SWMS Career Explorations: Teaching intensive institutions

In this blog post, URI SWMS member Tejashree Modak shares her recent experience visiting Bridgewater State University and learning about teaching intensive institutions.

If teaching is your passion and especially if you are thinking of it as a career option, a question you should ask yourself is: What type of teaching am I passionate about? I realized it more than ever before when I visited Bridgewater State University this past March.

It all started when I got an email about the workshop ‘Teaching in Teaching Intensive Institutions’ organized at UMass Boston. I signed up since I was interested in teaching and wanted to make use of the resources it offered. At the workshop we met a variety of professionals from different institutions, in different phases of their career from new faculty to deans, the whole spread! At the workshop, I met a lot of people from Bridgewater State University (BSU).  Dr. Martina Arndt, Professor in the BSU Physics Department shared her story of how she got to her current position in one of the sessions. That got me thinking that I really don’t know what being a professor in a teaching intensive institution entails! Teaching intensive positions have a higher teaching load than research based universities but research is also a part of the expectations from tenure track positions. However, the important difference is that often student participation in research is undergraduate only. I have always been a student in a research university so I know very little about this part of the world.  I got in touch with BSU to see if I could visit to get a feel of their institution. The Dean of Bartlett College of Science and Mathematics, Dr. Kristen Porter-Utley, hosted URI students that shared my curiosity for a full day at BSU!

Rhody Rams Visit Bridgewater Bears

Six graduate students from different departments at URI spent morning to afternoon at BSU on March 31, 2017. BSU is located in Bridgewater, MA with a large beautiful campus. We checked in at the Dean’s office at 9:00am. We were given class schedules of courses taught in our field if we wanted to sit in a lecture.  I got a revision of meiosis taught by Dr. Jeff Bowen to a class of very well attentive students. I was blown away by how engaged the students were and asked such good questions! After the lecture we were led to a conference room and Dr. Porter-Utley along with Dr. Bowen and a new faculty in geology, Dr. Christine Brandon talked about BSU, their experiences and career at BSU. Dean Porter-Utley also gave us a gist about the hiring process, course load and overall responsibilities of a professor at BSU. She encouraged applicants to thoroughly research the institution before applying for open positions and to let that research show through the application. She pointed out that this tells the hiring committee you spent time and tailored your application for the position. She said, “The worst mistake you can make is to show up for an interview without knowing enough about the institution you are applying to.” She says it is very evident and reflects badly on your candidacy for the job. Make a note everyone! Dr. Brandon is a new faculty and Dr. Bowen has been at BSU for several years so we got to hear from two people at very different stages of their career, about their role and experiences at BSU.

Next we split up into our fields of interest and met with faculty that teach in our field. I was in the biology group and met with Dr. Merideth Krevosky, Dr. Kenneth Adams and Dr. Joseph Seggio. Apart from sharing their journey and experiences at BSU, they also gave us some very good advice and shared helpful resources for grants and career decisions. One important advice was that when you apply to undergraduate institutions it is very important to tailor your research questions such that the experiments can be conducted by undergraduate students, be done with smaller grants and shared resources.  This is quite a different thought process than what we are used to in graduate programs at URI. Start practicing your research statements if this is your career choice!

We got so wrapped up into the discussion we didn’t even realize it was time for lunch! We all walked to the fancy BSU dining hall and enjoyed a delicious buffet over more conversation with Dr. Arndt, Dr. Krevosky and Dr. Brandon.  We got many pointers and really good advice from all of them. Unanimously all of them pointed out that building and maintaining collaborations with other research institutions was critical for their research. Many of these collaborations started in graduate school. So as graduate students it is important for us to start building that network sooner than later!

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

The day was wrapped up by a tour of the Dana Mohler-Faria Science and Mathematics Center. Dr. Krevosky gave me a tour of the classrooms and research labs. The research space was immaculate and shared between faculty members where undergraduate students perform experiments. They also write research and travel grants with their professors. Early scientists in the making for sure! It was very cool to see entire research run by undergrads! I wrote my first publication as an undergrad so it felt even more heartwarming to see enthusiastic students finding time from courses to work in the lab!

Thank You, Bridgewater

Each person I met had a different story of how they reached their current position. Some landed there by chance, some had always planned to teach in teaching intensive institution and some tested out the research universities and then came to BSU. But one thing was very evident in all of them: they love what they are doing right now! They love being a part of BSU.  That sends a clear message: you are not limited to academic positions in research universities if you want to stay in academics after your PhD.

All in all it was a very resourceful and enlightening experience to visit BSU. It gave us all the tools to think about teaching as a career option and whether a career at a teaching intensive institution is a viable one for us. I along with everyone who attended the event would like to sincerely thank BSU for the gracious and warm invitation to URI graduate students and for such a thoughtfully organized event! Along with everything else, I found several women role models who are so good at their jobs and provide inspiration to other women who want to pursue a career in science!!

Tejashree Modak, URI PhD Candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology