After a discussion on Sunday afternoon with my postdoc advisor about an upcoming job interview, and after responding to this article, Good for Doug Bjerregaard!, written by another blog pal, PZ Myers, it is safe to say that my rant-producing neurons are fully engaged and firing at maximal efficiency, despite the fact that I am still sick. But my rant will have to wait for a day because I promised to tell you about my interview this weekend.
As some of you recall, I had a job interview for a summer Adjunct position this past Friday afternoon. When I mentioned this upcoming interview to my fellow Adjuncts the evening before, they promptly informed me that the college I would be interviewing with is one of the best in its level in the region. I later gained a more precise appreciation for how much better it truly is -- particularly the school’s Anatomy and Physiology (A&P) courses, which are in stark contrast to the college where I currently teach A&P.
But before I continue with my tale, I want to say that after thinking about it during the past day and a half, I realize that my interview went terribly. I didn’t deserve to be treated as a serious candidate for that position, even though it is only an Adjunct position for autumn semester (instead of summer term, as I was certain they had told me earlier over the phone).
It turns out that the person (and her assistant) who was interviewing me designed and administers the curricula for this school’s A&P courses. Of course, my interviewer wanted to know the details about how I am currently teaching my A&P course, so I told her. She was clearly appalled by what I was doing. Although I appeared to be calm, I immediately became flustered and upset because, according to this potential future employer, I was doing everything wrong (but I already knew this and have agonized privately over this very thing every single day for the past four months), and worse, I felt I was being forced into the untenable position of having to defend something that I have been repeatedly frustrated by, and certainly have no control over.
In a panic, I worried that these people will tell my current employer (who they know personally) that I am a crappy teacher and then I will be fired and will never find another job of any sort again as long as I live!
I tried to remind myself that I am doing my best under the circumstances (but it was to no avail), that I, as an invisible part-time temp, cannot possibly change my current employer’s way of doing things, that their inadequacies are not my fault and I have nothing to feel guilty or defensive about. Then I realized with a sinking feeling that my inability and unwillingness to defend my current employer’s system for doing things indicates that I am a professional liability, that I am not a team player, which make me an unattractive prospective employee.
Then, to make matters worse, I stupidly misnamed a muscle during the interview. I corrected myself. Too late.
In the meantime, the person I was interviewing with handed me the syllabi for both semesters of the course and wanted to know what I thought about them and how they compared to my current syllabus. I nervously responded by asking lots of questions, grateful to have something written to distract me from my worries.
I managed to calm my shaking hands by the time my interviewer showed me the A&P labs while a class was in session. In short, these labs are everything my students should have and nothing like what they currently do have. I was astonished. As I looked around the lab, I initially felt a thrill of terror: I can’t teach this! I’m a molecular evolutionary biologist, not a surgeon! I thought, even though I am teaching this very subject, albeit poorly, to my own students right now.
Months of intense disillusionment with higher education melted away as I admired the skeletons (both real and plastic, articulated and disarticulated), as I brushed my fingertips over the wonderfully realistic plastic human muscle and organ systems models, gazed upon the students’ cat dissections that showed obvious care and surgical precision and peered at the trays full of pre-prepared microscope slides of tissues and organs. The labs also had a collection of the newest computer and electronic equipment and beautiful, new microscopes that are nearly as good as those at my alma mater -- all present in each and every lab!
Just looking at these labs, at the wealth of resources and equipment, made me desire this position with an absolute certainty that I had not felt about anything since I was awarded my postdoctoral fellowship nearly three years ago.
This school is a big contrast to my current situation: on my first day at my current job, I had to beg for a piece of chalk so I could write on the chalkboard. My department has only one (aging) PowerPoint setup shared between a dozen tenured faculty members and 80 Adjuncts. Six (or so) weeks ago, I gave up fighting the faculty for transparencies of anatomic diagrams and pictures and instead settled on providing my students with photocopied pictures as “handouts” or drawing quick diagrams and pictures on the chalkboard during lecture.
Then I met and spoke with some of the students. These students were so different from mine; they were eagerly learning the material and actively engaged in helping each other review the information, so unlike my own students. None of these students were whining about the difficulty of the material -- material that was advanced far beyond what I expect from my own students. I immediately felt guilty for being an integral part of delivering a substandard education to my own students.
I am part of the problem, I told myself.
I also wondered why my own students are so unmotivated to do anything at all. In fact, nearly all of them refused the only dissection they were offered all semester; the sheep eye that I had excitedly talked about since the first day of class. Shouldn’t all nursing students be excited to dissect tissues, organs and dead bodies? Shouldn't they want to investigate for themselves the structure and function of these things? What had I done to destroy their desire to learn? A wave of despair washed over me.
I am in the wrong profession, I thought wearily.
The students were genuinely friendly with my interviewer and engaged her in brief, personal conversations. She was obviously very involved in the curricula, with her teachers and with her students. This made me feel confident that I would be able to learn a lot from her about important things such as curricula design, teaching, and especially about anatomy and physiology, if only I could somehow earn that opportunity.
We watched the lab technicians set up the final lab exam next door for a few minutes. My interviewer said that their students are expected to know every muscle and bone in the body -- unlike my students! The lab technicians briefly explained the examination routine to me; 50 questions from “wet” lab specimens with one minute at each station to answer each question. They asked me to explain my lab exam protocol and I was ashamed to admit that I was only allowed into my own lab ten minutes before class started, that the lab technicians do not set up lab exams, and so I was completely unable to set up or administer a proper lab exam for my students. I instead spend countless tedious hours grading mountains of barely legible home works and lab papers to assign my students the lab portion of their scores.
After viewing the labs, we toured the dedicated A&P study lab, which was similarly equipped as the wet labs, before returning to my interviewer’s office. She introduced me as ‘a potential autumn A&P instructor’ to her colleague across the hall who administers the microbiology and general biology courses. Her colleague was immediately was interested to know if I could teach microbiology. I told her truthfully that even though I do have my microbiology degree and I worked in a hospital microbiology lab as a technician, I had never taught a micro course (but was interested to do so).
Before I left, my original interviewer and I chatted excitedly about birds and about designing an urban wildlife course. Then she reminded me about an as-yet unadvertized tenure-track position that will open up in a few months, and said she wanted me to apply for it. Needless to say, this was the most positive news I’ve heard in months.
But throughout the interview, I was, and still am, confused by the mixed signals I received. On one hand, I feel I am unworthy to teach there, but on the other hand, I could learn a tremendous amount about quality teaching from them before I am ruined for life by teaching at a subpar and unsupportive institution. Further, they clearly want me to apply for an upcoming tenure-track position that is not yet advertised, so I guess I impressed them at some level, despite misnaming a muscle (argh!).
© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist