Monday, February 28, 2011
My first time teaching a large undergrad course was pretty demoralizing. The second time through was much better, and not just because I did a better job with more experience. The first time through, I had to spend a lot of time on prep and course mechanics. The second time through, I spent a lot less total time on the course, and a lot more of the time I did spend on stuff I found more interesting (how to convey my enthusiasm for science, how to incorporate modern research into a course on fundamentals discovered a long time ago, finding relevant short demo videos, etc). My students really enjoyed the videos a lot, and I was really happy to discover that there were a core group of students who got really excited that this required course turned out to be somewhat interesting, and let that 5-10% or so give me energy to deal with the 90+% who don't care at all about the material.
I want to be a good teacher for myself, and to fulfill my obligations to my students. I do what I can in the time I can allot to it, just as I budget my time in the other aspects of my job. I agree that as a TT prof, I can’t afford to spend the time to become truly outstanding in the classroom. To be honest, I am not that interested in being truly outstanding, otherwise I would be at a different type of institution. Students who want a truly outstanding classroom experience don’t (or at least shouldn’t) come to research universities in the first place. My undergrad course has 200 students in it for me and one TA to work with. There is no way to have a meaningful interaction with that many people.
I do the best I can to inspire the students I have, and I cheer for the small victories (the student who switches majors to my subject after my course, the students who come looking for research opportunities, the students who I have great conversations with about the implications of the material we cover in class). I try to let the demoralizing parts and the “is this on the exam” kids roll off of me. Good luck–it is a hard thing to balance, and you are not alone in struggling with it.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I was largely shielded from this reality at National Lab--we needed to have 2 papers a year, but that isn't too hard with appropriate levels of collaboration. Merit increases were definitely tied to having high impact publications, but since the timeframe was year to year, I just published when I was ready in the "best" journals that would publish the results.
I am finding this kind of depressing. I was always the type of researcher who mocked the "least publishable unit/slicing the salami" style of publication, but now I can really see the temptation. I can see the changes in my own work already--there is some data we have now that we are writing up as a communication. If I were still at National Lab, I would probably hold it back for some additional experiments, but I am too worried about other groups working in this area publishing first to let it go longer. It is too risky to me to hold on for more data, since we have a full story already. I really wish this weren't the case, but there it is.
I need to have a good publication year this year, and that is starting to trump other considerations. This is one of the realities of the TT that I knew was coming, but is still upsetting. I am still in a good place, after all, I have data that is good for publication in excellent speciality journals, but it is harder than I thought it would be to make the call.