The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

Leave a comment

Coming Soon: Designing Effective Adult Learning Experiences

By Rachel Luckenbill, CTE Instructional Consultant for TAs

We usually don’t post on Thursdays, but today we wanted to offer a little forecast of a post that we’ll publish on November 6. The topic? Designing effective adult learning experiences.

If you’ve ever had the experience of teaching adult learners you know that it doesn’t work to assume the same things you do about traditional college students. I’m having that experience this semester. For the first time I’m teaching a writing course for adult learners. Their approach to grades, their investment in the material, the life experience that informs their participation in the classroom, and the challenges they face are often radically different from what 18 to 22-year-old college students bring to a course.

For this reason, I’m looking forward to participating in a workshop on designing effective adult learning experiences this coming Monday, October 27, hosted by Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. The workshop will feature Dr. Susan Hines, Associate Professor and Director of Faculty Development at St. Mary’s University in Minnesota who has been involved in numerous studies on adult student engagement and provides keynotes and workshops on adult learners at regional colleges.

The week following her address, we’ll present valuable insights from the workshop here on The Flourishing Academic.

Duquesne faculty and graduate students: if you’re interested in attending the talk please register here.

1 Comment

My Journey with Team-Based Learning

3d small people - team

Image courtesy of

By Dr. Sarah Wallace, Assistant Professor of Speech-Language Pathology at Duquesne University

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller

For all the hurdles that Helen Keller overcame, she was acutely aware of the value of teamwork. It may not be so obvious to the rest of us until we see the results.

My first professional introduction to the value of teamwork was during my time working in a residential rehabilitation facility. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate other speech-language pathologists and with the occupational therapists, nurses, physical therapists, and many other professionals to help my patients reach their full potential. However, I didn’t realize at the time how much these experiences would shape my future work. Now five years into my role as an assistant professor, this quote from Helen Keller highlights for me the bridge I see between my research and teaching goals.

I believe the success of my research program is in part due to my desire and excitement about working in teams. I currently collaborate with numerous researchers and clinicians from all over the world from many different professions. I am energized by hearing my team members’ unique thoughts and ideas. So during the 2012-2013 academic year, when I was seeking a pedagogical approach to breathe some life into my Capstone in Evidence-Based Practice course, it was unsurprising that I was drawn to Team-Based Learning (TBL).

TBL had everything I was looking for – it promised to encourage students’ active and self-directed learning, and the highlight for me was that it would likely increase their skills related to working in teams. Skills needed for collaborating with a team of colleagues are critically important to the students who graduate from our program in speech-language pathology. Our national organization requires that we graduate students who can maintain and foster interprofessional and intraprofessional relationships. However, little evidence exists for how best educators can teach these skills to our students. I saw TBL as one possible strategy and prepared to implement it in my graduate level speech-language pathology course.

TBL has traditionally been implemented in business and medical school courses. Fantastic resources related to TBL are available through Team-Based Learning Collaborative (; I highly recommend readers sign up for the list-serve. I used this evidence base, combined with my previous experience teaching this course, and developed new course materials. Many variations of TBL exist; in this blog I will share how I modified TBL components to fit the course goals, available resources, and needs of my students. Four principles guided my course development (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008, p.8).

  1. Team composition will be determined by me based on pre-set criteria
  2. I will provide timely and frequent feedback to students
  3. Assignments will be designed to promote both learning and team development
  4. Students will be held accountable for the quality of their individual and group work


First, I developed criteria for sorting students into teams. I had the benefit of already teaching these students for three prior semesters during their graduate program, and my familiarity made this process easier than it would otherwise be. My criteria included those that I believe would most influence student performance on the course activities so that I could distribute the students with the greatest skills in these areas.

Team Formation Criteria

(a) students in the process of completing a thesis

(b) students who assisted in research projects

(c) students who typically work together on class assignments

(d) students currently at the same clinical externship site

Students with these characteristics were randomly assigned to separate groups whenever possible. Each group had four or five student members.

As is true of most TBL courses, I planned for students to stay in these teams for the entire 10-week summer semester, so they would have time to learn skills critical to team development and sustaining team relationships.

I developed four TBL modules to address the four primary topics in the course. I reasoned that I shouldn’t use TBL as my only instructional approach and that by doing four modules, the students and I would gradually adjust to this new method of teaching. I also developed a practice TBL module to give students (and myself) experience with TBL prior to graded assignments. Each module had four parts:

  1. Individual preparation activities (readings with guiding questions, PowerPoint slides)
  2. Individual Readiness Assurance Test (I-RAT)
  3. Group Readiness Assurance Test (G-RAT)
  4. Application Activity


My use of preparation activities followed a “flipped classroom” approach to instruction. That is, much of the rote student learning took place outside of the classroom. Then, in the classroom they first took a 10-question multiple-choice quiz about the information (I-RAT) before completing the same 10-questions with their team (G-RAT). In this way, students worked through some of their initial questions or misunderstanding during their group discussions.*

Students defended their answers, considered other points of view, and filled in each other’s knowledge gaps as I walked around and monitored the groups. Finally, as a large group, we discussed the correct responses and I elaborated on any points that were confusing for students. Following the quizzes, the students worked in their assigned teams to complete a related application activity. For example, during the Pseudoscience module, students investigated and evaluated various potential pseudoscientific treatment methods and presented their information to the class.

I spread the four TBL modules throughout the course. Students completed a peer and self-evaluation after the first two modules and again at the end of the course. Only the final evaluations were counted toward their grade.

The lessons I learned from this first experience with TBL are vast. Here are a few of the most important:

  1. Provide multiple opportunities for students to practice new ways of learning.
  2. Students need opportunities to do self-directed learning prior to the last semester in their program.
  3. Be prepared to provide your rationale for everything. Encourage student feedback and be willing to modify course work based on their feedback when appropriate.
  4. Students often dislike providing critical feedback and grades for their peers.
  5. Use of a flipped classroom approach is benefited by strategies such as I-RATs and G-RATs that hold students accountable for their learning.
  6. Most students prefer that preparation activities do not take more time than what students are usually expected to spend preparing for a class.
  7. Similar to other implementations of TBL, students’ scores were higher on G-RATs than on I-RATs. Additionally, although the level of difficulty did not change across TBL modules, scores on G-RATs increased throughout the course. These changes suggest that students developed effective team working skills. Students’ confidence in working within teams also increased after the course.


Author’s Note: Dr. Laurel Willingham-McLain was my gracious mentor through this process. Our work was supported by a mentorship award through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (Advancing Academic-Research Careers Award 2012-2014).

*Many TBL implementations use the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT). I felt this tool did not meet the course needs so instead I developed a six-point system. Each multiple choice question was worth six points that could be distributed across any of the four response choices. This system encouraged discussion and debate about the correctness of each response. However, I encourage interested readers to check out the website for information about this tool ( If the future, I may also explore the use of electronic rapid response systems for the G-RATs.

1 Comment

What You Say and How You Say It: Student-Faculty Interactions

confident student

Image provided by

By Rachel Luckenbill

During one particular semester, I had an opportunity to teach a class for adults who wanted to bridge an educational gap between high school and higher education. As a writing instructor, I know well that having to translate thoughts into print while attempting to follow grammar rules is often an anxiety-producing experience for students of any age. For the adults in this class, the experience was even more stressful because some of them had not written an academic paper in over 15 years and many of them felt self-conscious about being working professionals without strong writing skills.

In order to alleviate some of the anxiety, I positioned myself as a coach and deemphasized grading, I designed hands-on in-class activities so the students could practice skills while I was at hand to offer guidance, and I even started one of the classes with breathing exercises.

One student who felt overwhelmed by the material and doubtful of her own abilities shared that she didn’t feel smart enough to keep up with the rest of the students and was experiencing such strong writer’s block that she felt as though she needed to drop the course.

Dialoguing over email did not help to quell her anxiety, and so we met together face-to-face before the next class. I encouraged her to deliberately say no to any thought that she was not as intelligent as others and to practice thinking positively about her own potential. We chatted about her home life, especially the pressures of raising children while balancing work with school. After identifying strategies for overcoming writer’s block and offering the reassurance that everyone experiences it at some point, I told the student that I had every confidence she could persevere through the course and complete it successfully.

By the end of that evening’s class, the student approached me and said she was going to give the rest of the term a solid try. From that point on, she began turning in quality writing assignments and participating actively in class. She needed affirmation in order to realize and confidently exercise her thinking and writing skills.

This is just one example from one semester, but research suggests that interacting with students outside of the classroom is a key factor in improving student performance in the classroom. Multiple studies throughout the last few decades confirm that positive interactions with faculty outside of class frequently result in better student engagement and productivity in class. In particular, Joseph Lowman suggests that a faculty member’s ability to “create positive relationships with students” beyond the class has a direct connection to the student’s own confidence about his or her capabilities in the classroom (12). Likewise, David Fusani asserts that “students’ self-esteem” is directly affected by the instructor’s “interpersonal rapport” (233).

Unfortunately, as numerous other studies show, the majority of students do not seek interactions with faculty outside of the classroom. Sheila Cotten and Bonnie Wilson recorded observations from students who said they “see no reason” to seek faculty interaction; this indicates that they “are simply not aware of the potential benefits of engaging faculty” (514). In fact, the students they surveyed said “they often choose not to interact because they are uncertain whether faculty are willing to entertain their queries and whether faculty will be receptive to their ideas” (514).

You might be thinking, then how do I get my students to come to my office hours or stop to talk when they see me walking across campus? Approachability is key. Cotten and Wilson contend that students need “continuous and active encouragement in order to feel comfortable approaching faculty” (514). Consider taking time to talk to your entire class about the value of interacting with you outside of class, letting students know that you are available, that you care about and want to answer their questions, and that you are also more than willing to converse about life apart from class. Research also suggests that even, and sometimes especially, positive social interactions with instructors boost student performance and self-esteem (Cotten and Wilson 515).

These interactions might sound taxing to faculty members with heavy course loads and numerous other departmental obligations. Or they might sound outside the scope of a faculty member’s tasks. After all, encouragement and confidence-building should come from parents, coaches, counselors, and friends. While this is true, the reality is that how students perform in class could be directly affected by what and how faculty speak to them in the office, on the sidewalk, at the snack bar. All students, whether adults going back to school while raising a family or youth finishing out their teenage years at college, benefit from being treated as whole people who need both instruction about content and skills as well as affirmation and encouragement when it comes to believing in their own ability.

Now it’s your turn. I invite you to leave a comment sharing an example of a time when interacting outside of class boosted a student’s performance in class. No names please: we want to protect students’ privacy. For more on student faculty interactions, checkout CTE’s teaching and learning tips on effective office hours and helping distressed students.

Cotten, Sheila and Bonnie Wilson. “Student-Faculty Interactions: Dynamics and Determinants.” Higher Education (2006) 51.4: 487 – 519.

Fusani, David. “’ Extra-Class ‘Communication: Frequency, Immediacy, Self-Disclosure, and Satisfaction in Student Faculty Interaction outside the Classroom.” Journal of Applied Communication Research (1994) 22.3:232 – 255.

Lowman, Joseph. Mastering the Techniques of Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1984.


Leave a comment

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL): Going Public with Good Teaching

Leslie LewisBy Leslie Lewis, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Gumberg Library

The How-To’s of SoTL

Have you ever experimented with a different teaching technique? Or created a new kind of assignment for one of your classes? And it worked really well? Your students seemed more engaged; they did better on their tests; their final research papers or projects were much better than in previous years? And you wanted to share what you learned with others? But you were not sure how.


