Friday, April 1, 2011

The Life of a College Professor

Before I became a college professor, I didn't understand the broad scope of the professorial role.  I think it's hard to appreciate all that a job entails until one is immersed in it.  Even though my father is an academic, and I grew up hanging around his office, sitting in on his classes, and helping to administer exams and mailing out the journal he edited, I don't think I grasped all that professors do. 

Over the last week or so, for example:

I have, of course, taught my classes, held office hours, and responded to student email.  I revised classroom activities and lecture notes.  I prepared course materials, updating and xeroxing handouts, as well as identifying resources for students to complete an assignment (I watched several documentaries and searched for online resources).  I wrote an exam.  I graded online self-tests and writing assignments.  Midterm grades were due, so I had to compute and submit those grades.  I turned in textbook orders for the fall semester.

Official Montgomery College photograph by Sanjay Suchak

But teaching is only part of the story, as I do quite a bit outside of the classroom.  I coordinated two events this week.  We had the second in our Spring 2011 Psychology Brown Bag series on Wednesday.  My colleague Dr. Donald Palmer facilitated a terrific roundtable discussion on Psychology in 2001:  The State of the Art/Science?, in which we talked about the role of research in answering important questions of human experience and the increasing use of medication to treat psychological disorders.  I had already completed most of the advertisement for the event earlier (putting up fliers, posting the event in the online college calendar and newsletter, as well as on Facebook), but this week I took care of refreshments, which involved shopping for food, cooking and baking, and I coordinated set-up for the event (with help from my psychology colleagues). 

The V-Day performance was also on Wednesday (busy day!).  Along with my colleague, Prof. Genevieve Carminati, I coached the student and faculty performers, coordinated advertisement and ticket sales, and completed the programs.  We had rehearsals virtually every day over the last week (even one on the weekend) and I spent time rehearsing my own piece.  The preparations paid off, as the show went very well; the performers did a great job and everyone seemed to have a good time. 

I am on the hiring committee for a new faculty position in the psychology department. The committee met to discuss the process and I began reading applications this week.

I am also the faculty advisor for the People's Alliance club, the GLBTQQIA student club on the Rockville campus of Montgomery College, which meets weekly.  We have such interesting discussions!  This week, I ordered pizza for the students and we talked about a variety of topics, including the different terms for one's significant other (we discussed the merits of terms like partner, my man, boyfriend/girlfriend, gentleman friend) and the upcoming Safe Zone training.  
St. Louis U logo

What is the Safe Zone, you ask?  This is Montgomery College's new program to increase support for GLBTQ students, faculty, and staff.  I have been on the committee that has been working on the Safe Zone for the last year or so, designing the program and garnering administrative and faculty support.  Next week, we are having our first Safe Zone training for interested faculty and staff to become more informed and visible allies, so I arranged a meeting this week for those of us who will be doing the training (I will be involved, although the training will be led by my colleague from Counseling, Ms. D J McCullough). We have also been discussing (via email) what the logo should be, and we may have a logo design contest.

I am involved in several other professional development programs, as well.  I am the campus representative for the Writing in the Disciplines program, and I spent some time this week participating (reading and posting) in an online forum for our faculty to discuss issues related to student writing.  There were some wonderfully thoughtful discussions that showed real engagement with the issues -- I am truly fortunate to be able to learn with (and from) such talented faculty colleagues.

Research department at the National Museum of Natural History -- don't you want to look inside the drawers?

Oh, and I am thrilled to be a Smithsonian Faculty Fellow this year, a program within the Paul Peck Humanities Institute.  We read relevant articles and meet with Smithsonian museum curators to discuss ways in which we can connect our students with the museums.  This week we read a stack of articles about the impact of the culture wars on museums and one fascinating discussion of how to "read" objects in preparation for our visit to the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday.  The curators and museum staff were very knowledgeable and did an excellent job of providing background for the exhibits and encouraging us to envision related assignments.

Rosa Parks (1983) by Marshall D. Rumbaugh; part of the National Portrait Gallery's exhibit "Struggle for Justice"
I also worked a bit on my own scholarship this week.  I am presenting at the Mid-Atlantic Women's Studies Association conference next week (for two different panels), so I am preparing for those presentations, and I began working on a revision of a paper co-authored with one of my colleagues at Georgetown University, Dr. W. Gerrod Parrott, about the social functions of guilt and shame.

For some years now, I have hosted student interns from local high schools, who work with me as part of their school's Psychology Internship program.  That involves supervising the intern, providing relevant work, and completing quarterly evaluations of each intern.  My student intern this year is quite keen on library research, so this week I got her involved in the library database search for the guilt and shame paper, as well as having her help put up fliers for the upcoming events.  I completed her quarterly evaluation this week, as well.   

I spent a bit of time this week wrapping up this year's Women's Studies Scholarship Silent Auction; a few people still need to pick up the items they won in the auction, and I need to complete the final paperwork.

Collegiality ranks high on my list of priorities; I believe in supporting my faculty colleagues, just as they have always supported me.  To that end, I read and commented on a curriculum proposal for a new course in the Women's Studies Program, and I am writing recommendations for two of my faculty colleagues who are being nominated for an award.

All that, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some activities.  To be fair, this week was unusually busy.  But most of my weeks, even those less overfull, involve a range of different types of tasks.  It can be a bit difficult to juggle all these different "hats", and I worry a bit about losing track of things.  On the other hand, I am rarely bored -- it is wonderful to be involved in so many different types of projects, and I find that they inform each other in a variety of ways.  One of the aspects of being a professor I particularly value is the degree of choice I have in my work.  I choose to pursue these activities because they are meaningful to me and I feel that I can make a significant contribution in these areas.  I find very little of my work onerous, and that is a rare and precious quality in the workplace.  I love my work in the classroom; I value the personal connections I make with students in extracurricular activities; I am inspired by my faculty colleagues and I am eager to share my expertise with them just as I benefit from theirs; I am gratified by the enthusiastic reception my events and programs generate from the college community; I am passionate about the pursuit of ideas and I often think that my very sustenance comes from the life of the mind.  I cannot imagine a better career for me.

"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."  --  Theodore Roosevelt


  1. We really do have great jobs, don't we? The Roosevelt quote captures my shared sentiments exactly!

  2. It is a great job! I loved what you said in your post about the Safe Zone: "Yesterday, I realized that a great place to work is a place that lets you use the best parts of who you are to make the workplace even better. This is why I love my job." So true.

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment.

  3. Psst, I also heard that you recently earned the Maryland Professor of the Year Award (was that last year? O.o)

    So congrats! :D YOU TOTALLY DESERVED IT!

  4. Thank you so much, Ari! What a nice sentiment. I am truly blessed to have such great students. :-)