February in the Bay

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Old Union
February in the Bay Area. A bit rainy this year, but daaaaaaaaamn was it still drop dead gorgeous. These photos are from my daily commute (and a small sprinkle of San Francisco) this past month. I really mean it when I say my commute is a daily pick-me-up.

Orange & Palm
Rose flowers Wet Rose
Nob Hill atop the Fairmont
Nob Hill atop the Fairmont Rainy Lemons
Old Union
Birds of Paradise Georgia O'Keefe
Gates Building Flowers
Plum Blossoms Gates Building Flowers
Green Library & Hoover Tower

Tea Review: Tea from Australia

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A delightful colleague of mine from Australia sent a fair amount of some lovely black tea we shared during my visit. These two varietals now reside in my office where I do a careful caffeine balancing act on a daily basis.

Fenqing Yunnan Tea
This Fenqing Yunnan Tea is one of those that only grows on you, the more you drink it much like the old assam TGFOP. The Internet describes this tea generally as "milk chocolate creamy and sweet, with pleasant pepper notes. The flavor becomes earthier and more layered as it cools", and while my tastebuds are not quite refined enough to pick up on the flavor notes, I will say it's a delicious black tea. Just give it a bit of time.

Korakundah Winter Frost Tea
The Korakundah Winter Frost Tea is described by the Internet as "Darjeeling-like mellow, medium-bodied, floral and woody."

Faculty Jobs: Overview of the Assistant Professor Job Search

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I'm moving this portion of a previous post here to its own post, as it'll make a nice overview of the process, along with all the posts I wrote about this same topic.

Applying for academic (i.e., professor) positions is tricky. Especially if you're a bit of a newbie, like myself. This post is just covering the very initial, useful resources of which I took advantage. There's other posts I've written about the other bits and bobs of the faculty job hunt process.

Resources for the Entire Faculty Job Hunt Process

There are some good resources on the process, including timelines, advice on creating & tailoring application materials, interview tips, negotiation advice, etc. Particularly:
  • Stanford's Postdoc & PhD Career Guide: A lovely overview of that week-long jobs workshop I took. Invaluable.
  • The Professor Is In: The blog *and* the book. Both very useful, like a job workshop. Really handy if you don't have a mentor who's useful for this bit of professional development. The author also provides consulting services (such as negotiation consulting!!!), and a variety of $50 webinars. I attended a week-long workshop at my university called "Jumpstart Your Academic Career" which was a near equivalent going over the cover letter, research statement, teaching statement, and diversity. If I did not have that support The Professor Is In webinars would be worth every penny. Karen Kelsky is the career advisor you never had. A bit polarizing, but better than complete ignorance!
  • Philip Guo's Faculty Job Search Overview: The author is in my field, which yields this day-by-day rundown of events incredibly useful for me, but it's nice to get a rather frank insight into the entire process. The timeline at the end could give you great insight into how the whole interviews/offers/negotiation thing might work on a day-by-day scale.
  • 'The Jobs I Didn't See' a junior faculty member's personal account of his time on the job market in-between research and teaching schools.
  • Your usual mentors: PhD Advisors, collaborators, peers who have graduated, Post-doc mentors, department heads, etc. etc.
  • University Resources: Does your university run a careers workshop for people with PhDs? Or a CV review? Or even just a writing/speaking center for improving your written materials and job talk? Your university career center may be more or less useful, depending on whether they cater to PhDs at all.
  • Your Friends'/Peers' Successful Applications Materials: Do you have a friend who proceeded to the interview stage in their faculty job search? Get their cover letter, research statement, and teaching statement. For research institutions. For liberal arts colleges. All the jobs. People don't mind sharing :)
  • I'm probably missing some good ones, but these are an okay start.
If anyone has any questions or ideas for future topics, I'm open to it, otherwise I've somewhat run out of things to formally say on the Faculty Jobs front ;)
Here are all the posts BYOV has written about the faculty job hunt:
  1. Overview of the Assistant Professor Job Search
  2. Applying for Academic Positions
  3. Remote Interviews
  4. Packing for On-Campus Interviews
  5. On-Campus Interview Lessons Learned
  6. Sample Assistant Professor Job Hunt Timeline
  7. Reflections on Negotiation
  8. Descriptive Statistics of my Job Search
  9. Deciding Research or Liberal Arts
College in Upstate New York

Specific Resources I'm Glad I Accessed

Also note that the Deciding Research or Liberal Arts post has some concrete suggestions directly related to preparation for Liberal Arts Colleges.

Teaching Professional Development
  • Attending practice job talks for other folks.
  • Attending actual job talks for my department.
  • The one internal grant-writing opportunity I've had as a postdoc (would've been nice to have more)
  • Personal Websites hosted on university servers with my teaching portfolio and research projects portfolio
  • CV workshop held by my department head at CMU
  • Negotiation workshop held by my department head at CMU
  • Stanford's Jumpstart Your Academic Career week-long workshop on applying to faculty jobs
  • Stanford's Hume Center for Speaking and Writing for when I needed a lay person's read of my application materials
  • Stanford's BEAM Career Center for providing me with a Science Career Coach with a PhD who edited my research statement and Skyped meetings with me in-between campus interviews about how to handle my multiple-job-offer decision-making
  • Shared job talk slides and a Skype conversation with a colleague in a position that I wanted to emulate
  • The Professor Is In for being the 4th mentor I never had. Philip Guo's Faculty Job Search Overview for an additional perspective. And the foundational Stanford Postdoc & PhD Career Guide.
  • 'Making Things Interactive' course, because I ended up talking about it in my interviews. I'll now be teaching a similar-ish course on topics from this class, and projects from my volunteering experience.
  • Standard PhD stuff: Dissertation, Publishing lots, Advisors that have your best interests at heart, etc.
  • Drilling my dissertation defense over and over and over again with my advisor, until I picked up the useful skill of telling a research story
  • 2x 12-week internships during my PhD with one publication each. One international company, one at a brand name place. 'Shows I can work in multiple environments.
  • Doing a postdoc. How does anyone write their dissertation while also applying to faculty jobs?!
  • Doing a postdoc at a university I haven't previously been affiliated with, with collaborators I've never worked with previously.

Specific Things I Wish I'd Done

  • Teaching a full course as lead instructor would make the liberal arts sell a bit easier, and my future teaching as well
  • More grant-writing experience
  • Having my job talk semi-prepared after submitting applications (campus interviews happened so fast). Having attended lots of job talks & speaking with some mentors, I was pretty sure how to go about doing the job talk, but I would've liked to use my university's speaking & writing center to video & constructively criticize my talk.
  • Set up more collaborations during my postdoc earlier, try to establish some career-long ones.
  • Attended more of Stanford's postdoc pedagogy workshops earlier, and more frequently.
  • I had completed all the requirements for a Future Faculty Teaching Certificate during my PhD, except for the 40 hour curriculum development project. I should've just finished the thing!
  • Publish more papers in my main field. The usual.
  • Pursued more of my academic-relevant passions. That Dissertation Doom Cloud was soul-crushing.
Are there any resources you're grateful you had access to? Or things you wish you'd done differently during the faculty job search?
BYOV Posts on the Faculty Job Search
  1. Overview of the Assistant Professor Job Search
  2. Applying for Academic Positions
  3. Remote Interviews
  4. Packing for On-Campus Interviews
  5. On-Campus Interview Lessons Learned
  6. Sample Assistant Professor Job Hunt Timeline
  7. Reflections on Negotiation
  8. Descriptive Statistics of my Job Search
  9. Deciding Research or Liberal Arts

Recipe: Mom's Irish Soda Bread

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mom's Irish Soda Bread

Mom's Irish Soda Bread
Goes super well with Mom's Corned Beef & Cabbage for St. Patrick's Day this week!
This is not a 'traditional' Irish soda bread. It's softer, therefore more edible, therefore far tastier!

4c flour
1c sugar
1 tsp carraway seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
~8oz raisins
2 Tbsp shortening
2c buttermilk

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease a 9x9 glass baking dish.
  3. Mix up the ingredients in a large bowl, adding the buttermilk last.
  4. Pour batter into pan and cook for a little over an hour (check to make sure a toothpick inserted comes out clean).

Mom's Irish Soda Bread
Mom's Irish Soda Bread
Mom's Irish Soda Bread

Faculty Jobs: Deciding Research or Liberal Arts

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

College in Massachusetts

Until I took a faculty jobs workshop last September, the term "liberal arts college" had never really entered my thoughts. Reading through example application materials during the workshop, I identified most with the applicants to liberal arts colleges, just like I had subconsciously been drawn to teaching and educational research the bulk of my academic career. And so it became clear quite quickly that I should apply to liberal arts colleges. The application preparation process actually clarified what I should do with my life.

The elevator pitch I generally gave during my interviews revolved around a couple key points (brevity is very important):
  1. I was always drawn to teaching experiences. My research spends much time looking at learning largely due to this, but I have also spent significant time outside of research on improving my teaching in X, Y, Z ways.
  2. My research specialty is particularly well-suited to institutions that prioritize interdisciplinary work that incorporates diverse perspectives from the students as well as the surrounding community. This specialty has a particular emphasis on including multiple perspectives and critical thinking that are particularly instrumental for developing citizens of the world.
  3. Frequent references to concepts from my teaching statement, because I live and breathe that document on the regular.
  4. (Occasionally) I believe I haven't been in an environment that properly prioritizes student learning in line with my values, and I want the space to be able to grow as an instructor. I believe a liberal arts college will do this.
  5. If I had ever attended a liberal arts college, this would be another great point to mention briefly. But alas...
This is all true and genuine. No bull sh*tting necessary.

This was really the extent of my reflection during the applying process. Writing my liberal arts college materials came a little easier to me, and it was not going to hurt me to submit 12 liberal arts college applications. The campus visits further solidified this feeling of goal alignment with a liberal education. The institution with which I had the best chemistry was also a liberal arts college, and so that was the direction I chose. I am so incredibly, overwhelmingly excited about where I'm headed right now.

Like any major life decision, you make the best choice you can given the information you have at the time. The trickier bit here is that you have some control over how much information you have, but some is kismet. Had I not encountered others' liberal arts application materials during that jobs workshop, I may have remained ignorant to the potential of the path I eventually chose. This appears to be a fairly common affliction, as its echoed in this post by another junior faculty at a liberal arts college.

College in Massachusetts

What is a SLAC?

Just like with research institutions there is a range of endowments, supports, expectations, and quality of Primarily Undergraduate Institutions. If you have degrees from highly competitive research-oriented academic institutions, you may wish to focus your efforts on the more selective of the bunch of liberal arts colleges, or Selective Liberal Arts Colleges (SLACs). You can find lists of these online, and investigate them that way, but I tend to think most schools with less than 5 courses/year teaching load and no graduate students will fall generally under the title of SLAC.

Just because liberal arts colleges do not have graduate students, does not mean there are no research expectations in the tenure process. This is especially false for SLACs. The lighter the teaching load, the higher the research expectations. But perhaps, instead of being expected to publish ~4 peer-reviewed papers per year and bring in $X grant dollars, you might only be expected to publish ?twice? per year and bring in $X/8 grant dollars. Or less, who knows! None of these expectations are ever explicit enough. That being said, doing research at a low course-load SLAC may be somewhat comparable to being a postdoctoral researcher. But we shall see.

SLACs want you and your competitive degree.

I recall being told at a grad student party that "teaching schools don't want professors from top tier research schools"; the explanation being that teaching institutions generally did not trust that these research PhDs would want to stay long term at a teaching college. This is pretty much the opposite of the truth, at least for moderate to high achieving teaching institutions. The SLACs want graduates of {Stanford, MIT, U-Dub, CMU, the Ivy Leagues, and other places as well}. They will interview you, you just need to convince them that you thoroughly enjoy teaching and have always pursued pedagogical opportunities.

For the most part, this means that any academic institution with less than 6 courses/year teaching load will not scoff at an application from research-oriented alum. You will, however, have to explain in your cover letter, quite explicitly, why you are drawn to promoting a liberal education. If you have sought teaching opportunities beyond simple teaching assistantships, such as instructing/designing your own full course at your home institution or a neighboring teaching-oriented institution (!!!), you are likely to do well. If not, you will need to do a little narrative yoga to make a convincing argument as to why you are not just qualified to teach, but intrinsically motivated to do so and have been making strides toward that goal.

There do, however, exist some teaching-oriented schools that are suspicious of applicants with overly ambitious research histories. Not knowing my worth on the job market, I applied to one of these institutions and received a response challenging my desire to work at that locale. But with a little digging I discovered that the teaching load at this institution was 6 courses per year, and so I learned my lesson.

Apply generously beyond your word-of-mouth bubble.

Also, do not limit your applications to only places you have heard of. You will be severely limiting yourself, unnecessarily so. Start with lists of top-ranked liberal arts colleges or moderate-ranked research institutions. Not all state schools have the state's name in their title! Having never attended a liberal arts college, I do not think I had previously heard of most of the SLACs I ended up applying to. But I started with an Internet list, and checked each school's department to see if they were hiring, working my way down the entire list. And then I did other goofy things, like read Lin Manuel Miranda's Wikipedia page, and discovered that he attended Wesleyan University, and applied to their department that was hiring. There was also the quite sensible name-blind application criteria that I used for aggregated lists of faculty jobs, to ensure I didn't limit myself to the well known to me.