Would you like to experiment with a new teaching technique or try a different type of assignment or capstone project in one of your courses? And see how it impacts your students’ learning?

Well, if you are not already involved in this growing field of research and scholarship, then you are a prime candidate for doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, or SoTL, as it is affectionately known.

Kathleen McKinney (2003), a faculty developer at Illinois State University renowned as a pioneer in SoTL, defines the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as “systematic reflection on teaching and learning made public” (p. 6).

Did you know that you can turn your classroom into a research lab where you are the Primary Investigator (PI) and your students, who consent to voluntary and anonymous participation, are the subjects in your research? Because your students are, of course, “human subjects,” you will need to get Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, if you plan to use the results of your research outside your institution.

If you have done discipline-related “human subject” research before, then you are probably well-acquainted with the IRB process at your institution. If not, your local IRB Office – and likely your teaching and learning center or faculty development office, will be ready and eager to assist you as you begin to write your IRB protocol.

Once you have IRB approval, you teach your course, incorporating your new techniques or assignments. At the end of your course, after final grades are in, you may then begin analyzing and evaluating your students’ performance, assignments, reflection, and/or feedback, as delineated in your protocol. You will, of course, need to do a literature review to see if and how others have used this same or similar technique or assignment both within and outside your discipline.

You are very pleased by what you have learned, and, more importantly, by how much more engaged your students were and how they seemed to understand concepts better and/or learn skills more easily. You then write up your findings.

Now, what?  You want to share these findings, publicly, outside of your institution.  So you write up an article and submit it to a scholarly journal that focuses on education in your field or on SoTL in general. Or you submit a presentation or poster proposal to one of your professional associations in order to try to present your findings at one of your professional conferences.

If all goes well, and pending any necessary revisions, six months to a year or so later, you find that your article is being published in a peer reviewed journal and/or you are presenting on your SoTL research before your peers at a conference.

Wow! Congratulations. You have just completed and published/presented (or maybe even both!) your Scholarship of Teaching and Learning research and findings. And hopefully, others will learn from your research and incorporate similar – or even slightly different – techniques or assignments in their classrooms all around the country, or the world, and their students will be more engaged and learn more, too.

SoTL Projects Examples

Faculty at your institution may well have been publishing and presenting their SoTL research for quite some time, and you might just not be aware of it. Here, at Duquesne University, for example, faculty from multiple disciplines have been actively engaged in SoTL research in recent years.

Dr. Jason Ritter in the School of Education did IRB-approved research on pre-service elementary teacher views on the relationship between diversity and democracy and then presented at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Annual Conference in 2012. In 2013, he had an article on his research published in Social Studies Research and Practice.

Dr. Elisabeth Vasko and Dr. Anna Scheid in the Theology Department of the College of Liberal Arts presented on their research, “Critical Reflection: Lessons Learned from Teaching Racism and White Privilege in the Theology Classroom,” at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the College Theology Society and then later had an article published in Teaching Theology and Religion.

Cynthia J. Lennox and Kathleen S. Barnard, both instructors in the English as a Second Language Program, recently presented at the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) International Conference on enhancing cross-cultural skills and self-awareness through interactive interventions.

I myself have done and am doing SoTL research here at Duquesne. My first project was an interdisciplinary one with Dr. Autumn Stewart in the School of Pharmacy. She helped me tailor one of my freshman core Research and Information Skills sections, which was composed mostly of pre-professional pharmacy freshmen, so that students were exposed to appropriate pharmacy resources and topics. The students loved this aspect of the class and were far more engaged because we were exploring resources and topics relevant to their future discipline, one in which they would not begin taking discipline-specific courses until their third year. This interdisciplinary partnership evolved into a peer-reviewed poster at a national pharmacy conference.

Getting Started

While most faculty feel very confident doing research within their disciplines, many, depending on discipline, are often flummoxed at first by research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. For one thing, they are accustomed to doing literature reviews within their disciplines but often are not familiar with doing literature reviews on SoTL or SoTL within their disciplines. Secondly, SoTL research tends to be qualitative in nature or a mixture of qualitative and quantitative, and faculty who have never done qualitative research before are sometimes a bit hesitant to make this leap. This is particularly true for faculty in natural or health sciences disciplines or ones where research is primarily quantitative in nature.

Faculty should not, however, be hesitant to do SoTL research just because it is something they have never done before. The staff at college/university teaching and learning centers, like the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) here at Duquesne University, are on hand to assist faculty with getting started in their SoTL research. In addition, CTE has sponsored very productive SoTL faculty learning groups over the past several years. The examples of SoTL scholarship by DU faculty mentioned above all grew out of participation in CTE SoTL faculty learning groups, and several of the faculty who have gone on to publish/present their SoTL research have also won creative teaching awards. This fall CTE will be sponsoring an Interdisciplinary SoTL Faculty Learning Group for those who are interested in doing SoTL research for their interdisciplinary courses, which are increasing in number not only at Duquesne but also nationally.

For those who are not sure where to begin literature reviews for their SoTL research, I encourage you to contact a reference librarian at your college/university library. Your library may even have a librarian on staff with specific experience assisting faculty with SoTL research. I am a Reference and Instruction Librarian here at Gumberg Library and provide library outreach to our CTE. I have been an integral part of the SoTL faculty learning groups and have provided one-on-one assistance to many faculty members who are just getting started with literature reviews for their SoTL research. Just like I do, reference librarians at almost any academic library can assist faculty in finding relevant literature in both SoTL journals and disciplinary journals and advise them on which journals are appropriate for SoTL scholarship in their disciplines. Librarians love working with faculty and assisting them in the literature review aspect of their research!

Please check out our SoTL guide for more information and resources on SoTL; publishing and presenting SoTL research; and gaining IRB approval. And get started on the road to original SoTL research today!


McKinney, K. (2003). What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in higher education? Teaching/Learning Matters, 33(1), 6–7.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2014, September 29). Retrieved from Gumberg Library website:


Leave a comment

Early Course Evaluations

-by Rachel Luckenbill and Dr. Steven Hansen

A few semesters ago, I noticed that one of my classes was not engaging actively in the large group discussions I was attempting to facilitate.   I tried asking different kinds of questions and moving chairs into a circle rather than having them face forward. None of my efforts prevailed. I decided to see if early course evaluations could determine what the problem might be.

Before mid-term, I asked students to tell me anonymously what aspects of the course helped them learn the most and what least contributed to their learning. I discovered that roughly half of the students preferred small group work to large group discussions. I acknowledged their feedback and began regularly incorporating small-group activities while making large group discussions less frequent. Having seen that I would listen to their feedback, students’ engagement increased and the class became much more lively.

The following is adapted from a “teaching and learning tip” authored by Dr. Steven Hansen:

In her research, Carolin Keutzer identifies “five distinct benefits of midterm evaluation: a) The information can he used to make changes during the current course; (b) students feel empowered to help design their own educational process; (c) it allows an assessment of specific behaviors rather than a global “quality of teaching” rating; (d) instructors can ask for the information most pertinent to them-even soliciting criticism without fearing any adverse consequences from the administration; and (e) the evaluations go directly to the instructor.” (Keutzer, 1993).

Peter Cohen’s meta-analysis of studies on the impact of early-course evaluations on end of term evaluations concludes, “Instructors receiving mid-semester feedback averaged .16 of a rating point higher on end-of-semester overall ratings than did instructors receiving no mid-semester feed- back” (Cohen, 1980). In a more recent study at Brigham Young University, the authors show that the impact of midcourse feedback on end-of-term feedback depends on what instructors do with the early course evaluation: “Student ratings showed improvement in proportion to the extent to which the faculty member engaged with the midcourse evaluation. Faculty who read the student feedback and did not discuss it with their students saw a 2 percent improvement in their online student rating scores. Faculty who read the feedback, discussed it with students, and did not make changes saw a 5 percent improvement. Finally, faculty who conducted the midcourse evaluation, read the feedback, discussed it with their students, and made changes saw a 9 percent improvement” (McGowan & Osguthorpe, 2011).

