My Teaching Story: Celebrating 25 Years

September 4, 2018

Sarah Elaine Eaton - 2018-09-03a-small.jpgThis 2018-2019 academic year I celebrate my 25th year of teaching in higher education.

Here’s an overview of what that looks like:

  • Years as a sessional instructor: 22
  • Years as a full-time faculty member: 2 completed. Entering Year 3
  • Number of educational institutions: 2 institutions for credit courses; 4 institutions for non-credit courses
  • Number of additional organizations where I have given workshops or individual training sessions: I can’t remember or count
  • Levels taught: Undergraduate, graduate, continuing education, non-credit workshops, teacher training, employee training
  • Number of students taught: A few thousand, at least, but I haven’t kept track.
  • Current position: Assistant Professor (tenure-track)

Like many academics, my career has zig-zagged. My first teaching experience was as a Master’s level graduate teaching assistant. I was a brand-new graduate student. I was given a class list and a textbook and told, “Here. Go teach.”

Even though my official title was “Graduate Teaching Assistant” (“TA” for short), I was also what is called the “Instructor of Record”. That means that I was officially responsible for the entire course, including developing the course outline, all instruction, tests, examinations and grading.

I’ve heard that it is no longer permitted for TAs to be the “instructor of record” and that TAs actually need to have some support and mentoring now. Back when I started, graduate TAs were largely left on their own, to do the same work as professors, at a much lower pay rate.

I remember attending a day-and-a-half training session before my first teaching assignment. It was largely focused on learning styles, which has since become a highly contested concept. Things have changed for the better since then. TAs (at our institution at least), get training and mentoring along the way. They are supervised by the Instructor of Record, which means they get to learn how to teach in a less risky, more supported environment.

The following spring and summer, I was hired to teach the same course again, but because spring and summer courses were handled by a different administrative unit at the university at that time, my title changed to “sessional instructor”, which remains the typical term for this type of appointment in Canada. This classification goes by different names depending where you are. Some synonyms include:

  • part-time contingent faculty
  • part-time lecturer
  • contract faculty
  • adjunct lecturer
  • adjunct professor
  • adjunct faculty

For more than two decades I worked as sessional instructor, sometimes teaching up to ten credit courses per year, supplemented by teaching continuing education courses, workshops and employee training sessions. I taught at any institution or organization that would hire me. I also took on other work in an educational context such as program evaluation and even did clerical work in educational institutions.

This year, I will celebrate my 25th year of teaching. Because of the patchwork nature of my career, no one has kept track of this experience but me. And even I have lost track of the number of organizations where I’ve taught workshops or short-term courses. I began teaching at a time before computerized HR records were kept, and everything was done on paper. Even I don’t have every contract letter or pay stub from every teaching gig I’ve ever had.

In 2016, I was hired as a full-time Assistant Professor (tenure track), for which I am truly grateful. Not long after I started in my full-time role I had lunch with one of my former professors from my Master’s program, who is now a colleague. I recall her saying, “You did it! Most people give up, but you didn’t!” She’s right. I didn’t give up. I love teaching and I believe it as much a calling as it is a career. I am enjoying my career now more than ever.

My curriculum vitae cannot accurately show that for 22 years, I travelled from one institution or organization to the next, sometimes teaching for three different places in the same day and the number of hours in any given day that I worked often exceeded what is typically regarded as “full-time hours”. It was a patchwork of part-time jobs that allowed me to pay the bills.

Twenty-two years is a long, long time to spend without job security, benefits or a pension. People who have had their full-time teaching jobs for a long time can’t relate to that kind of life. I have had colleagues who have had full-time roles for a long time share their thinly-veiled assumption that if you’re good enough, you can get a full-time job. That may be true to a certain degree, but there are other factors that can come into play. If one is not able to move to a new location in order to take on a full-time role, for example, then options become more limited.

