Thanks for reading our inaugural post as we enter the blogosphere. If you haven’t done so already, check out our brief bio’s and faculty webpages, where you can find more information about our research.
A Chosen Career Path
When each of us started graduate school, there was a perception in the greater academic community that the productive PhD candidates in Biology would go on to land a tenure-track research position at a Research 1 (R1) institution where they would be expected to maintain their productive research programs; PhD candidates who struggled to get their research funded/published would take the dreaded liberal arts position and devote their lives to teaching 15 contact hours/semester and do “hobby science”. Although this perception was not always packaged as bluntly, it exists. However, this dichotomy between a “research” and “teaching” institution is changing. There are many productive junior and senior level researchers whom enjoy being at a small liberal arts college where they can pursue their interests in teaching and research. This apparent shift in academia appears to be triggered by a number of factors, including the realization that students learn science best by doing science. In fact, many liberal arts institutions promote a teacher-scholar model and offer competitive start-up packages to their faculty (which include their own research space), reduced teaching loads, and sometimes provide release time for research active faculty. This is not to say that some liberal arts colleges are trying to become mini R1 institutions; they are not. In fact, some may find teaching 2~3 courses per semester unattractive. Some may also think high quality research cannot be done at a teaching institution. However, liberal arts universities now offer more opportunities to conduct research by incorporating research into the classroom setting. This is where we fit in.
By the time we finished our PhDs, each of us had successful graduate careers in terms of publications (mean # publications among us was ~10) and funding (1 EPA STAR Fellowship and 1 NSF DDIG). We are among a growing list of biologists whose preference is to be in a liberal arts setting. We are fully aware that we may not be as productive as we could have been were we to go the R1 route; however, we are not abandoning our research programs. In fact, we have hopes of conducting high-impact research at our respective universities. We truly understand the value of undergraduate research as an educational tool and know first-hand that students learn so much more by participating in meaningful scientific inquiry and research rather than simply working through a laboratory manual. This intersection of teaching and research is where we feel we can be effective teacher-scholars.
Entering the Blogosphere
The purpose of our blog is to share our experiences with the greater scientific academic community. Each of us will blog on a regular basis about the unique ways in which we maintain our research programs. Naturally, this will involve a blend of research and teaching. We anticipate challenges and we are excited to share these, and our successes, with you all. In addition to blogging about our own research, we will feature guest bloggers from departmental colleagues and faculty at other liberal arts universities. Most importantly, we will also feature our student’s as guest bloggers on a semi-regular basis as they develop their independent research projects so you can get snapshots of their progress (and hopefully recruit some of them into your graduate programs in Biology!). We welcome input, critiques, accolades, and respectful dissents.
Thank you again for your interest.
Venesky, Wilcoxen, and Takahashi