to NOT go. Part of me really hates to miss it, another part of me is bummed that I think of it in billable hours or as a % of my time and value, but the travel, money, and trying to gauge how many meaningful connections I MIGHT have aren’t tangible enough.

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Revisiting Plan B

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It’s been a while since I thought about plan b at all. Quite frankly, I haven’t had the time.

A conversation with a graduate student last week caused me to hit my own pause button.

The student had come in to see me about working up a manuscript. We chatted about the work and then I asked him how his job search was going. He had been very transparent with everyone about his job hunt; seeking advice, getting feedback, and asking good questions.

Upon asking, he slumped down a bit and said, “it’s not going so well.”

Like any good advisor(y) type person, I said, “what’s your plan b?”

“There is no plan b.”

Uhhh…..

The student had assumed too much because we had given him too much hope. I hate to say it, but it’s true. We assume that our students will all finish and there will be mountains of opportunity for them. While there should be, there’s not. At all. The numbers on tenure track positions decline and continue to do so and the number of other types of positions rise to save universities money. It’s happening where I work too. I’m not in a TT line either so I’m having the same struggle.

I have thought about all of my options though. Many, many times….and I’ve tested the waters too. Applying, interviewing, etc…

But this student had not done anything outside of academic job applications.

And I hope he does now.

As many of you get to take a pause for a deserved break, I hope that if you’re thinking about finishing anytime in the next six months, you’ve got your “unicorn” but you’ve also thought a little bit about plan b. I don’t want to rain on your parade, but someone has to let you know or remind you that there has to be a backup. There would be nothing worse than wrapping up and not having anything to move toward. Sometimes plan b pops up when we lease expect it, so don’t be afraid to go towards opportunities that you may not have considered.

Plan b’s often turn into plan a’s and that’s how the job market works at times. Don’t count out your plan b. Keep working toward plan a, but in the meantime, don’t forget there’s other letters in the alphabet too.

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Teaching vs. Research Universities

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The shiny names, the big teams, the fancy diploma.  Oh wait, you went where?  Measuring learning is something our society and higher education continue to struggle with.  We want our kids to go to ‘big name university’ so it looks good and some where along the way, we began to equate the ‘big name’ with a ‘big education’ only to sadly find out it merely included a ‘big price tag.’ I don’t have two legs to stand on in this case since my degrees are from those perceived ‘big names.’ I will tell you this: I spent two years at a state school or community college and I have to say, I received the best teaching and more education in those two years than I did during the rest of my BS educational experience.

Why are we scoffing, turning up our noses, and pitying those who want to earn their education, get specialized attention, and pay a reduced tuition?  I saved a TON of money going to state school for two years.  I was in classes with only about 30 students.  I got a lot of one-on-one attention from all of my teachers.  I didn’t  know what a TA was until I transferred to big box U and my GPA plummeted like dropped pie my first semester.

A teaching university or college is just that.  They specialize in teaching.  A research university says they combine both, but can they do it consistently and do it consistently well?  Me thinks not all of the time. Sure, you can hire a laundry load of TA’s, GRA’s, and GTA’s, but those folks are there to mostly do research, complete their advanced degree, and segue way into a post doc, or another advanced degree program.

To meet the rising numbers, decreased funding, and lack of space, we’ve gone virtual.  We’ve gone part time. We’ve hired over 100% more adjuncts and instructors here at my university in the last year.  I love a good teacher and I tip my hat to these folks because these are the people WHO LOVE TEACHING. There are those faculty on faculty lines who love teaching too, but the national trend is shifting and TT positions are disappearing like pizza in a dorm. Instructors and adjuncts do the heavy lifting of teaching much of the time with marginal salaries, no benefits, and little thanks.  Their jobs are always ‘up in the air’ depending on funding and that’s no way to live.  While I watched NBC’s education nation this fall, I became more inflamed while parents would bitch about their kids lunches, their kids gym, their kids everything, but never assume any kind of responsibility for their child but instead, leave it up to the school to raise their kids.  Compounded with the facebook posts I saw about parents complaining that they had to watch their children grow for 8 weeks of summer vacation **gasp** what a travesty to have to spend time with the child you had!

It does take a community to raise a child.  It takes great teachers, cooperative parents who do challenge but don’t undermine, and it takes a solid place for that to take place.  Parents send their kids off to college and hope they get a great education at these ‘big box’ universities, but what happens when they get spit out after four years with no other skills other than computer tests and office hours?  I have done a lot of mentoring with students on job skills, job searching, research interests, and even life things like comfortable and affordable heat/AC temps, where to go when you need a check up, and how do students handle work vs. roommates when they need to study.  I am happy to help any student, but I can’t help but wonder, where are the parents?  Do they think that big box U will do it all for their kids since they have relinquished their responsibilities the day they dropped them off?

I am a faculty at a big box U and I know plenty of other faculty who LOVE teaching like I do but once you look at a tenure packet and realize that teaching is NOT the priority, it really begins to shape your future and very quickly.  I would be so far fetched to say that students and faculty may be better off at a smaller institution where they can get the attention from great teachers and these teachers will be there because they love teaching, it’s their passion, their muse, and their craft.  Parker Palmer says, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” We should all strive for that as faculty and begin to rethink the proporitions of teaching vs. research. Let faculty hired as researchers conduct their research, and those faculty hired as teachers should teach predominately.

