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You ought to… February 15, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, grad school.
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I was discussing some of my career aspirations the other day.  After talking a bit, the person I was talking to lifted their index finger in that way people do when they’re trying to be thoughtful.

“You know, you really ought to get a job at a community college.”

I was floored.  The person realizes that despite the fact I could have stayed here and finished my PhD in just a couple years, I chose to go someplace else and spend two years apart from my family because I didn’t want the stigma of “only been at one school”.  Why would I do that if I wanted to teach at a community college?  In fact, why would I go get a PhD at all? I could start teaching at a CC after finishing my MS and not put myself through all that.

I’m not saying this as a slight to community college teachers, either.  I went to a community college for a couple years and had some of the most awesome teachers I’d ever met there.  It’s just that 1 – it’s not really where I want to go and 2 – I don’t think I could handle it.  Given the choice between research or technical work and teaching general ed-type classes, I’m pretty sure research would win out.  I’ve learned that I can live without spending hours in front of students or grading papers, but I can’t live without the mental stimulation that doing technical work provides.  Further, I’ve had the opportunity to teach in high schools as well as general ed labs for non-science majors.  I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I like teaching labs for circuits, optics, and physics.  I love teaching, but I’ve also learned that the material I like to teach is not suited for just an average student.  I like math and theory, and most community colleges are not going to be offering the kinds of things I would love to teach, at least not at a high level.

Now realistically, if that was the only job available, I’d take it and try to be a totally kick ass teacher that makes their students want to be great scientists and engineers…or whatever else they want to be.  I just am not convinced that’s a good first career choice for me.

Anyway, this whole interaction was very disappointing because it left me feeling that this person either has little faith in me or really doesn’t understand my interests well at all.  I do realize they had no intention of making me feel bad, but I still felt slighted.  It was all the more disappointing given that this person, in the past, has been very encouraging of my career goals.

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Comments»

1. karifur - February 15, 2012

I’m sure they thought they just didn’t know any better. Not being part of academia myself, I wouldn’t have known a lot of the things you said about the type of education you’ve been seeking to make yourself , etc. They probably meant it as a compliment, because you probably would be an excellent CC teacher.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine you being happy at a job which didn’t include research so I don’t know if I would have pictured you at a community college, at least not permanently.

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mareserinitatis - February 16, 2012

In this case, the person is intricately involved in the workings of a university, so I can’t say they were ignorant of the implications. If it had been a random person, or even a family member, I could probably say it was meant as a compliment. I do talk a lot about how I want to be a good teacher. But no…I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in this case.

I’m glad you thought about a potential alternative explanation, though. Some days, it seems like I run into these little slights a lot (and it wasn’t the only one in past week), so it’s easy to assume that all intent is negative…

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2. Vicki - February 16, 2012

I am at a teaching institution; some of our faculty do research, but not the same kind of thing you do. That’s what I love to do; a CC would suit me well except for the brutal loads they carry. So I have time to teach and to do some work in examining my teaching and how to use technology to reach my students (all of whom are deaf).

And yesterday I discovered that not only does my chairperson have little interest in my work (which I knew; I’m not alone in this cohort), he actively dissed it to my face. He’s retiring in June. I can’t wait.

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mareserinitatis - February 16, 2012

Ugh. How frustrating for you. I think awesome teachers are a pretty rare gift. I admire people who love it so much to make it their life’s work. It’s too bad not everyone values that.

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3. FrauTech - February 16, 2012

If they are at all familiar with the university/community college system then this does seem like an insult. Can’t quite put my finger on it but they seem to think it’s okay that you take this step down or accept less than you’re worth. Not “until you find a university job” or “if you need a stop gap” but just that for YOU maybe you should just accept something less than what you’re worth.

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mareserinitatis - February 16, 2012

Either that, or that’s all they think I’m capable of.

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Vicki - February 17, 2012

Perhaps because I’m a teacher rather than a researcher, and I teach in a two-year college that resides within a university, but I take issue with the notion that CC teaching is “less than” university research/teaching, and that it’s an insult to suggest that someone might like to teach in a CC. “Less than you’re worth”? Really? It’s different, indeed, and I agree entirely that your (Cherish’s) interests lie in the lab more than classroom (as mine lie in the classroom more than the lab), but neither is intrinsically “better.” No doubt that there is more prestige attached to a research/teaching post in a well-regarded university, but whether that’s deserved is another question.

Dedicated teachers are hard to come by. Don’t diss ’em; good teaching isn’t easy.

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mareserinitatis - February 17, 2012

Vicki, I don’t think FrauTech thinks that way at all, and I don’t either. However, she’s very right that the culture at research universities is that people who go to teach at a CC can’t cut it in research and are therefore somehow “less”. I think it’s bunk, but that is a pretty common issue at universities. (And even going between universities…there are a lot of people at R1 that look down on those of us who aren’t at R1s…again, because they think we’re not as good as they are.) If you’re going to be king of a molehill, you need to make sure your molehill is bigger than the next guy’s.

What I didn’t say in this post is that there has also been a long-standing issue of this person comparing me to someone else, and I almost always fall short compared to this other person…despite the fact that I personally feel I am a better researcher. Given that context, I’m beginning to feel that this person who initially seemed like they would be a good mentor and advocate really isn’t going to be that.

The gist of it is that I felt hurt by the suggestion that I ought to be looking for jobs at community colleges because this person doesn’t think I’m cut out for research.

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Vicki - February 17, 2012

Then you should remove this toxic person from your life if you can. Avoid hir, simply don’t listen, whatever, but understand that hir attitude has nothing to do with you and everything to do with hir own insecurities. Clearly, zie sees you as a threat, or sie wouldn’t be so eager to cut you down. Feel pity; poor little shriveled soul.

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mareserinitatis - February 17, 2012

Yeah, I’m thinking your right. It’s becoming apparent that this person has different ideas about my life than I do. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t need another person cutting me down.

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4. ferd - February 18, 2012

mareserinitatis, it is great that you know what you want in a career. Too many people don’t, and they stumble along unhappily… and not sure why. Stick to your goals. Maybe it’s time for a new mentor. Your old mentor misunderstands your goals (at best), or blurts out without thinking things through. It’s good that you can recognize poor advice.

I taught at a community college for a while and you are right – they don’t have the budget or resources to support your interests. That doesn’t make them or you bad, it just means that it’s not a good fit. Some community colleges are too business-driven – they place income above integrity. I left my community college because they wanted me to ignore a flagrant cheater in my class (they didn’t want to lose his tuition). A university is more likely above that.

I hope that you’re never forced to take a down-grade job. It can slow if not derail a career. There’s a lot of us who are under-employed from taking that path, and not only is it not good for you but it’s also not good for the economy.

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