Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Some Readers On Rachel and the Search for a Middle Ground

Rachel is serving as a warning to me. I'm currently at a regional state school that's basically a junior-senior community college; 60-some percent of our students are transfers from CCs, and I love them. They want to be here, they're hard-working, they're interested (at least the majors are), and I rarely if ever hear the kind of whining from students that's usually displayed on this blog.

But, I want to be a researcher as well as a teacher, and that's not really possible on a 4-4 teaching load. So I'm on the job market this year. After four interviews, two at R1s and two at R2s, I'm starting to think I might be better off where I am. I don't want the kind of lifestyle that Rachel describes, where your entire future depends not so much on your own productivity, but what others choose to bestow upon you in the form of grants or shiny review letters. I was told at one of the institutions I interviewed at that teaching is really unimportant, students are shocked when the prof is actually in their office during office hours, etc., etc. I don't want that as a work environment. But I don't want to remain where I am, either.

The problem is, at least in my discipline, there are *very* few schools in between. There's the high-profile research institutions (or the ones trying to raise their profile, which means grants-grants-grants), and there's the teaching schools. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing bifurcation among universities between a high focus on research and a high focus on teaching, with less and less room for those of us who, like Rachel and myself, want to be on the middle ground, somewhere in between.


I don't envy Rachel. I never could have landed at a job at a R1 university and I wouldn't want one. But that doesn't mean that I don't have a lot of the same worries that she does. Sure my research expectations are MUCH lower, but I still need to publish. And I still need to get grants (if I want to have any research to do).

But I also teach 5 courses a year and my performance (based LARGELY on student evaluations) is a critical part of my tenure review. I teach a freshman-level general education science course (with a lab) every semester which takes up a big chunk of my time (there are almost 100 students). Then I teach one or two ADDITIONAL courses on top of that. For me, teaching doesn't "break up the day"- it IS my day! Plus I have my own research to worry about and grants to apply for (I have submitted more than one grant proposal for every year I've been in my job WITHOUT a PhD student or even a Master's student to help).

Those of us not in R1 jobs have to focus a lot more of our time and energy (and grief) on teaching. For Rachel, I can see how teaching could serve as a diversion from the very stressful research workload that she has, but for many of us, it's the real deal.

Oh yeah. I work nights and weekends, too.