Where’s the balance?  How can we restore it?  How can we give students knowledge and job skills that will last a lifetime?  As a new faculty, I ponder this one quite a bit.  I meet with students each week with big ideas, but no skill set on how to carry them out. I try my best to help them, but then I stand there and wonder, how come at age 18-21, this is the first time they’ve heard this stuff?  Who is or isn’t doing their job along the way?  What will it take?

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RUDE! How the Presidential Debate Affects Everyone

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Have you seen Mad TV?  Remember Bon Qui Qui?  She’s a bit rough around the edges, but she does make a good point.  When she screams “RUDE” and puts her hand up, the person who is acting at the burger joint if caught off guard for many reasons. As I watched those damn debates, all I wanted to do was jump into the stage where Obama and Romney were and slap their hands every time they were rude and scream in my best Bon Qui Qui voice, “RUDE.” Forget the comments about Big Bird, just the rudeness of both men. Perhaps a slap on the wrist wouldn’t have been effective, I would have paid a 3 year old with a gong to just continually bang on it when the men were being rude. That might be loud enough to shut them up. I actually quit listening to the content (it started to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher “wwaaahhhh, wahh, wah, wah, wah”) but instead starting focusing on how many times they insisted on being rude.

Why is it bothering me?  Because people watch this and then think, “this is how I should be behaving.”  It’s no secret that education as a whole gets less and less respect. Teachers are exhausted because of increasing standardized demands, having to basically raise their students in many cases, and continued battles with things that shouldn’t even be on the table like etiquette.  Higher education is no different anymore.  I overheard a grad student say he was becoming a college professor so no parents would bother him and I did LOL at him (oops) and then share with him the semesters that I had parents emailing me and calling my office phone because their son/daughter had not received an A in my class. What the what??? What happened to manners in general? Where did they go? Classroom civility has become an issue at the undergraduate level as students see others model bad behavior, they come to class with their ‘guns blazin’ and have no problems being disruptive, rude, and extremely confrontational on purpose.  While debate is healthy, getting in a peers or a professors face for a 9 a.m. class is not.

I had a conversation with PIC about the debates a few nights later and he commented that of all the news outlets he looked at (he’s a bit of a news junkie), not a single one mentioned the fact that both candidates were extremely rude to each other and to the moderator.  They were not respectful of one another or anyone they might be speaking too. Don’t get me started on content, I’ll get on a far-away tangent. People were critical of Jim Leherer as the moderator and while he might have done a better job commanding the two men, the bottom line was that neither of the candidates gave a s*^t about respecting Leherer. No one cared about the respect or lack thereof that the two candidates exhibited.  In the world we live in today, it seems the loudest mouth gets the crumbs and the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so when will being a polite or introverted person come back in style?  I, for one, can’t wait and it can’t come soon enough.

Education continues to face major put downs-not from lobbying groups, decreases in funding, or by bad press, but from PARENTS–perhaps the group that should be the biggest advocate for education of all kinds.  Instead of crapping all over your kids teacher or professor, sometimes it’s best to say nothing until you get the facts.  I don’t think parents do it on purpose all of the time, but I do recall that some of my hardest working students were the ones whose parents took two minutes to invest in their kids education. These were the parents who sent emails to check in, not attack. These were the parents who came to parent night just to be informed. These were the parents who volunteered to help, not scorn. Their only agenda was for their child and creating a positive educational environment, not sneaking around to dig up dirty dirt and then freak out every faculty in the building.

This trickle down even exists in higher ed.  Outside my office window I heard students discussing a professor they didn’t like and one said to the other, “if I don’t get the grade I want, I’ll just keep emailing and arguing with him (the professor) in class until he just changes it.” Hey you little brat, why don’t you try EARNING the grade you want first, then the argument will be null and void?  But that’s not how these young people think.  True learning and grades are often not directly correlated and today’s generation is having a tough time with that. They only see winning as the outcome. They LEARNED this behavior from somewhere though and odds are, it was their parents or from parents in their former peer group. This saddens and frustrates me to no end.

As a former public school teacher, I burned myself out and the rudeness of my students and parents was one of the contributing factors.  I had a student who announced to me on the first day of school that on December 13th he would no longer be in school.  He was dropping out.  Every person in his family dropped out of high school and he would be doing the same.  He was so PROUD to be quitting school and quite frankly, he made my life a daily hell when he did come to school until December because of his rudeness, lack of any kind of human respect, and because he knew his days were numbered and neither parent gave a shit, so why should he? A few years later, his younger brother graduated against amazing odds and not one of his parents attended his graduation. Out of four siblings in that family, he was the only one to earn his high school diploma and his parents couldn’t be bothered to attend.  Even if education wasn’t their priority in life, shouldn’t they support their son (first and foremost) and then support the institution that was working with him to get him to graduation day?  No, instead they emotionally beat their kids into thinking that education was worthless and the child that wanted to succeed, they shunned from their family. I’m sure they have good reasons but there is no excuse for allowing anyone to be as rude and disrespectful as that young man in my class was.  That goes into human decency and it is unacceptable.

I would insist that the two candidates clean up their acts for the next debate. If nothing else, stop being so damn rude. To each other, to the moderator, and to our country. Basic principles are still important and it’s important that as a first world country, as role models, and as decent human beings, they go back to the basic rules their moms and dads taught them. You don’t have to be a privileged child or a poor child to know that common etiquette is important and this ‘show’ we’ve been giving all of the other countries of the world is making us look like jerks.

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