Teaching and Research
One of the tricks to life is finding balance. I am not always completely successful at that, but I keep trying! One thing about my career is that I have moved between institutions that value different balance in terms of teaching and research and so there is a process of calibration that takes place to navigate the space between my personal preferences and those of the job.
My first job after completing my PhD was at UNLV. I was hired as a Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP) to fill in for a faculty member who was away for a year after receiving a grant for research. I was asked to teach a 4/4 load that included 5 new course preparations over the course of the year I was there. That included the methods course in the second year. I did all of that while trying to build a research agenda and navigate the job market to find a permanent job. During the year I interviewed for two government positions and had three fly-out interviews for positions before I accepted the job at Nazarbayev University.
That job also took place in the context of moving my family across the country, dealing with the stress of having a house on the market (the sale we thought we had lined up before we left fell through right after we arrived in Las Vegas), and dealing with the cancer and hospice (and eventual death) of my father. It was a stressful year.
Because I hadn’t planned on staying in Academia until I was working on my dissertation at Iowa, I hadn’t started building an independent and long-term research agenda. I was working on a few projects, one of which eventually was published two years later.
NU and Mixed Priorities
NU was an interesting environment. It had aspirations as a research university, but the priorities, hiring, and other mechanisms were a patchwork. Early hires were hired as teachers. Research support was not robust. That capacity grew as I was there, but it wasn’t there to begin with. It was also a new institution that needed a lot of service to get things up and running. The internal politics of the university were also changing. During my first year, the Provost was in a lame-duck status. Our dean who had arrived a year before I did, had aligned with the Provost and upset the faculty. The first year was turbulent - besides the fact that I had moved my family across the world and needed time to get them adjusted.
I jumped in head first in service, joining the faculty senate, volunteering as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team, and taking on the task of updating the curriculum for our department to align with what was happening in practice and align with the School’s (College equivalent) curriculum and numbering. I joined the MA admissions committee and our hiring committee. At the end of the turbulent year I was asked to become an interim chair, since our chair search had failed. I said yes. Then I was asked to become the head coach of the women’s basketball team because the coach was leaving the university (he was a communications professor). I said yes.
I didn’t take my course releases in my first year because we were lacking the faculty to teach the courses we needed. My balance was off. I did manage to publish a paper in my second year at NU, but it was the one I had started at UNLV.
Rebalancing at NU
After two years of being chair, I stepped down and spent the next three years at NU working to balance my portfolio. I was able to get some research projects started. Two of those have been published and I am still working on some of them. I was still heavily involved in service, but not the chair. I coached the women’s basketball team until my final year at NU. During the time I was at NU, the emphasis moved much more toward research. Some of the expectations were out of balance with the resources provided, but more in line with an established university with a 2/2 teaching load. I worked to be to standard there.
SFA - Finding a New Balance
I just finished my second academic year at SFA. SFA is a 4/4 teaching load with much smaller research expectations. I have been very busy creating new courses in a new program and getting settled. However, I am now trying to add more research to my work. Not because it is really necessary to keep my job, but because I like it and because it is important for maintaining a toe hold in the broader discipline and academic community. I hadn’t realized how important this was until the past two years of Covid and the disruptions to conferences and other schedules that have made academic life in deep East Texas more isolating.
BYU LDS Scholars Workshop
I spent two days last week at Brigham Young University at a workshop for LDS scholars who study political science. It was awesome to connect with scholars. Most of them study American Politics and use experimental methodology. It is different from my interests and expertise, but it didn’t matter. I was back in it. It felt good.
I am at a point where I want to balance life again. I want to focus more on research than the institutional rewards and structures at SFA are really pointed toward. I am working through the different ways that I can do that. The balancing act is one that requires consistent reevaluation and adjustment as circumstances change.
I’m looking forward to figuring it out.