Friday, July 20, 2007

When is a Small Victory Just Too Damn Small?

I would like to chime in and offer some advice to the student who wonders whether she is cut out to be a professor.

Do not decide whether to pursue a degree based upon possible career options. Pursue a degree because it is what you are passionate about. Achieving an advanced degree requires a huge investment of time and effort. If you decide to pursue a degree in something you are not passionate about, but has lots of possible "career outlets," you will hate it. So, if you love Social Psychology, go for it, and let the career work itself out later. You might be surprised at how many career opportunities are available for PhDs.

As for whether you are cut out to be a professor: who among us is? Few professors teach because they have a burning desire to do so. Most of us do what we do because we love our fields and in order to do research we have to teach. It is a necessity that most of us try our best at, but few of us have any real talent for.

But, be prepared. Be prepared to face a roomful of 19-year-olds who think the subject you love so much and have devoted your life to is duller than dirt and a complete waste of their precious time. Say you're teaching your beloved Social Psychology to a class of undergrads. Know that most of them are there to fill some requirement, and would much prefer to be almost anywhere else. No matter what you do, no matter how passionate you are or how interesting you think the subject is, they will still resent you for making them read boring articles or write stupid papers. Think of the worst class you ever took. That professor thought that subject was fascinating while you hated every minute of it. Imagine being that professor faced with 100 people who all think as you did. Can you stand that? If so, congratulations, you're qualified to teach at the university level. The material is what it is, and someone will either be interested or they will not. Be happy if one or two of them find the subject as fascinating as you do.

One of the greatest compliments I've ever received as a professor was the student who informed me that mine was the only non-major class he's taken that he didn't hate. You have to savor the small victories.