Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rachel at the R1 Wonders, "Why Worry About the Students?"

Doesn’t anyone out there find teaching the easy part of their job? At least half of my students read the assignment for every class, most attend on any given day, are respectful, and from time to time, offer an insight on the material that gives me pause.

The difficulty is when I leave the classroom and have to fulfill my research obligations. In the past 18 months, I’ve submitted three grant proposals - one was funded, and one is still in review. Also, I’ve published four times and have a fifth paper near the end of the review process. Nonetheless, I’ve only managed to offset my salary by 50%, but 75% is required for tenure, and since my review is around the corner, I frequently wake up in a cold sweat wondering what I’m going to do if this doesn’t go well.

I’ve been told that I need to publish at least four more papers in the next eight months, and although I have the data and will try to do so, nothing in the last three months has gone right - my graduate assistant made a HORRIBLE mistake six months ago and I’m still combing through the data trying to undo the damage. This of course has delayed the publishing time line, not to mention, that I need to submit at least one more grant by September and I need this work for the preliminary data section.

As for my funded and on-going work - one of my colleagues was denied tenure and now I’m trying to replace her time; my computer blew up and I’m trying to squeeze resources out of existing grants, but it may mean cutting my time or paying my own way to the next couple of conferences to which I'm already committed. More troubling - the methods for one of my projects which received glowing reviews from the reviewers, are in fact, somewhat flawed, so now the team is retracing our steps and considering alternative approaches. Because the work is exploratory and innovative, the lack of expected results is not troubling, but nonetheless, it changes the time line considerably, and for the life of me, I'm not sure where the extra time is going to come from.

This is what I fret about - research, publishing, getting funded, and writing grants. Silly students? They’re a pleasure. They break up the day and are far less pretentious then the egos in my department who can’t seem to get over their CV’s of earlier years at Harvard, Brown and Yale. If I bemoan the students at all, it’s that I cannot possibly help those who need extra time to grasp the material. Medical schools worry first about research and non-clinical teaching second. I get 10% credit for teaching a three hour, upper level graduate course - that’s four hours a week! Anything over that is thought to take away from my primary responsibility of researching. Of course, as it’s been pointed out to me, no one works 40 hours in this environment and achieves promotion and tenure. And of course, I won’t either. I work almost every weekend - and if I’m not working, I’m worrying about it. However, I don’t work every weekend and certainly not nearly as hard as most of my peers, who regularly work EVERY weekend and every evening as well.

Anyway, this is my rant. I doubt I’ll be in a research university 5 years from now. I like my research too much to gallop through the ideas in quest of ever more publications and more money. Rather, I want to develop a few, key ideas and turn them over for consideration. May the good ones encourage thoughtful response, any may the others die a gentle death.