The table, adapted from an article by Buskit and Hogan (2010), offers guidance on how to process midsemester feedback. 
Throw out the off-the-wall comments that do not provide you with useful information and forget about them. “She needs a haircut and a new pair of shoes.”
Set aside the positive comments that don’t tell you anything specific. “Best class ever”
Divide the negative comments into two groups: those you can change and those that you cannot change. Can Change: … redistributing the points for different assignments because of the amount of work that they perceived were required for each assignment.
Cannot Change: … let students out of
class early rather than keeping them the entire class period.
Work on perceptions and learn to be explicit. As we look at our evaluations, we often think, “But I do that!” If we feel we are doing the things that students say we are not doing, then it maybe that we need to address students’ perceptions.
Savor the comments that are meant to be negative, but let you know you are doing your Job. “She made us think.” “Dr. S. is a very influential
teacher, but I didn’t come to college to be influenced.”


Karen Lewis (2001) says, “Perhaps the most important part of conducting a mid-semester feedback session is your response to the students. In your response, you need to let them know what you learned from their information and what differences it will make. “

Some Early Course Evaluation Ideas:

Pluses and Wishes
“As this course progressed, I was able to get it back on track by using a mid-semester evaluation process called “pluses and wishes.” Students divided the evaluation sheet in half and placed all the positives about the course on one side and suggestions for improvement on the other. For the most part, the students were satisfied with the course, but the one “wish” that was prevalent was to increase student interaction” (Ladson-Billings, 1996).

Traffic Light Survey
Nakpangi Johnson (Pharmacy Graduate) uses a “One Minute Traffic Light Survey.”


More Early Course Evaluation Methods


Connie Buskist and Jan Hogan, (2010). She Needs a Haircut and a New Pair of Shoes: Handling Those Pesky Course Evaluations. Journal of Effective Teaching 10 (1), 51-56.

Peter Cohen, (1980). Effectiveness of Student-Rating Feedback for Improving College Instruction: A Meta-Analysis of Findings. Research in Higher Education 13 (4), 321-341.

Carolin Keutzer, (1993). Midterm Evaluation of Teaching Provides Helpful Feedback to Instructors. Teaching of Psychology 20 (4), 238-240.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, (1996). Silences as Weapons: Challenges of a Black Professor Teaching White Students. Theory into Practice 35 (2), 79-85.

Karen Lewis, (2001). Using Midsemester Student Feedback and Responding to It. New Directions for Teaching and Learning 87, 33-44.

Whitney Ransom McGowen and Russell T. Osgathorpe, (2011). Student and Faculty Perceptions of Effects of Midcourse Evaluation. To Improve the Academy 29, 160-172.





Leave a comment

Top Advice for Graduate Students’ Application Portfolios

hire me button

Image by Stuart Miles,

Post by: Rachel Luckenbill and Michael McGravey

Each year the Center for Teaching Excellence presents our Landing an Academic Job series. The sessions are designed to help graduate students prepare for the job market and features advice from experienced faculty and administrators. This year’s series opened with the session, “Preparing the CV, Cover Letter, and Research Statement,” featuring advice from Drs. Philip Reeder, Greg Barnhisel, and Lauren O’Donnell. What follows is a brief overview of some of their comments:

Cover Letter

  1. Tailor your letter: (1) First, know whether you are applying to a university that stresses teaching or research and emphasize the appropriate one in your letter. (2) Second, know the University’s mission and what the department you are applying to emphasizes about itself.
  2. Three words of emphasis: Versatility, Engagement, & Professionalism, along with a demonstrated genuine interest in teaching.
  • Versatility: demonstrate your variety as a teacher. What are the different courses, subjects, sub-topics you have taught? If you have only taught one, identify what you have done differently between semesters or academic years.
  • Engagement: what have you done with students outside the classroom? Show hiring committees that you are willing and excited to support students in extracurricular activities.
  • Professionalism: hiring committees want to know that you are confident and that you are capable of handling tough work.
  • Genuine interest in teaching: especially if you are applying to a teaching-centered school, make sure your tone and evidence convey that you are committed to teaching and that you can link your research to the work you do in the classroom.
  1. Respond Professionally, Not Personally: Hiring committees want to know what makes you a good fit for the university and the department; your answer should not include the personal element. While your favorite aunt might live in the same city as the University to which are applying, you should instead stress your desire to work for the University because of its offerings (e.g., a specialized archives that speak to the topic of your current research) or identify how your professional profile meets a core value of the department.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

  1. Be thorough but not verbose: Give the hiring committee the evidence they need to know that you are the best candidate for the job but make sure that evidence is organized, concise, and free of jargon.
  2. Shorter is not always better: While you strive to be concise in the language you use, do not widen the margins and shrink the font just to fit everything into four pages or less. It’s okay if your CV is longer, as it demonstrates all of your accomplishments!

What you want to avoid, however, is supplying unnecessary information (like the article you published for your high school newsletter or the grocery clerk position you held last summer). You want to demonstrate ample experience that is pertinent to the job description, even if it means handing in a CV longer than 5 pages (just imagine: Dean Reeder’s is more than 40 pages at this point!).

  1. Tailor Your CV for the Job: The CV is not a static document. In the same way that it grows each time you have a new accomplishment, you should also tailor the CV to each position you apply for.Questions you should ask yourself when tailoring your CV for a particular school:
  • What should be listed first for a teaching institution? A research institution?
  • Should you emphasize research more than teaching?
  • Will they want to know about your community service outside of your academic institutions?

Research the values of the specific department and school to which you are applying so you can emphasize the things they will find most attractive and useful in their discernment.

The Research Statement

  1. This is Not Your Life Story: This document is meant to convey the background story of your research and its future trajectory. Stick to the pertinent information and avoid writing a narrative about your life and desire to cure or resolve the unattainable. Demonstrate small, achievable steps over a five-year period without rehashing your life’s work.
  2. Be Concrete: Show the committee that you have a concrete specific plan you intend to pursue. Ask yourself:
  • Would you look like someone who knows exactly what they need and exactly what they hope to accomplish?
  • Or will you look like someone who has a vague idea of what they need and only a general concept of what they might accomplish?
  • What is it that you want to be (realistically) known for?
  1. Be Unique and Independent: No one wants a researcher who will simply parrot what their favorite mentor told them or piggyback on another scholar’s project. Yes, your work might reference the work of someone else, but demonstrate that your specific experience and ideas are unique and that you can work independently without depending on someone else’s momentum.

  2. General Advice for All of these Documents: Just like the shampoo bottle reads—rinse, lather, rinse, repeat—your documents should go through a similar process: write, edit, revise, & repeat. Each of these documents will change for specific job applications. So know the colleges and universities you are applying to, edit your materials, seek the advice of colleagues and experienced mentors or professors, and don’t fear rejection. Keep working at it!





Leave a comment

Who Are You? Pitching to Your Students

Tune into any major city’s local sports talk radio, and you will most likely hear a sentence or two about baseball.  The final few weeks of regular season baseball can be some of the most entertaining: who’s going to the post-season, which batter is chasing a title, and what pitcher is chasing a Cy Young award.

Teaching, like baseball, is a long and strategic game.  But if we think of the semester as a nine-inning game, where both sides get to pitch and both take swings at the ball, we see ourselves and our students.  As pitchers, we are offering up our fastballs, curveballs, sliders, our splitters (our knowledge) in order to position our ideas before our hitters, who might bunt, hit a single, double, or triple, or outright hit the ball into the Allegheny River. 

But for  a moment, let me take this one step further and ask you to imagine yourself as one of three pitchers: George Bradley (St. Louis Brown Stockings, 1876), Clayton Kershaw (LA Dodgers, 2008 – Present), or Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, 2006 – Present).

George Bradley: The Perfect Semester

Since Pittsburgh is a National League city, it’s worth mentioning George Washington Bradley.  Who?  In 1876, at the age of 24, Bradley finally caught a break and was signed by the St. Louis Brown Stockings.  Standing 5’ 10.5” tall George pitched the first complete game in the National League against the Hartford Dark Blues on July 15, 1876.  That year, Bradley would stand out as a most valuable player: he pitched 23 of the 24 perfect games for the Brown Stockings, had 16 shutouts (no hits allowed), and carried a 1.23 earned run average (ERA) for the remainder of the season.  In other words, Bradley was good, but he was only this good for one season.

I often think that this is the type of pressure we put on ourselves as lecturers.  We strive to have that perfect lecture, the perfect offering to our students, only to find that Bradley’s line is impossible to copy (his single season shutout record still stands).

Clayton Kershaw: The Consistent Performer

Six seasons in the league, and Kershaw is being compared to the greats in Dodger history: Drysdale, Koufax, Newcombe, Roe, and several others.  Kershaw alone has pitched the team to 18 victories so far this season, three shy of his 2011 win-count.  In this season, he holds five complete games and two shutouts.  While close to perfect, Kershaw shows his flaws, remains humble, and continues to go and give a great effort every five days.  Kershaw is near perfect and if you are a baseball fan, he is great to watch! 

Hearing Kershaw speak about his performances, one gets the impression that he is a realistic individual; I don’t think Kershaw goes to the mound every day confident that he’s going to meet or exceed Bradley’s outstanding 1876 season, a near impossibility.  What stands out and what we can learn from Kershaw is his consistent preparation, despite the positive and negative games he may have had before.

Jon Lester: The Every Day Balance

Admittedly, I am a die-hard Red Sox fan.  My New England roots gave me no other option; I certainly was not going to be a fan of the Evil Empire (the Yankees!).  That changed, of course, in 2004, 2007, and 2013, where suddenly being a Sox fan no longer elicited sympathy, especially from Pirates fans, but snide remarks eluding to the money spent, the question of steroids in some famous players, and the overall Sox pride we too often wear on our sleeves.

That said, one pitcher comes to mind as a phenom in his own right: Jon Lester.  But Lester is no Kershaw or Bradley (Lester: 114 wins, 66 losses, 3.60 ERA, 11 career complete games, and 4 shutouts over nine years).  What makes Lester a phenom is what has happened to him off the field.  Lester is a cancer survivor.  Between 2006 (his rookie season) and 2007, Lester underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, surrendering about one year of professional baseball for treatment and recovery.  Through the process, Lester believed he would come back stronger, and did he ever, helping the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series.

Lester reminds me of what we all contend with: off-the-field issues.  God-willing, the issue for you is not cancer, but the balancing act of children, family, research and publication, or exams and dissertations for graduate students.  So, when approaching your students, know that you are going to have those days where your teaching may be less than stellar.  Just like the ace pitchers of today’s game, know you’re going to have day to day struggles.  And that’s okay.

So, I conclude with four thoughts:

  1. Approach each day with the goal of showing your students ‘your best stuff,’ but acknowledge there will be those days when your fastball is operating at 70% efficiency.
  2. Be consistent with your day-to-day approach, your preparation, in your feedback to students, and most importantly, be honest when you have those difficult days.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Have a new curve-ball you want to try out?  Give it a go!  This is especially true when trying new active learning techniques, incorporating technology, etc.
  4. And lastly, during those days you struggle, note what was difficult and how you might change it the next time you teach the lecture and plan on how you can make the next class better.

Your objective, unlike these ace pitchers: get your students to take the pitch and run with it.  As much as we would hate to see the Pirates get overtaken by the mighty bat of Matt Holliday, our objective as teachers should be just that: let Matt go yard and take our knowledge for a run.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 672 other followers