The Year of the Assistant Professor

The Year of the Assistant Professor

June 12, 2014 Diary 0

2012 was the year I started teaching a PE class on belly dance. 2013 was the year I started teaching as an assistant professor. I first taught as an instructor in November 2000, in molecular biology and biotechnology. I stopped in 2003 to finish up my master’s degree. In those ten years in between, I was a public speaker and an occasional lecturer. In those ten years in between, I thought I lost all my energy to writing novels, dancing, doing research, writing for the academe, and getting old, in general. I was afraid that my PhD had wiped all my energy away.

I was afraid that Inez Ponce de Leon, PhD, was going to be boring.

I’ve always been a hyperactive teacher. I love the energy of the classroom. I love interacting with students. And I hate straight lectures: I love bouncing ideas across the classroom and decorating the board with notes, tables, and flowcharts. I thought I had lost my teaching style – and I was prepared to be Dr. Meh by the time the academic year opened.

I’m glad I was wrong. Half a year later, I still love the energy of the classroom and encourage recitation – and a decade from my last lecture, I still love having the large conversational space for students to share their ideas. Today, however, I teach in the social sciences, so the classroom isn’t just a place to talk about which gene does what; it’s a place for debate, for questioning what is often wrongly dubbed “conventional knowledge”, for asking questions and coming up with tentative answers. The classroom isn’t a one-way learning environment; every day, I learn new things from my students as well.

I am by no means a perfect professor. I sometimes take forever to check papers. I make mistakes. I sometimes have to carry out boring lectures only because the topic itself needs some lecture time before it gets dissected to pieces. But I love what I do. And I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else. Well, I can imagine myself still performing onstage, teaching belly dance, lecturing, writing novels, doing research… but I truly love teaching and mentoring. There’s nothing more fulfilling than helping the next generation of scholars find its foothold in the world of research. There’s nothing more exciting than listening to students’ views, than exchanging opinions, than editing students’ work and seeing them improve as they learn to do things better. My students’ improvement is my greatest reward.

Of course, a good salary always helps. I’d be a hypocrite if I make the claim that money doesn’t matter. Money DOES matter, but money without fulfilment, without passion for the job, will simply be paper with pretty colors.

And of course, my classes are not perfect. There are still students who don’t pass their work on time (or forget to pass their work at all). There are still students who refuse to recite, students who don’t like working in groups but can’t work well on their own either, and students who want to work in groups and resent being made to do individual work. There are students who blame me for their failures, students who can’t take criticism, students who think that I am playing games because I edit their work.

But overall, this year of the assistant professor has been good. Sleepless nights spent checking 60+ research proposals, whole afternoons devoted to checking on students’ understanding of research, and a whole lot of mornings opened with long commutes to school – they’re worth it when you see your students progress and do better. They’re worth it when you get emails from students thanking you for a wonderful semester.

Guys, thank YOU – for your dedication, and for all the lessons that I learned, too. 2014 is another year of teaching and learning in this great classroom of life, so let’s get the fun started!