Considerations when focusing your career on teaching over research

Brooke Wilson provides tips for those attempting to enter higher education with, or pivot an existing academic career towards, a focus on teaching

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Colorado State University Global

Colorado State University Global
12 Jan 2023
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As the dynamics of colleges and universities have changed, so has the description of what is expected from educators. When you think of a higher education professor, or a person working “in academia”, what comes to mind?

If your first thought is a tenured professor who teaches a few classes but spends most of their time conducting research and applying for grants, you’ve come up with what is probably the most general depiction and assumption. However, it’s no longer the norm in HE. With the shift to more online and accessible courses and degrees, colleges and universities are hiring more adjunct professors, or those with teaching experience, to focus solely on teaching than in years past.

If you were considering how you might enter the world of HE with, or shift your emphasis to, a focus on teaching, here are a few best practice tips on how to get started, as well as some thoughts to consider as you embark on the journey.

Consider an online (or hybrid) degree

If you do not have a master’s or doctorate (or are considering another degree/certificate) it’s worth thinking about learning online or hybrid. The reason I make this suggestion is because a majority of adjunct teaching positions are now online. There are still opportunities to teach in person, but having online experience is increasingly key.

Professors, whether adjunct or associate/assistant, are now expected to be able to work in both environments. Having online experience as a student allows you to learn the systems many universities use, such as Blackboard or Canvas. In addition, it affords you the opportunity to see how it would work from your students’ perspectives. Some may not be as comfortable working fully online, and that is OK – hybrid allows exposure without full immersion. This is something to consider for anyone who wishes to enter academia.

Take opportunities to teach or train

There is no rule stating you must teach at a college or university to gain experience. Whether you’re an instructor for your organisation or have created/conducted training sessions, there are various ways to gain experience. Often when applying for a job, you see that the employer wants teaching experience, but how are you to gain experience without getting the job? So, be creative with alternatives. Taking small initial steps into teaching will also allow you the opportunity to see if this is, in fact, a route you wish to pursue.

Network and hone your craft

Networking is crucial in any industry, so why would academia be any different? Make connections, ask questions and take opportunities that present themselves. If you’re not already within the academic community, you’re most likely in a different industry community. And that makes you more suitable for a specific topic area than you may think. When academics research a topic, they are often theorising, trying to quantify or qualify results. However, when you work or have worked in that field, you often know the answers; you know what it takes to get the job done, land the account or build the bridge.

Make sure you refine your skill set and always keep advancing in your field. If and when you choose to move into teaching, you will most likely be an adjunct professor. This allows you to continue in your current profession, keeping up with the field, while also enriching minds as the world evolves.

Decide if you truly want to focus on teaching

If you are already in academia and your work has been fairly research-heavy until this point, you must ask yourself three questions: is this something I really want to do? Can I picture my life without a focus on research? Will this fulfil me? While these questions may seem simple to answer, when you sit down to really think them over, they may be more difficult than they appear. You will need to reflect and consider your answers throughout your career – they may change over time. Or they may remain the same. Just make sure you’re comfortable with teaching and placing less of a focus on research, because there is a big difference. Consider all aspects before making a decision.

It is important to make sure this is the path you wish to pursue in academia. Consider what it means to focus on teaching only. All of this is not to say you cannot do research at all, merely this is how you obtain and develop a higher education career predominantly focused on teaching.

Brooke Wilson is a credit and risk management professional alongside her work in academia as an adjunct professor. She serves as a faculty member for CSU Global’s MBA programme.

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