Workshop: Faculty Careers in Community Colleges

Last Friday, I attended a workshop titled, “Faculty Careers in Community Colleges”, where several former Rutgers alumni and current faculty members from local community colleges gave some perspective on their experiences. I’m considering the field of academia after graduation, and more recently have given some thought to the prospect of teaching at a community college, so I was curious to hear from them.

If you weren’t able to make it to the workshop, based on the panel of 4, here were some of the interesting comments.

  1. There are some community colleges that mandate research and publications from their professors. The environment described actually sounded closer to the expectations of a faculty member of a standard 4-year institution. This is important to note as these community colleges would likely care more about your research plan in cover letters and applications, than schools where research is not expected.
  2. Teaching loads vary from about 4 to 5 classes a semester, which wasn’t that surprising to me, however the class size of some of them are capped at 40 students which means you are only teaching 120 students a semester. Quite the jump from teaching as a TA!!
  3. As with most job markets, positions to teach at community colleges are becoming increasingly competitive, sometimes receiving up to 120 applicants for 1 position which have increased the qualifications of the candidate pool.  It’s becoming more and more common for the Ph.D to be “preferred” which actually means it’s a requirement, especially for the tenure track positions.
  4. Just like at most colleges and universities, the student body of community colleges is becoming very diverse. However, at community colleges it’s more common to find a wide array of experiences and backgrounds, ranging from the exceptional high school student looking to get a head start on college to the working full time adult looking to get to the next level of their career. I’m sure preparing content to fit all students would be quite the challenge.

And importantly, community college job announcements may not be listed in the same places as those for other faculty positions, so if you are interested, you might need to peruse their respective websites. Good luck!

Posted in career planning | Tagged , ,

October Blues

The beginning of every academic year of my graduate school experience always comes with much excitement. Whether it’s taking or teaching a new class, or maybe just as simple as having new found motivation after a short summer vacation, September always flies by. But each year, I often find myself in a rut in mid-October. In September, I have my “honeymoon” phase with my semester, finding ways to adapt my schedule as best as I can, enjoying jumping back into the swing of things and meeting new students. But by October, I’ve realized that the one day of the week that is the most mentally draining (Thursdays for me) or the day with the busiest lab schedule (Mondays due to shared time on an instrument), feel like more of an obstacle than a responsibility.

And, being a graduate student never helps manage these feelings.  We are so reliant on others (the A- and C-words) to help us achieve our ultimate goal, which I think is often misunderstood by graduate students. It’s not to get a degree or find a job.  The goal of graduate school is to develop, intellectually and professionally. I’ve actually always looked at our low salaries as TAs and GAs as an invisible tax we pay to help avoid or get away from the “real world” after college. That our time here, despite us not seeing it during our day-to-day grind, helps us grow into the potential leaders and executives we will be once we leave.

And, when you think about it, it makes sense that way.  Time in graduate school is strictly achievement based; law school and medical school are 3 and 4 years respectively, but graduate school can take much longer. When I think about how I process information from a lecture or guest speaker, or how I explain information to a confused undergraduate compared to how I did when I first started my time here at Rutgers, I’m astonished.

So this October, take some time to reflect on YOU. Not qualifying exams, tests, experiments, or manuscripts, but how have you grown from last October to now. You may not see tangible results, but I bet you’ll be able to feel them.

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5 Teaching Tips for New TAs

A year ago, I was starting my first semester as a TA in the new Biology Workshop set-up. This change was going against decades of pedagogy as TAs were asked to act as facilitators rather than re-lecturing content that professors explain in lectures. Now, I had taught some informal pass/fail classes before, as well as done some science outreach teaching middle school students (Rutgers Science Explorer Bus), but this was my first experience teaching course content to college students. To make matters worse, I hadn’t taken biology since my first year of college! But over the past year, I’ve not only learned more about biology than I ever thought I would need again (as a chemist!), but I’ve learned even more about teaching and controlling a classroom.

1. Learn Student Names

After my first year teaching, I was appalled at how few TAs actually took the time to learn student names. I’m actually very poor with remembering names but as an instructor I think it’s important to know who your students are as it makes you seem more personable, as well as holds students accountable for their actions. If you have a Sakai site, getting photo rosters from them is extremely easy. I’ve actually made use of seating charts to help me early on each semester. From a student’s perspective, it might be the only time during their first year that an instructor of a class knows their name.

2. Be Yourself

Whatever your personality, find a way to integrate that into your teaching style. I feel most first year TAs try to portray an image of them acting like a professor, I know I did when I first started teaching, but I often find imitating the intimidation of a “scary” real-life professor can sometimes curtail questions from students. If you like to joke around, find ways to connect to your students that way. If not that is fine too, but students need to see you as knowledgeable AND approachable before they’ll feel comfortable in your class.

3. Be Prepared

I try to account for every situation imaginable but I’ll be the first (hopefully!) to tell you things will go wrong sometime this year. You will make mistakes, but that’s okay!! As great as technology is, it can lead to problems. This happened to me this week as 35 minutes wasn’t enough time to prevent tech issues from showing up 1 minute after class started. As someone who has a strict routine in almost all aspects of my life, teaching helped me think on my feet and innovate on the fly! You’ll need this in any job, especially teaching.

4. Grade as You Go

If your students are handing you work that needs to be graded, don’t take any new assignments until you hand them back. If you are expecting students to generate content, you should be generating feedback. As a side bar, hand out previous assignments/quizzes at the end of class as low grades can increase side chatter as well decrease motivation to listen during class.

5. Don’t be Afraid to say “I don’t know”

There have been times when students have asked me a question that I couldn’t answer. These are maturing adults. Copping out with an answer like “That’s a good question, look it up!” or merely avoiding makes you seem like you don’t know the answer AND you don’t care if the student finds out either. Try looking it up yourself, asking another TA, and if necessary follow up with the student the following week. It’s actually a nice way to review content and build connections from past material to what you are covering that week.

Most importantly, if this is your first semester teaching, good luck and I hope you learn from your students as much as they do from you.

Posted in advice, teaching | Tagged ,

Half Price Movie Tickets!

Many of us love to go to the movies, but it can be tough on the tight grad student budget we are forced to live on. That’s why I want to make sure you all are aware of Rutgers Cinema. It is a state-of-the-art facility featuring three cinema screens each with digital projectors, stadium seating and surround sound.  The best part is, with any Rutgers ID, the price after fees is only $6.50 per ticket! The same movie would cost $12.75 at a nearby theater. At the same time, a non-Rutgers customer can purchase a ticket at the Rutgers Theater for only $8.50, which is still a substantial savings. The only thing you are sacrificing is movie selection but they usually try to feature the highest demanded movies.

This week’s lineup features:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. The Maze Runner
  3. Tusk
  4. The Drop

For more information and to buy tickets, you can visit their website: http://www.rutgerscinema.com/

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Science Policy Groups Spread Across the Nation as Grad Students Take Charge over STEM Funding and Advocacy

Started by a group of graduate students at MIT during sequestration, the National Science Policy Group is a grad student spearheaded initiative through which science policy groups across the nation work together to advocate for science-informed policymaking, the continued support of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research, and exploration of other issues at the intersection of science and public policy. In addition to well-established science policy groups at schools like UPenn and Yale, newer groups are springing up, including at Penn State, University of Rochester, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Rutgers University. Through monthly national and regional conference call meetings, the groups share resources, like ideas for community outreach events, and support for newer groups garnering interest at respective schools. The groups will also host large coordinated events, like Congressional visits to member school’s local representatives in Washington DC. For more information about how the initiative got started, check out this article from MIT. If you are interested in participating here at Rutgers, keep informed about group activities through the Facebook page.

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Rutgers Recreation

Rutgers Recreation offers over 200 classes, trips, and workshops in activities such as dance, yoga, swimming, scuba diving, sports, group fitness, wellness, rock climbing, and techniques for taming stress. Try classes for free Sept. 8 through 14. Get the details and see the schedule at recreation.rutgers.edu.

Posted in activities/events, at Rutgers, first year grad | Leave a comment