Other colleagues have declared that “Sessionals are not faculty!”, dismissing their opinions, views or contributions to the academy. The underlying point in such an argument is that only those with full-time faculty appointments have legitimate status. Those whose status is uncertain or part-time effectively have “less than” status, which is neither credible, nor legitimate. But I have seen this situation from both sides of the table now: both as a long-term sessional and now as a tenure-track assistant professor.

As I celebrate a quarter of a century of teaching experience this year, I can say one thing for sure: Teachers matter. Whether you are part-time, full-time, and regardless of whatever your title says you are. You are a teacher at heart. You keep your students at the heart of what you do, no matter where you are or who you teach.

For anyone else out there who is currently working as Sessional / Adjunct / Contingent Faculty, let me just say: You are not alone. You work hard. You have grit and tenacity.The work you do is important. You are good enough. Actually, you are more than good enough.

I challenge you to share your own story. What does this academic year mean to you? What do you have to celebrate? What message do you want to share with others? What’s your story? I would love to hear from you!

#academiclife #highered #lifeofanacademic

______________________________________________________

Share or Tweet this:  My Teaching Story: Celebrating 25 Years https://wp.me/pNAh3-2ln

This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

Advertisements

How to Brand Yourself as a Researcher

February 14, 2018

Recently I was invited by the Werklund School of Education’s Writing Group, which is co-hosted by the Office of Research and the Office of Teaching and Learning, to offer a workshop on branding yourself as a researcher. I’m pretty excited because this gives me a chance to combine my passion for research with my entrepreneurial spirt that led me to have a successful career as an educational consultant before I entered academia full-time.

Branding comes from marketing, but that doesn’t mean academics should feel any disdain towards it. Think of it as learning to share your expertise with people in your field, and beyond, to a wider public audience.

Here are the 5 key points I shared during the workshop:

Specialize.

It is easier to brand yourself as a specialist than it is as a generalist. It is normal for novice and emerging researcher to have multiple areas of interest. This works while you are still figuring out who are you are professionally, but specializing shows you are developing as a researcher. Have a clear research topic that you focus on intently.

Articulate your expertise.

Marketing experts recommend being able to state your focus in 7 words or less.  Here’s mine: “I research academic integrity and plagiarism prevention.” Don’t be that academic that has to ramble on for 38 minutes non-stop to say what it is you are researching. Get to the point and make it easy for others to understand. Practice writing out and saying your research focus until it feels natural.

Develop your plan.

Plan what grants you’ll apply for and when. Develop a writing schedule and target specific journals in your field. Ensure every element of your plan aligns with your area of expertise. Mapping out your research and writing activities will help to ensure you make time for them. Once you execute this plan, you’ll be on your way to having a fully developed research program in your area of expertise.

Stay focused.

There are so many interesting research ideas out there it is easy to get distracted. Stay focused on your own research program. The most successful researchers do not jump on every project that comes along. Choose the projects you want to be involved with carefully and ensure they align with your expertise.

Mobilize your knowledge.

Have multiple channels, but one message. Think about sharing findings in both peer reviewed scholarly journals, as well as plain-language articles targeted to the general public. Think about videos, podcasts and other ways of distributing your knowledge.

The point of all this is to position yourself as an expert in both an academic audience and the public. Ensure others know you are the “go to” person on your topic. Becoming known an expert authority on a key topic not only helps you get noticed in your field, it helps you get hired, and may help you get promoted, too.

Branding yourself as a researcher

References and recommended reading.

Marshall, K. (2017). Branding yourself as an academic. ChronicleVitae. Retrieved from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1681-branding-yourself-as-an-academic

Mutum, D. S. (n.d.). Social media for researchers and online personal branding.  Retrieved from https://warwick.ac.uk/alumni/services/eportfolios/bsrfbr/dilip_social_media_academics_ebook2.docx

Mizenmacher, M. (2010). Branding your research (and yourself).  Retrieved from http://mybiasedcoin.blogspot.ca/2010/06/branding-your-research-and-yourself.html

Tregoning, J. (2016). Build your academic brand, because being brilliant doesn’t cut it any more. Times Higher Education, (February 24). Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/build-your-academic-brand-because-being-brilliant-doesnt-cut-it-any-more

______________________________________________________

Share or Tweet this: How to Brand Yourself as a Researcher https://wp.me/pNAh3-2gR

This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

 


Why APA formatting matters

January 15, 2014

Imagine you are buying a new home. You tour around a number of properties. You see one that is messy, distasteful and uninviting. The sales agent says, “Oh, don’t worry, the foundation is strong!” The trained eye may be able to see beyond the bad presentation, but it takes a lot of mental energy to get past it.