There are many paths to discovering schools that can be a fantastic fit. Please don't limit yourself to only the familiar.

College in Upstate New York

Breaking the Liberal Arts path to your research advisors.

If your academic background is at research institutions, it's quite possible your typical mentors and advisors may think you're from an alien planet for wanting to go to a liberal arts college. My postdoc mentor was incredibly open to the idea, and wrote me a separate, generalized liberal arts college letter of recommendation, but I don't think this should be the expected response. For example, this paraphrased email conversation with my PhD advisor:
Me: ...I have job offers from these three schools. E University was interesting, but I didn't like the fit. A University could be a potentially good fit, although they have no research expectations. And I really liked A College, they might be top of my list...

PhD Advisor: ...I think E University is the best fit for you...
Most of your research-oriented mentors will be pulling for you to end up at a research institution, like them. They may have a tendency to think of what would be best for someone like them rather than someone like you, or maybe they're thinking of how to expand their research network and lack some understanding of what the liberal arts college experience is. This is understandable. Having never worked at or [possibly] even attended a primarily undergraduate institution, most research mentors aren't going to have the slightest clue what being at a liberal arts college is like. Hence the looking at you like you're from an alien planet.

If you're super uncomfortable with convincing these very-important-to-your-career people of your desire to apply/end-up at a liberal arts college, you can always use the general letter of recommendation you obtained via Interfolio. But if you get liberal arts college offers, you're going to have to break it to your letter writers at some point. 'Just be prepared for the above conversation snippet, or potential isomorphic situations.

The only person who gets to make decisions about the best way to achieve your goals is you.

Diversity Concerns

Should you select a private liberal arts college, you may get a bit of guff and gentle teasing about how your selection is a "school for rich kids". And I think for many liberal arts colleges, this is not terribly far off from the truth. Thankfully, there's actual data out there to help you better understand each institution's economic and ethnic diversity.

In short, some liberal arts colleges actively recruit for diversity while others are considerably less successful/dedicated.

University in Virginia

Specific things to prepare for teaching in higher education.

  • Pursue many opportunities to teach. Guest lectures. TAing recitations. Being the head instructor for a course (bonus points). Weekend workshops for local middle schoolers. Teaching a community college or other external course (super bonus points).
  • Seek feedback on your teaching. Have a pedagogical expert sit in on a lecture and give you formally written feedback. Collect mid-semester course evaluations from students, so you can address concerns before it's too late.
  • Earn that teaching certificate. Does your university offer a teaching certificate for grad students or postdocs? Or even a semester-long class on course design? Take it.
  • Attend pedagogy courses that are useful/interesting for your goals. If your university doesn't offer a semester-long class on course design, consider online resources like the free CIRTL Evidenced-Based Teaching Online Courses. Similarly, attend any seminars, lectures, or workshops offered by your university's center for teaching excellence or school of education that you think could be useful. Keep reflections and "Big Ideas" from these sessions in a notebook, so you can refer to them later.
  • Incorporate your new pedagogical knowledge into your teaching statement. A good teaching philosophy will likely include "evidence-based teaching" and "active learning" (alternatively, "learner-centered approach"); if you've already done the above recommended activities, you'll know why ;)
  • Create a teaching portfolio. This should include your teaching philosophy statement, syllabi you've created for courses, formal evaluations from pedagogical experts of your teaching, early and final course evaluations from students, short videos of you teaching (or a video or two from a flipped class lecture you've done), main takeaways from any pedagogical courses you've taken, teaching aids you've designed that you particularly like, overview of any volunteer opportunities that involved mentoring or teaching, teaching certificates, etc. etc. Heavy on the photos, minimal on the words, if at all possible.

BYOV Posts on the Faculty Job Search
  1. Overview of the Assistant Professor Job Search
  2. Applying for Academic Positions
  3. Remote Interviews
  4. Packing for On-Campus Interviews
  5. On-Campus Interview Lessons Learned
  6. Sample Assistant Professor Job Hunt Timeline
  7. Reflections on Negotiation
  8. Descriptive Statistics of my Job Search
  9. Deciding Research or Liberal Arts

Tea Review: Tea from China

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jasmine Tea from China
This Jasmine Tea from China currently meets the must-have-jasmine-tea-at-all-times requirement. Jasmine tea. One of the best.

Chrysanthemum Tea from China
The Chrysanthemum Tea from China is a nice herbal option, but to be honest, we have so much decaf tea around here that are far more exciting...maybe useful for when sleep is being sneaky.

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