Saturday, April 4, 2009

CRA-W Grad Cohort: PhD Academic Career Paths

The second talk I attended at the CRA-W Grad Cohort was technically intended for third year grad students closer to the end of their PhD, but I sat in anyway. I wanted to learn more about academic positions, both to see what was different between Canada and the US, and to confirm whether I really did want to be a teacher rather than a professor.

If I wanted to be a professor, I would have to engage in research, described by the presenters as taking part in some kind of scientific discovery. I would also have to supervise both graduate and undergraduate students, as well as continuously apply for various sources of funding. It's not that these things are particularly unappealing to me (after all, I am planning to do a PhD!). I just feel that I've really clicked with teaching, so I would like to concentrate on that, and stick to research related to education and curriculum issues.

As for the teaching part of any position (professor, instructor, whatever), one would be required to actively and effectively mentor and advise students. All positions also take part it some kind of service at the departmental, university, or even professional development level. Service might include sitting on various committees, taking part in recruitment, or helping organize conferences.

After learning about the different kinds of universities in the States, it turns out that the best possible place for me would probably be a small liberal arts college. These schools grant only Bachelor degrees, and have a strong emphasis on teaching, scholarship, and service. I'm not even sure if these exist in Canada, though, since most universities I've heard of do have graduate programs of some sort (if anyone knows otherwise, let me know!).

In such a teaching-oriented institution, some of the expectations would be to:
  • Research education methods
  • Develop teaching skills
  • Attend professional conferences and workshops
  • Publish papers in, for example, ACM's Special Interest Group for Computer Science Education (SIGCSE)
  • Work with professional organizations (such as CRA-W)
  • Collaborate!
See? Perfect! Since I don't want to move away from Ottawa any time soon, though, I will have to try for an instructor position in town instead. I imagine the expectations are probably similar for such a job.

The last bit of advice for those who want any type of academic position is to realize that you are in the wrong place if you don't want to teach at all (that is, you care only about the research). So try it out ahead of time to see if you can/want to do it! Teach during grad school, even if you don't have to. Volunteer for things like WISE, conferences, and committees. Maybe even look for programs like the Certificate in Teaching Skills that Carleton offers (I'm almost finished this one myself). But whatever you do, don't go into a professorial position thinking that the teaching isn't important. It's not fair to anyone.


Wussy Planet Inkscape Reader said...

I figure this comment WILL be treated as spam or some how offensive... but I truly must say that you are one of the sexiest women I've ever seen. Keep on blogging, I kind of love you :)

Gail Carmichael said...

Well wussy, I think I have to keep it up just because you said that ;) Sure, it's a little weird, but also flattering!

Christian Muise said...

Hehehe. Awesome.

BabyGirl said...

Hey- I just stumbled across your blog entry by accident. I am currently looking for a way to complete my PhD in order to teach at university (less research focused). I did my BSc in Computing Science and a Masters in Business, and now I am lost in which direction to turn.. maybe we could chat further? (steph_husby at

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