Life at a Teaching School

21 September 2016

We are so lucky to have a blog post written by Ashley Patriarca (@aspatriarca) that gives some insights into life at a teaching school. This post is a great supplement to to those on the job market as a way to think through what you want out of this job. And if you have some expertise and experiences that you want to share, please drop Lisa or any member of the steering committee a line.

West Chester University
West Chester University

I’m beginning my fourth year at West Chester University, where I teach a 4/4 load with an average of 25 students per class, advise students, perform department and university service, and coordinate the business and technical writing minor. Many of you are, like I was several years ago, beginning a new position at a teaching-intensive university, and you may not be sure of how to succeed there. It’s unsurprising that so many of us feel unready for this change. We’ve done our Ph.D. work at research-intensive universities, where we might have taught two courses per semester while doing minimal service to the department (but a lot of work towards our dissertations).

The disconnect between the kind of university we’re used to and the kind of university where we now work often means a lot of learning on the fly. Thinking about my first few years here, I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice that have helped me do well, as well as things I wish I’d realized from the beginning. Much of the advice below works for new faculty at any university, but it’s particularly important for those at teaching-intensive universities.


  1. Find multiple mentors – in your department, at your university, and, most importantly, in the field. Your university may, like mine, have well-developed mentoring programs that match you up with a senior scholar in your department and/or across the university. (If your university doesn’t have one, reach out to people! But wait till after the first department meeting – more on that in a moment.) You need these mentors to help you understand your institutional culture. However, they may not be familiar with current scholarship in technical communication. You need to stay closely connected to the field, because it’s easy to lose track of scholarly conversations when you’re focused on surviving an increased teaching load. Not sure who to ask? Ask the #womenintc community!
  2. Go to every departmental meeting you can. This is where you’ll get an excellent sense of departmental (and sometimes university-wide) dynamics and politics. My own department has experienced two reorganizations and is currently developing significant curriculum revisions. During our meetings, we’ve had robust discussions about these issues, and those discussions have revealed a lot of the department’s history. At these meetings, you’ll also quickly learn who to avoid as your mentor, because they are a) absent from or unengaged in meetings, or b) they have contentious relationships with everyone else in the department.
  3. Don’t say yes to more than three things in your first year, and make sure those three things you say yes to are close to your heart. It’s flattering to be asked to join that university-wide committee or to advise that student club. Don’t do it right away, though: this work takes you away from learning to balance your teaching (and grading!) load. It also takes you away from what you need to do to get tenure, even at a teaching-intensive university: research. I said yes to more than I should have in my first year, and I wound up having to step back from several of those projects.
  4. Find ways to mesh your service, teaching, and research. In my second year, I became involved in a committee designed to help faculty and students address the sexual assault crisis on campus. This committee work led to assignments of varying length and complexity in several classes; for example, one class tested the usability of the website used for reporting sexual assaults, and another rewrote the part of our university website that focuses on sexual assault resources. In turn, the work in those classes has led to collaboration on several pedagogical research articles. This process took time, but it’s become a defining element of who I am as a scholar, a teacher, and a member of my university community.
  5. Figure out a grading and response system that works for you, and stick to it. I have job postings, resumes, and cover letters from 75 students waiting to be graded as soon as I finish this blog post. Three years ago, I might have read and commented on multiple drafts and given substantial feedback on the final draft. I’ve shifted to a response system that encourages dedicated students to visit me during office hours during the drafting process, provides detailed feedback on the final draft and rubric, and allows students to revise even beyond that “final” draft if they wish.

Whatever else you do, whether you take this advice or not, be kind to yourself. The first year in any new job is difficult, and it takes time to adapt to a new university culture.

Have more advice for new faculty in teaching-intensive roles? Share it in the comments!







Job market thoughts

14 September 2016 by Kristen Moore

Job searches are hard. And academic job searches, especially, seem fraught with unknowns. Women in TC will publish a series of blog posts that consider aspects of the job market & job searches throughout the year. This first one will handle different approaches to the job market: how should you plan and strategize your job search?

the-trend-in-the-job-marketThe perhaps obvious answer to this question–and our recommended guiding principle–is that everyone’s job search is personal and contextual and therefore should be tailored to their own life circumstances and goals. Nevertheless, various approaches get spun as “the best way” to search, and understanding these approaches will help you decide the best approach for YOU given the circumstances of your own life. In general, there seem to be two philosophies about the job search: 1) Cast a Wide Net and 2) Narrow and Focus Your Search. Other approaches emerge from life conditions, too: like the internal job search, the alt-ac job search, and the geographically limited job search. I’ll deal with the first two here–and if y’all want to chat about these other options, let us know–we can write up a blog about them or we can talk them through at our Women in TC Job Market Talk.

Casting A Wide Net

Some folks will tell you to cast a wide net: apply to as many places as you can. The philosophy of casting a wide net builds from at least two principles:

First, regardless of what you think a department wants based upon the job ad, as an applicant, you can’t really be sure of requirements for a job.