Now imagine you are taken into a home that is clean, neat and perfectly staged. You immediately feel welcome. You are instantly engaged psychologically and emotionally. You want to see more.

APA formatting is to research papers what presenting a clean, neat and well presented home is to selling a property.

Your prof may be able to look past a messy presentation, but it takes more mental energy. You want to be able to say, “Oh, but the foundation of the work is just fine!”  and you want that be enough.

Well, it’s not enough. It sends a message that you don’t care about presentation. You send a message that you don’t give a flying leap that your work is less appealing to read. You may be brilliant, but if the essence of what you show to others messy and disorganized,  it’s less inviting to enter your world and spend time there. Sometimes, students insist that APA formatting inhibits their creativity or individuality. My reply to that is, fine, go be as bizarre and unique as you like in your own writing space — your blog, your journal or whatever.

There’s an element of persuasion involved in writing a research paper. I won’t say sales, because that will undoubtedly offend some of you. But let’s face it. You are trying to “pitch” your ideas. Follow standard practices for presentation and your work is likely to be accepted a whole lot faster than if you insist on doing it your own way. When you are writing a research paper you are trying to persuade someone to read it, like it and possibly judge its value (e.g. accept it for publication or award a grade for it). 

Sometimes I find that drawing comparisons between reality TV and academia helps students make sense the expectations of life in higher education. Over the past few months, I’ve been watching Income Property. I don’t own any income properties and I probably never will, but I find the show fascinating. I see patterns in how projects are completed so they consistently meet the objectives.

Host Scott McGillivray helps home owners turn unfinished or unacceptable suites into beautiful rental properties. He and his crew completely renovate the space. They focus on doing excellent quality construction, electrical and plumbing work that is up to code. The work is inspected and they get feedback from city officials and inspectors before they start working on the finishes.

To me, that’s the the content of research. It needs to be solid, high quality and done well. Getting feedback along the way is important, too.

Once they get the necessary approvals that the job has been done right, they move on to the finishes. They pay attention to the details and ensure the look of the place is consistent with sound design principles that are timeless and impressive. After watching a few episodes of Income Property I noticed that they use very similar approaches for each project.

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/670220That’s the presentation of the work. The design principles are outlined by APA, MLA or whatever style guide you use. The format is timeless and paying attention to the details makes it impressive. They follow presentation design principles systematically. Each project is unique, yet they follow standards in a consistent way. It’s almost like there’s a template and yet, every project is individual.

McGillivray consistently points out that doing the construction work properly is non-negotiable. Just like doing high quality research is non-negotiable.

But what gets people to say, “Wow, this is impressive!” are the finishes. Following accepted practices for presentation (which might be interior design for a house, or formatting for a paper) and paying attention to the details are what makes you stand out and be impressive.

For an exemplary end product you need both: quality construction and beautiful finishes. If you have only done only one or the other, you are being sloppy. To do the job right, you need solid construction and a beautiful presentation.

_____________________________________________________

Share or Tweet this: Why APA formatting matters http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


50 Adverbs to avoid in academic writing

July 2, 2013

Most academic writing is strengthened by eliminating adverbs. To emphasize a point, provide more evidence to support it. Avoid unnecessary words and in particular, adverbs. Instead, choose more precise verbs.

An adverb modifies or describes:

  • A verb (e.g. He runs quickly.)
  • An adjective (e.g. His writing is extraordinarily descriptive.)
  • Another adverb (e.g. He runs extraordinarily quickly.)

