Using Your First Years Efficiently: What I wish I’d known…

A few weeks ago I was asked to come to a “New Faculty Forum” and give a talk on this topic. Always keen to follow my own advice, my initial reaction was to Just Say No – after all it takes time to prepare these things, and the timing of the actual session was right in the middle of my office hours for undergraduate students. However, it was a friend that asked – the friend who originally suggested that I write this blog, in fact – so it took me only a microsecond to decide to say “yes” instead.

Attending the forum was instructive for me, as there were two other speakers in addition to me (the old fart): one was a fairly new prof and the other a more mid-career level person. Their advice was very different from mine – in fact they mentioned (more than a few times) how they approached things differently than me – which just goes to show you: we never stop learning in this job – even an old prof can learn some new tricks.

Here’s the advice that I offered to the group…

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Have an ‘effective’ summer!

With any luck, by now your exams are long since marked and your grades are all submitted.  My guess is that you’ve spent the last two weeks catching your breath after the eight months of insanity that typically accompanies the fall and winter teaching terms.  And no doubt as summer approaches, you’ll be hearing this question from all of your family and friends, “So, are you off for the summer now?”

Probably that question irks you as much as it does me – since summer typically means just dropping down to a 40 hour work week (and that actually feels like a rest!)  Here’s a much more relevant question about your summer – one you should be asking yourself actually, “How can I use the summer months most effectively?” Continue reading

Chasing the rabbit – how much is enough?

Treadmill_womanA question that frequently haunted me when I was a new professor was, “How much is enough?”  More specifically it was a series of questions,

“How much research money is enough?”

“How many graduate students are enough?”

How many evenings and weekends of work are enough?”

And the biggie…

“How many journal papers per year are enough?” Continue reading

Teaching Tips for the Absolute Beginner

Most PhD students get the opportunity to be a teaching assistant; some even get the opportunity to instruct labs, lead tutorials, or even give the occasional lecture.  However, it seems that few get the opportunity to be responsible for planning and delivering an entire course until they actually become a professor. In addition, many universities require no formalized educational training of their new professors.  Once you’ve got that PhD in molecular biology or in mechanical engineering, it seems you’ve got all the necessary qualifications for teaching students at the highest educational levels: in university undergraduate and graduate programs.

Many universities, including my own, offer a wide variety of training opportunities for new professors.  (Some of the older professors would benefit from these, as well! 🙂 )  If you’ve had no formal training on how to teach, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of these as soon as possible.  I know you’re busy, but I promise you that making time for some of these will really be worthwhile.  I’ll also try to help – in fact, teaching will be a recurring topic on this blog since ‘How to be an Effective Instructor’ is certainly not something I can cover in one post.  Not that I am necessarily an expert myself – but after 20+ years of doing it, I do have a few ideas that I hope you’ll find useful. Continue reading

Back to School Prep

If you’re like me, you hate those annoying ‘Back to School’ ads that start appearing on TV in late July.  What a way to ruin that little bit left of my summer – reminding me of the insanity that will descend on my life in early September.  But the majority rules and while many professors live in dread of the return to the 60+ hour work week that the fall term inevitably brings, the rest of the world awaits it eagerly because it means that the kids will be back in school and out of their hair.

To help you avoid the blues that these inevitable ‘Back to School’ ads tend to initiate, today’s post is all about how to prepare for fall so that you don’t end up in the teaching time-pitContinue reading

Just Say No!

A few years ago, I called a colleague at another university to get the inside track on one of his former students who had applied to our graduate program.  Our conversation went something like this…

ME: “Hi there – how are you doing?”

HE: “Good thanks, insanely busy. You?”

ME: “Yep – the same.  I won’t keep you; I just wanted to ask you a quick question.”

HE: “Okay, but beware – I’m in my ‘No!’ mood today.”

I was floored…  his ‘No!’ mood?  I had never heard of this before but I knew exactly what he meant the minute he said it.  Thankful that I hadn’t called to ask him to ‘do’ anything (other than tell me a bit about a student), I quickly concluded my business and let him go.  After I hung up the phone I leaned back in my chair and stared into space, contemplating the earth shattering implications of this amazing revelation.  He has a ‘No!’ mood, I thought.  Absolutely brilliant, I definitely gotta get me one of those. Continue reading

Avoiding Time-Wasters

Last night I had a terrifying nightmare – I dreamt that I wasted an hour waiting for a cab. How weird is that? When I woke up I was so relieved to realize it was just a dream – it was almost as good as waking up from the ‘missed my exam’ nightmare! Then it hit me – after 20+ years as a professor, my worst fears have evolved. Now the scariest thing I can imagine is not failing a course or even missing an exam – it’s wasting an hour of my time. In fact, nothing stresses me out more than the prospect of wasting time – so much so, that I have developed an arsenal of strategies for effective time management. Continue reading