Second, having a job is better than not having a job and, since the first point is true, it’s best to play it safe.

So, you find the jobs you’re qualified for and apply to them without discretion. For me, this meant applying to 80+ in the first round of applications [think Sept-Nov] and an additional 30 or so in the second round [think Jan-Feb]. So, I’m sure you can see the drawbacks of this philosophy already: so. much. work.

The affordance of this approach is that you’ll learn more not just about who you are but who schools think you are based upon your dossier. Particular kinds of schools won’t call back, maybe, or you’ll suddenly be getting calls back for all the Digital Humanities jobs, which you didn’t even think you were really a good candidate for, but apparently now you are. This approach plays the numbers game–more apps out, more likely to get called back and therefore more likely to get an offer.

The first time on the job market is scary because [even in Tech Comm] the jobs are limited, the assistant professors on the move are many, and the control you have over the outcome is, well, pretty much zilch [sorry]. Casting a wide net acknowledges the uncertainty and addresses it strategically and through work hours–just brute force. [And probably some yoga & wine. Sometimes at the same time.]images

And that’s the drawback: you’ll be tired. You’ll be so, so, so tired. Tired of tailoring letters to schools, tired of interviewing [or tired of not interviewing after you’ve done all that work], tired of responding to requests for more materials that require, like, a 1.25 page administrative AND teaching philosophy or a teaching portfolio with four sample sylllabi and a 250 word statement of how your teaching and research overlap [wait, what? 250 words for all that??!].

Another potential problem is that it’s easy to lose yourself on the market, and in interviews, having a strong sense of who you are and what your teaching and research hope to accomplish is, IMO, really important. Casting a wide net often involves stretching yourself, contorting at times, and in turn becoming something of a chameleon. Are you a master teacher or a research-focused scholar? These two identities fit different schools, and applying to both can cause sway in confidence and an unsteady foundation for answering questions in round one interviews. It means preparing vastly different campus visit presentations and imagining vastly different lives.

Those who support this approach often argue that having an offer allows you to negotiate. True enough. But the newly extended and unpredictable timeline of the market, makes it more difficult to predict when campus interviews and offers will occur. So this philosophy is a little riskier now than, say, ten years ago when interviews followed pretty closely with the MLA timelines. Because schools are trying to game the system, you could end up with a job offer in December before you’ve even done any other campus visits. So if you’re not being choosy about where you send your applications, you may feel tempted to take an offer you’re not sure you want.

Narrow and Focused

Now, I know others who used the other philosophy: Narrow and Focused. This approach is smart because it is driven by the work you want to do and the kind of place you want to do it at. Philosophically, it assumes at least two things:

First, it’s a silly [and even unethical] waste of time to apply for a job you wouldn’t want to take in the first place.

Second, the well-focused and pruned job search can more effeciently lead to the job you want.

Folks do narrow searches because they’re geographically bound, for example, or because they want to be at a teaching-focused university–or, on the other hand, because they only want to be at an R1. I think this approach is bad ass: you decide what to be and go be it [Note the reference to the Avetts].

This strategy allows you to shift the work of the job market from lots of applications to personally crafted letters for each school; it allows you to deeply research schools you’re applying to and build a picture of yourself in that school. So, your time on the market is less frantic: you apply to only schools you want to work at [for whatever reason] and you hold out for the job you want.

This approach gives you less cards in your hand, so there are less opportunities to play, but you’re holding only the best cards [whatever best means to you].

You can run into problems using this strategy because job ads rarely tell you everything you need to know to understand a job. Sometimes the chair of the search committee already has an internal person they want to hire, and even though Sally isn’t as qualified as you, the job is going to Sally. Sometimes a job is advertised for one specialization, but some jackal, who might be the only senior faculty on the committee, really wants to hire another person in her specialization: so although you fit the call in the job ad, you don’t actually fit what the search committee is looking for.

There are other challenges, too, because you don’t really know what the market looks like. You may know other grad students on the market, but there are Assistant Professors who’ve been at this longer than you who will come in and swoop up the R1 jobs. These stair-steppers are the bane of the unjobbed jobseekers’ existence. [The year I went out on the market, one of my cohort members found out she was giving campus visits up against two advanced assistants who already had books. BLECH.]

So: you can search narrowly and focused. But it’s sometimes hard to know what committees are looking for, and you don’t really know how you compare to others on the market. So it’s really hard to play this approach strategically.

The other drawback is just the wait. The long, long wait. I worked with a student [who is now placed at an excellent research university] who wanted to only apply for research jobs, and the hardest part was that there’s radio silence on the other end of 20 applications. This particular student already had a permanent job, so the risk was low, but the student’s confidence plummeted when she wasn’t hearing back from schools.

But there are advantages to this approach, too. You’ll be less tired and more focused. You’ll know the answers to the interview question: Why do you want to come to this school? Not only will you know the answers, you’ll believe them and they’ll be TRUE! This is likely to shine through in interviews [and probably even in your job materials]. You’ll have more time to finish the dissertation [if that’s a thing you need to do] or to send out another article. You’ll have better work-life balance.

conventionAdditionally, because the timeline of job searches is so wonky these days, job seekers can sometimes be on the other end of schools trying to game them; the narrow searcher, IMO, may be better off than the broad searcher. The narrow searcher finds herself untempted by early offers from schools trying to game the system. If you’re offered at a non-optimal job in December, you’re in a pretty pickle: to take the job or turn it down assuming you’ll get another offer. Or, worse, do you play the long, drawn-out negotiation game with school #1 until you get a better offer? In choosing carefully the jobs you apply for, you hand pick your potential jobs and don’t end up being gamed by the system.

My Weigh In

The reality, of course, is that some combination of these two approaches is probably best. If your search is too narrow, you risk not getting any offers; if it’s too broad, you risk looking like a chameleon with no center. So, find the center for yourself, and let that be your guide. Your job search is about crafting the career and life you want. That means while you’re on the market and after you’re jobbed. It’s tough out there, but we’re here to help.

Want more blogs about the job market? Just let us know via Twitter, Slack, Facebook, or email. Interested in writing a guest blog for Women in TC, we’d love that! Contact Lisa, Kristen, or any of the Women in TC steering committee.

Describing Yourself

6 September 2016 by Lisa Meloncon

describeyourselfAs job market season approaches, annual review time is here for us or you’re just trying to figure out the next stage of your career (whatever that may be), I want to repeat a refrain that I say a lot: You have the right to describe yourself as a scholar and teacher in any way that you want. But you also have to figure out who you want to be.

I say this a lot because it’s important that you understand who you want to be and/or who you are as a scholar and teacher. So because I was thinking about it and it came up in a couple of conversations recently, I thought I’d expand it out a bit. It intersects with the recent writing here about how to talk about service by Michele and Pat.

At most institutions, the documents that govern reappointment, tenure, and promotion all say in some form or another that you need to have a research agenda or some way that people know you. So for example, I am firmly a member of the field of technical and professional communication (TPC). Within that field, I am known for programmatic scholarship. Also within TPC, I do the rhetoric of health and medicine (which, for me, includes disability and accessibility issues). Now the rhetoric of health and medicine also moves outward to others areas like rhetoric, composition, communication, disability studies, and linguistics. Others can and should identify and describe themselves in other ways, if you do the rhetoric of health and medicine from those other views. But for me and how I identify and talk about myself, I do the rhetoric of health and medicine as it is associated with TPC. But that’s me.

The over arching point is that you have to be able to describe yourself and demonstrate through your published scholarship, or your dissertation and research trajectory, who you are as a scholar (and teacher). And I cannot stress enough that your institutional documents and your mentors should help guide you in the ways that you define and describe yourself. Because the sooner you can start to articulate it, the easier it is on you every time you need to write a version of it. (And throughout your career, you write this a lot. Did I say a lot.)

But, once you have that figured out, you are in control of that identity. I gave an example recently that I am a terrible record keeper in some ways. By that I mean, I don’t list every single thing that I do in my annual reports (which my institution requires at the end of the academic year as a way to review faculty and to make decisions on merit raises when those are available during our contract cycles) or even on my CV. One I find it tedious and time consuming and not the best use of my time, and second, some of it doesn’t fit the way that I describe myself as a scholar and teacher. That’s my own choice. Others choose to put in their annual report every time they answered a student email. And that’s their choice. The key is to make choices based on your institutional culture and how you want to describe yourself.

929350277-cute-and-creative-quotes-8It’s important to remember that the act of describing yourself and the work you do is a rhetorical one that can shift based on the circumstance. Another example is the CV. Often times you may be asked to submit a short CV, particularly in conjunction with research related applications (for things like fellowships or a contributor to an edited collection). The short CV in this instance generally only includes your publication record. If you’re asked to submit a short CV for a teaching award, then it would include your teaching highlights. But, you can also have CV versions for other uses as well. My CV that I have on my website is different from the CV that I submit with my annual report, and I have, yet, another version of the CV that I would submit for different types of applications. The point is that the CV, too, is also a rhetorical document that you can change or shift based on what you’re trying to accomplish with it and how you are describing yourself as a scholar and teacher.

This idea of describing yourself also goes to your online identities, if you have them. Your profile on your institutional website, your own personal website, your LinkedIn account, Twitter,…..all of these spaces provide you the opportunity to reinforce and define who you are. In today’s digital environment, this is one of the ways that other people come to know you and your work so in some ways it is important to have a consistent identity across platforms. And that identity should intersect with any paper documents you send out. Cause if you list your website on your CV, it’s likely that most of us are going to go there.

One of the great things about this job is that you can explore all sorts of topics and subjects and ask a wide variety of questions. Within that diverse landscape, however, you have to know who you are and then be able to describe it.

This is where the network of #womeninTC can really come in handy. Lots of people out there that can help you narrow it down and give you feedback.

And for y’all on the job market, look for a post by Kristen Moore next week that will get you started thinking about how to approach the job search.

In the meantime, wishing you joy and productivity.