Often, but not always, adverbs in English end in –ly. Here are 50 adverbs that I have seen in academic papers that you can eliminate and your writing will be better for it:

  1. Adroitly
  2. Amazingly
  3. Awesomely
  4. Badly
  5. Basically
  6. Carefully
  7. Clearly
  8. Completely
  9. Convincingly
  10. Deftly
  11. Desperately
  12. Dexterously
  13. Effortlessly
  14. Extremely
  15. Faithfully
  16. Fundamentally
  17. Generally
  18. Goodly
  19. Honestly
  20. Inherently
  21. Instantly
  22. Interestingly
  23. Narrowly
  24. Naturally
  25. Nearly
  26. Necessarily
  27. Obviously
  28. Precisely
  29. Previously
  30. Preposterously
  31. Quite
  32. Really
  33. Relentlessly
  34. Simply
  35. Spectacularly
  36. Successfully
  37. Suddenly
  38. Surely
  39. Truthfully
  40. Ubiquitously
  41. Unequivocally
  42. Ungodly
  43. Unnecessarily
  44. Unquestionably
  45. Utterly
  46. Unwittingly
  47. Usually
  48. Very
  49. Widely
  50. Zealously

Often, when writers make a conscious choice to eliminate adverbs and instead find stronger and more precise verbs, the result is writing that is clearer and more powerful.

_____________________

Share or Tweet this: 50 Adverbs to avoid in academic writing http://wp.me/pNAh3-1CL

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writing

May 21, 2013

For my graduate students… and other readers:

When you are referencing others’ work in our course, whehter it is on the discussion board, in your presentation or in your final paper, I urge you to find the primary sources for your citations.

I will be upfront about this and say that I am not at all a fan of citing a work that somone else has cited. Please find the original reference yourself and cite that instead.

The reason for this is three-fold:

  1. You want to be sure that the “original” author actually exists. As heinous as it may seem, people have been known to fabricate references.
  2. More common is that a researcher will mis-quote an author or take someone’s work out of context. By going back to the original source, you have the opportunity to verify for yourself what the original author was trying to say.
  3. “As cited in…” can be an indicator of either a lazy or disinterested scholar who does not care enough to find and cite original authors. I do not think this is the case with anyone in our course, but it is not uncommon for other scholars to dismiss the credibility of a researcher who does not take the time to find primary sources.

Earlier this year, I conducted an informal in-class experiment with a Master’s level class at the U of C. I challenged them to find the original version of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”. To their surprise, they found that the pyramid that has become an iconic representation of Maslow’s hierarchy is nowhere to be found in his original work. (You can read about it here: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Is the pyramid a hoax?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1rU)

I tell my students, “My point to you is this: Please cite only primary sources in our course. Avoid using ‘as cited in…’ or similar strategies. If you can’t find an original source, don’t cite it.”

The only exception to this would be original works of extreme rarity which are almost impossible to source without physically visiting historical archives.

_______________________

Share or Tweet this: Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writing  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1BH

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


10 Great writing resources for grad students

April 23, 2013

Sarah Eaton blog technology researchAfter teaching “Writing Educational Research” for Master’s of Education students at the University of Calgary a number of times now, I’ve come up with a list of my top 10 favorite, free online resources for grad students, emerging scholars and educational professionals:

Basics of APA Style (Tutorial) – The tutorial is “chunked out” into 23 sections, each less than 1 minute long. In total, the tutorial is about 21 minutes long. It is highly practical and full of “how to” information.

Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) – One of the best online resources for APA style for students and faculty. The APA Formatting and Style Guide is particularly helpful.

APA Quick Reference Guide – Produced by the University of North Carolina School of Social Work, this quick reference guide highlights the most important points of the APA manual for students.

Academic Writing and Publishing by James Hartley – This comprehensive 209-page resource book is available free of charge to students in .pdf format. It is a must-have for grad students.

Worksheets for academic writers by Wendy Belcher – Designed to accompany Belcher’s text, Writing Your Journal Article in 12-weeks, these worksheets help writers plan and organize their writing projects.

Advice on Academic Writing from the University of Toronto -This site offers academic writers advice on topics such as planning, organizing, using sources, style, editing and more.

Outlining and Organizing Your Writing from the University of Maryland – This site has links to a number of different resources designed to help students learn how to outline and organize their writing projects.

English Grammar Handbook from the University of Athabasca – This free online e-book addresses many grammar concepts that academic writers need to know such as sentence and paragraph structure and how to avoid misusing common words in academic writing.

Graduate Writing Checklist from John Hopkins University – This handy checklist is designed specifically for graduate students to review before they hand in their papers.

Academic Writing Checklist from the University of Warwick – This checklist is more reflective in nature, challenging emerging scholars to engage in a metacognitive process about their own writing.

Academic writing takes practice and time to learn and with these free online resources to help you, it will be even easier.

Related posts:

12 Phrases to Avoid in Your Academic Research Papers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1JX

Active vs. passive voice — How to tell the difference http://wp.me/pNAh3-1HX

Why APA formatting matters http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

How many sources do you need in a literature review?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

What’s the difference between a citation and a reference? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1F9

Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writing  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1BH

_______________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: 10 Great writing resources for grad students – http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Bc

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How to provide peer review feedback

June 6, 2012

There is no single correct way to conduct a peer review of a writer’s manuscript or submission to a journal. Every publication will have its own guidelines and standards. However, if you are brand new to reviewing a peer’s work here are some factors to consider:

Organization and structure

  • Does the work have a clearly articulated title?
  • Is the work organized and structured in a logical manner?
  • Does the manuscript contain explicit headings, making it easier for you to read?

Introduction

  • Does the introduction articulate the point of the paper?
  • Does the introduction contain key words and phrases to help readers find the paper once it is in circulation?
  • Does the introduction clearly establish the value of the paper?

The problem / context / research question

  • Does the writer provide a clearly articulated research question or problem?
  • Is this problem situated in a historical, geographical and professional context?
  • Is this question original? If this sounds like something that has been studied to death, then it is unlikely to be original. Journal articles are meant to contribute new knowledge, fresh perspectives to the ongoing dialogue in the field.

Significance of the work

  • What rationale does the writer provide for his or her work?
  • Does the writer link their manuscript to the particular journal he or she has chosen? Many writers submit manuscripts without targeting them to a particular journal or relating their manuscript to the theme or purpose of the journal. Reviewers regularly reject such articles.
  • Why should we, as readers and professionals, care about this manuscript?

Discussion and argument

  • Does the author define and develop a cogent argument?
  • Is the argument logical?
  • Does the argument influence and persuade you as a reader?
  • How sophisticated is this argument?

Conclusions

  • Has the author provided clear and succinct conclusions?
  • Are the conclusions logically linked to the introduction and the argument?
  • Has the author restated the relevance of this research, in terms of already-published literature in the field?
  • Does the conclusion highlight the significance of the author’s manuscript in the larger research and professional context?
  • Has the writer provided directions for future research or recommendations for professional practice?

References

  • Are all the references mentioned in the body of the paper cited properly in the References section at the end of the paper? (Manuscripts with missing references are almost always automatically rejected by journals.)
  • Do the references at the end of the paper meet style guide standards, such as APA or Chicago style? (Sloppy references are also cause for rejection.)

General assessment

Is this a manuscript you think is worthy of publication? Why or why not? What changes would strengthen it in order to make it suitable for publication? Provide recommendations for revision.

Your mission is to objectively examine the work as a professional and scholarly critic. This is not an exhaustive list of criteria to consider, by any means. It is a list to give the novice manuscript reviewer a place to start.

______________

Share or Tweet this post:  How to provide peer review feedback http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qH

____________________________________________________

This blog has had over 1,000,00 views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!


%d bloggers like this: