Educators are People, Too: Reflecting on Social Location in the Classroom

How many of us think of our courses as intersectional? Yet, are we truly living up to the theory of intersectionality when it comes to pedagogical structure, design, implementation, and assessment? Are we honestly taking the time to consider how our very presence in the room might alter the environment?
Of course, making all of this a reality is not easy. Intersectional pedagogy requires continuous examination of instructor social location in terms of impact on learning, privilege, invisibility, bias, & assumptions. We must repeatedly ask:

  • What is invisible to me due to my privilege?
  • Who is missing?
  • How might I be performing my privilege in the classroom?
  • How might students respond to me based on me social identities and the interactions among those identities and power structures?
  • How is communication altered by my social location?
  • What needs to occur in the curriculum and in the classroom to account for my social location (if possible)?

circle privilegeI doubt anyone reading this wants to be Circle Teacher unaware of privilege, marginalizing students, maintaining invisibility of structures (literally a wall in this case) that result in disparities. We have to work at becoming aware of when the wall is cut to our form while others are scrambling to climb over or painfully squeeze through.

As an academic from a working-class background, I often struggle with the wall which is cut to the form of middle-class norms of communication, language, dress-code, and individualism. With a large percentage of my students being first-generation and/or working-class, this helps me understand many of their obstacles entering the academy and figuring out the landscape and where the landmines are located. Of course, being a woman at the front of the classroom also affects not only my approach, but how students view me and frame my presence.

At the same time, my whiteness, able-bodied status, and U.S. citizenship can often prevent me from recognizing the daily microaggressions that students of color, students with disabilities, or immigrant students face. My full mix of privileges and marginalized identities undoubtedly impact not only my pedagogical choices, but also how students experience me.

So what can educators do to at least attempt to correct for social location influence on teaching and learning? Some ideas:

  • Take the time to think about your own social location and intersections of identity;
  • Consider how your social location might affect your views of students and especially the areas where you might be less aware of their experiences;
  • Seek out and apply pedagogical resources that promote educator reflective practices;
  • For each course each semester, ask yourself how the assigned readings might represent your social location more than others. Adjust accordingly to bring in perspectives outside your own location;
  • Reflect on examples, videos, activities, assignments, etc. and what ways they can be adjusted to incorporate social locations beyond your own;
  • Speak openly with students directly about how instructor social location could impact how they interact with you, how you communicate with each other, and how awareness of these influences can help us overcome preconceived notions (in both directions); and
  • Expect to learn something new from students based on the rich knowledge they bring to class from their own social locations that can inform the community of learners more broadly.

And if that feels too overwhelming, as Doctor Who always advises, “hold on tight and pretend it’s a plan.”

Feminist Pedagogy is Bigger on the Inside: Intersectionality and Social Justice as Foundational

tardis-Portions of this blog borrowed from “Intersectional Pedagogy: Complicating Identity and Social Justice” (in print August 2016)

As a Doctor Who fan, I frequently integrate my academic thinking with Time Lord philosophy. One of the most famous lines from the show consistently follows when any new traveler enters the TARDIS, which is the doctor’s time and space travel machine disguised as a United Kingdom blue phone booth. Although the typical size of a phone booth on the outside, the TARDIS is “bigger on the inside” with a massive control room, expansive sections, a swimming pool, and much to explore.

When I think about feminist pedagogy, and many other forms of critical pedagogy (e.g., critical race, queer, liberatory), I view them much like Doctor Who’s TARDIS. Feminist pedagogy is simply bigger on the inside, with intersectionality and social justice as co-conspirators that we easily forget and neglect if we are not vigilant. As feminist scholars, we must challenge ourselves to theorize and practice intersectionality to achieve feminist pedagogy.

Perhaps we typically think about these three pedagogical philosophies of (feminist, intersectionality, social justice) as overlapping like a Venn diagram. However, perhaps the overlap is stronger than we imagine. Even more controversial, what if these three frameworks are all part of the same circle?

Without intersectional theory, which also includes a social justice focus, we simply are not fulfilling the promise of feminist pedagogy. In other words, intersectionality and social justice are basic requirements of feminist pedagogy. Therefore, it is time to put our energy into transforming feminist pedagogy with intersectional theory as foundationally present at all points and turns, rather than as an optional “add-on” package. Claiming feminist pedagogy without intersectionality and social justice also sends a clear values message to those at the margins.

Rather than trying to create a course from a feminist pedagogical standpoint and then fix the gaps with patches of “others” (which is an act of being “othered” for people with those add-on identities), now is the time to completely reframe what it means to claim feminist pedagogy. I realize some feminist teachers already do this, but psychology has a long way to go before we meet this goal. Our collective curriculum requires intersectionality from the ground up rather than trying to force it in after the fact. Make no mistake that I am advocating for a values shift… or at least a behavioral shift to reflect our stated values.

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about a student who raised an objection to the whiteness of the textbook. When she spoke up, she made salient the values statement we sent by choosing that text. By expressing her own marginalization due to the course readings, she made a distinct impression on me as an educator who feels professionally and ethically responsible for making sure students from a broad range of backgrounds feel represented in the course materials and get the message that their identities are worthy of academic study.

In other words, intersectional theory translated into pedagogical practice is my professional and ethical responsibility. If we deny intersectionality and social justice as part of our teaching, then we risk making a values statement that gender analysis is of value, but other types of analyses do not deserve our time. We must make the time or else cease claiming that intersectionality is valued and central to our work. What will you do in your next course to infuse intersectionality?
In my next post, I will explore instructor social identity and its impact on application of intersectional pedagogy in the classroom.

Trying is Not Enough: Toward Intersectional Feminist Pedagogy

-This blog is a portion of my talk at the 2016 Institute for Academic Feminist Psychologists in Pittsburgh, PA.
Reading through your Institute participant survey responses, I was inspired by your pedagogical values, learning goals, and visions for intersectionality and social justice.

  • “…awakening students’ feminist identities and activism”
  • “…techniques for integrating feminist activism”
  • “…how to weave a feminist lens and perspective more wholly into teaching practices”
  • “…discuss issues of sexual orientation or gender identity in breadth classes”
  • “…teaching psych of human sexuality from intersectional perspective”
  • “…effective ways to use privilege as academics to live out social justice values”
  • “…incorporating community into research through a feminist, social justice lens”
  • “…integrating feminist theory, critical race theory, and queer theory into psychology”
  • “…applying intersectional theory”

Of course, we are quite often trying our best to accomplish these goals in hostile climates on campus and beyond. Just to name a few:

  • lower student evaluations,
  • alum threats to pull funding,
  • colleagues and admin tell us to be quiet,
  • stud disrespect such as being called Miss/Mrs.,
  • challenge you as authority figure and qualified professional in class,
  • microaggressions from all sides,
  • backlash against higher education, anti-intellectualism, rage against critical thinking,
  • being labeled as radical, bitchy, having an agenda, rude, unfair, and difficult by students ( and women of color get this at higher rates)
  • guns in our classrooms and in our offices
  • two-worlds dilemma: often feeling we don’t fit in Psychology or Women’s Studies

With all of these negative climate issues presenting serious obstacles to our learning goals for students, how do we let our feminist flags fly?
In constructing this talk, I looked back at some older talks and previous writing. What I discovered is that I typically open with some pedagogical failure of my own. And if the use of the word “failure” seems too judgmental, feel free to think about this moment in my life as a pedagogical mishap, letdown, or disappointment (though I don’t believe those words as strong enough).
So why do I tend to repeat this pattern of putting my failures out there for public consumption? That seems like a fair question to ask. Perhaps I’m subconsciously issuing a warning that you should not listen to anything I have to say. And if you do, this approach allows me to relinquish all responsibility because you were thoroughly warned. On the other hand, my hope is that I tend to do this as an act that counters the overwhelming pressure in the academy to pretend we have it all figured out, were teaching experts from birth, and have nothing new to learn. I share these pedagogical displays of privilege because we must out ourselves as lifelong learners of the profession of teaching, which is unsuccessful at times, freely admit we do not have all the answers, & normalize that process of striving for better. So here goes for today:

Excerpt from my book Intersectional Pedagogy (2016):

“The first time I taught Psychology of Women as a graduate student, the textbook was extremely narrow in focus, lacking any hint of inclusion outside normative and privileged identities within the vastly diverse group called women. Due to this shortcoming, I created a supplemental packet with readings to address race, sexual diversity, poverty, and non-western women’s experiences. This “solution” felt like a legitimate approach at the time to correct for the main book’s reinforcement of defining women via only white, heterosexual middle-class perspectives. On the first day of class, a brave student raised her hand to point out that the textbook did not represent her as an African-American woman and seemed focused exclusively on White women. She was right. My co-instructor immediately defended the text saying “no one book can cover everything.” I then agreed with the student and pointed to the packet as one way to include diverse viewpoints and avoid the idea that all women are White, middle-class, heterosexual, U.S. citizens.

Almost 15 years later, I view our supplemental packet and our response to the student as an insufficient, dismissive, and insulting Band-Aid that essentially perpetuated the marginalization of women outside the mythical norm, as described by Audre Lorde (1984). Just as Lisa Bowleg (2008) critiqued her previous research as additive in nature and lacking intersectionality, my original approach to teaching gender from a multicultural perspective served as a lesson in what not to do. At the same time, adding the packet allowed us to pat ourselves on the back as two White women instructors who believed we were acting as exceptional anti-racist allies. Not only was the packet an add-on afterthought residing outside the centralized text (in other words: important and legitimate textbook), but it also treated various social identity categories and their associated structural oppressions as separate considerations.”

So why do I label this a pedagogical failure? First, it wasn’t enough. Despite my good feminist intentions, despite my attempt to diversify the readings; despite my anti-racist and anti-heterosexist efforts, it just was not enough to prevent marginalizing students of color, poor and working class students, students with disabilities, and I could go on and on.
Excerpt from Intersectional Pedagogies (2016):

“Jones and Wijeyesinghe (2011) encouraged consideration of how teaching might be altered when instructors infuse intersectional theory. Without intersectional theory applied in the feminist classroom, educational spaces serve to both perpetuate invisible privilege by focusing on personal oppression and construct only mythical norms as worthy of earning valuable real estate within course materials and broader curricular designs. Valid pedagogies must stop pretending, for example, that White women possess no race, Latino men are genderless, or Black and Asian women embody mutually exclusive gendered and racial social locations. Even though some privileged women in my gender courses insist race and sexuality are irrelevant to the study of women while men of color often resist the deconstruction of gender and gender identity in courses addressing race and racism, intersectional theory demands attention to the mutually constitutive nature of these interacting and intra-connected systems.”

Therefore, I argue that feminist pedagogy deserves a more complicated and challenging application than we tend to enact in psychology. My next blog will address how we can go about moving toward intersectional feminist psychology pedagogy.

Teaching Social Issues: Pedagogical Challenges and Opportunities

“Why are you complaining about slavery? If it was so bad, then why did Africans kidnap and sell their own people into slavery?” As an undergraduate taking social psychology, I was shocked to hear this quote from one of my white classmates. His comments were a hostile response to an African American speaker who shared personal stories of racial segregation and growing up poor in East Tennessee in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I often reflect on this classroom experience now that I teach courses focusing on prejudice, discrimination, and group inequalities. Although I wish things were different some 15 years later, teaching about social issues inevitably leads to an array of student reactions that present pedagogical challenges while simultaneously presenting collective learning opportunities.

Anyone who has ever included sensitive topics as part of a course’s curriculum has faced some of the unique challenges associated with teaching and learning about social issues. The first time I included readings addressing white privilege on my syllabus, a student accused me of being “racist against white people” on my course evaluation sheet. Teaching my first class as the instructor of record in Cincinnati became complicated by the police shooting of yet another unarmed black youth. That quarter, Cincinnati faced racial unrest, also called “riots” by some, that yielded classroom comments such as “Black people are violent savages.” As inexperienced as I was, I attempted to move the class toward discussion of what institutional and social factors might lead to the looting and violence we were experiencing in the city. Although some of the students of color and white students in the classroom offered explanations of intergroup relations and oppression, I consider my facilitation of that emotionally charged discussion a complete failure.

Last year, my Psychology of Women class viewed a film called “The Way Home,” in which women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds discuss the impact of race and racism in their lives. During our discussion of the film, a student declared that “ninety percent of Iraqis are terrorists anyway.” Much to my delight, four hands immediately shot up around the room. As I called on each student to contribute their comments, I became more and more dismayed that not one of them addressed the terrorist comment. This experience taught me that my perceptions of what should happen colored my assumptions about student responses when I saw eager faces raise their hands. After taking time to reflect on this classroom event, I used the online course space to craft several questions for discussion that brought the Middle Eastern women’s voices from the film back to the center of our discussion. Moments like these remind us that we must find effective ways to balance the need to meet our students where they are and the task of deconstructing such stereotypical beliefs. How do we avoid shutting down the conversation while maintaining a safe environment for all in the classroom?
As social issues teachers, we face what I like to call “teaching-social-issues issues.” That is, there are distinct pedagogical “issues” that come along with teaching and learning about social issues. Whether facing student resistance to reading works by lesbian authors or the broader challenge of designing a course on social policy analysis, faculty may feel isolated if colleagues in their departments do not include these topics in their courses. They may feel further marginalized if their colleagues question the legitimacy of infusing social issues into the curriculum. In addition, concerns about administrative views of such teaching practices may present unique performance review obstacles for social justice teachers. Given the lengthy list of challenges, why do we choose to teach about social issues?

Benefits and Opportunities
For nearly 75 years, SPSSI (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues) members, passionate about social issues research, have introduced this passion to students through their teaching and mentoring efforts. We teach courses focused solely on social issues and incorporate social issues into traditional courses as a reflection of our values. Introducing students to new theories about intergroup relations and social systems, for example, facilitates student consumption of and thirst for multiple perspectives. Nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than when a student expresses a newly formed perspective on the world as a result of our time learning together. As SPSSI teachers, we are privileged to witness amazing growth among our students (e. g., a student begins questioning her hometown’s support of the KKK) while recruiting new social issues researchers. Although arguably the greatest teaching challenge, teaching social issues produces unimaginable teaching rewards.
[Note: This post was originally contributed as part of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Early Career Committee 2009 blog.]

Learning about Privilege: Shattering Myths of Education and Embracing Growth

On December 3, 2014, Channel 2 News in Houston ran a story about a white male student who was “uncomfortable” with an ungraded assignment about white privilege. A professor teaching the first-year students’ course, Learning Frameworks, at Lone Star College-Tomball asked students to reflect on the white privilege checklist, marking which items related to them. Sadly, the news report labeled the assignment as “controversial,” yet included no historical context, educational experts, or critical analysis of student expectations and myths related to learning. Although I reached out to the reporter covering the story, she declined my offer to shed some “privilege” expertise that could educate the public. Let’s shatter a few myths on our own then:

Myth 1: White Privilege Checklist = Controversial
Not really- this checklist has been around since Peggy McIntosh published it in 1988. Since then, it has exploded as a teaching tool in high schools, college classrooms, graduate-level courses, conference workshops, and community groups across the country and beyond. We are now decades into teaching and learning what is often called “privilege studies.” Many students perceive privilege content within a course as an attack on the students with the privilege. For example, studying white privilege is viewed as an attack on white students. However, rather than blame individuals, privilege studies critically analyzes the full system of oppression with many interlocking parts that include discrimination and privilege. Lucky for the student in the story, he took a course from an educated professor aware enough to include this checklist and offer him and his classmates the opportunity to think, learn, grow, and develop as individuals. This assignment is only viewed as “controversial” because most of the general population and students have not yet encountered the concept. Privilege is usually completely invisible to those that benefit from it. That’s all the more reason to applaud the professor for providing a safe space for students to grow.

Myth 2: Uncomfortable = Bad
Math makes many students uncomfortable, but no one is letting them out of math and statistics required courses to avoid discomfort. The white student in the story implies that course content should never make a student feel uncomfortable. In fact, being uncomfortable is a good sign that some serious advancements in personal growth and learning are about to take place. The key is to stay with the discomfort, explore it, and reflect on what the discomfort can teach you/us. Many teaching scholars have written about the importance of embracing these uncomfortable moments whether you are alone completing the white privilege checklist or in a room full of classmates discussing racism and privilege. This myth implies that learning should be easy and avoid the difficult task of critical thinking. Professors owe students more than easy courses and degrees that never challenged them to think critically about the world and the systems that maintain unfair group disparities.

Myth 3: Teaching about Privilege = Getting Fired
Sadly, many of the public comments posted in response to this story online called for the professor teaching about white privilege to be fired. This type of backlash is quite common when teachers attempt to raise awareness about oppression, discrimination, disparities, and especially privilege. These calls for firing the professor amount to an uninformed witch hunt designed to maintain the status quo and squash attempts to develop critical thinking around the structure of racism at the societal and institutional level in the U.S. Medical doctors regularly ask us to do things that make us uncomfortable such as get blood drawn or endure a colonoscopy, but we understand that this is for our own physical health and do not call for them to be fired. In much the same vein, learning about privilege and reflecting on one’s own biases is for the greater health of the min. Avoiding the facts or firing someone that illuminates those facts only keeps us ignorant and uninformed. Instead, we should express our gratitude to this professor for being willing to bring very difficult discussions to students and offer them the chance to learn about themselves and hopefully better understand others in the safest place for doing so – the college classroom.

Supporting Privilege Studies:
I will close with a call to action. Educate yourself. Be open and willing to discover your own biases and invisible privileges. In the matrix of privilege and oppression, most of us experience a mix of privileged and marginalized identities, but we all hold ultimate responsibility for making our own privilege visible. Take courses that challenge you. In fact, demand that your coursework requires you to truly think, reflect, and grow. Be brave and allow learning to take you to uncomfortable places that just might lead you to an entirely different world that you never knew existed.
For more on privilege studies, Dr. Case’s website includes publications and information about her book, Deconstructing Privilege; Teaching and Learning as Allies in the Classroom.

How I Teach

I was honored to be invited by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP; APA Division 2) to be featured on their “This is How I Teach” blog. Below are the answers I provided to their questions. Visit the STP post at

What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?
Give up control. My friend and colleague Dr. Lillian McEnery told me to try new things in the classroom, even if it scares me. One thing I have come to accept is that there is no perfect course or assignment or activity. You just have to trust yourself and your students that if you try something and it flops, you have the skills and community spirit to pick back up and try something else. This freed me to do much more in the classroom to increase student engagement, get me away from the “sage on the stage” model, and create a brave space for learning.

What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?
Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (Adams, Bell, Griffin, 1997), Teaching to Transgress (hooks, 1994); Teaching Critical Thinking (bell hooks, 2010); Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (Tatum, 1997); Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Friere, 1970)

Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
In my courses, students learning about group privilege and intersections of identity for the first time is both a pedagogical challenge and huge reward for me as a facilitator of growth. These topics are most commonly 100% new to my students. Therefore, there is an extremely high payoff when they begin to understand these new concepts and apply them to their lives. At this point in my career, I am turning my efforts to creating resources for other faculty that need support in their teaching about privilege and intersectional theory.

Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.
My very favorite assignment is my Intersections of Identity Education Project. Students choose an aspect of intersectional theory such as the intersections of race, gender, and social class to examine women of color in poverty versus middle class. They research the chosen intersection and create a product to be used for public education about intersectional theory. For example, one male student created and provided workshops on masculinity, homophobia, and human trafficking to juvenile detention officers. Another contacted a non-profit immigrant advocacy group in New York City and developed brochures for distribution to migrant domestic workers to inform them of their legal rights. His resulting brochures had already reached over 1,000 workers by the end of the semester. Projects also included a documentary emphasizing how Asian women and men are portrayed in popular films, a board game designed to teach players about oppression, privilege, and intersectionality, and videos on ways forms of privilege intersect.

What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?
For assessment, I lean most heavily on reflective papers that incorporate critical thinking while making connections across course materials. I also tend to use reading quizzes to keep students on track so they do not fall behind on reading. My exams are usually a mix of multiple choice, short answer and essay. For graduate classes, all exams are take home and might require 20 hours to complete.

What’s your workspace like?
Two widescreen monitors, Doctor Who and Wonder Woman action figures, mini-fridge close by for Snapple, clean and uncluttered, candy jar for visitors, wide array of colorful pens and markers within reach, 4 X 6 foot wipe off board for planning, listing, and imagining.

Three words that best describe your teaching style.
interactive, inclusive, reflective

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?
Toward engagement, critical analysis, and social justice action.

Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.
Teaching my first course in as a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, the city was struggling after a White police officer shot and killed another unarmed Black man, Timothy Thomas (2001). Still under city-wide curfew and civil unrest all around, our next syllabus topic was white privilege. During that class, a white woman passionately yelled out “they’re all animals” in reference to Black Cincinnatians expressing their outrage about police violence and racism. I was more than completely unprepared for how to handle such a volatile statement in a racially diverse class of 70 students. My memory is hazy, but I think I tried to say something about seeking to understand the perspective of others even when it is difficult and uncomfortable. In my mind, this has always been my biggest pedagogical fail.

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a member of an exhibition dance team, Collective Sound Cloggers. We clog at festivals, events, Disney World, schools, etc. Our dances are set to a mix of rock, country, pop, folk, and traditional clogging music. For more see our website:

What are you currently reading for pleasure?
The Crow Road by Iain Banks- great mystery novel about a Scottish family and coming of age

What tech tool could you not live without?
My android phone. Perhaps sadly, I allow work email to spill over into time when I should be away from work. Also, I use my phone a lot to post teaching items (e.g., videos, articles, blogs) on the Facebook page I created about teaching privilege studies and intersectional theory.

What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?
In our break room, we have a large table we jokingly refer to as the “Table of Knowledge.” During lunch, faculty gather and discuss a wide range of issues such as the latest political candidate’s anti-immigrant comments, student plagiarism, deconstruct media messages about the Houston anti-discrimination law, ideas for supporting students with disabilities, or university policy changes and the potential impact on student learning. Some days, we just talk about what happened on The Walking Dead or other favorite shows.

Controlled Chaos: Collecting Materials for Administrative Reviews

So you landed the coveted tenure-track position. Although your application was originally one among 200 or more, you rose to the challenge and are on your way. Of course congratulations are in order!!
Imagine the thrill. Coming home after a long day of lecturing to find a letter stating that yet another on-site interview resulted in the job being filled by some other phantom (and apparently superior) candidate. My luck would change in less than an hour at 5pm when I received the Dean’s call offering me my first choice position. To describe my reaction using some extreme understatements, I was elated, overjoyed, excited, and of course relieved. To be sure, I was not, at the moment, overwhelmed. I mean really, this was the moment I had been waiting for throughout the drudgery of job searching. All of the position announcements, carefully crafted cover letters, phone interviews, uncertainty, and anxiety-provoking campus visits had led up to this miraculous news. All of this pure joy lasted approximately 1 hour. Upon hearing the news that we would be moving to Houston for my tenure-track position, my partner and I loaded up in the car and headed out for our celebratory dinner. It was during this dinner that reality hit me. Uh oh- now I have to worry about getting tenure!!
Although my peace was shattered for the moment, I managed to block that out, go to my happy place, and enjoy dinner. But the panic evoked by the thought of meeting tenure requirements loomed overhead. As is my usual approach when such a long-term task plagues my thoughts, I immediately began collecting data, both research-based and anecdotal. In this blog, I aim to share what I learned (and what I made up along the way) with other early career scholars. My hope is that we can generate even more ideas as people begin posting comments in response.
Occupying the role of new Assistant Professor brings with it many distractions, responsibilities, and stressors that can easily temp us to put off tenure planning until year two, three, or (hopefully not) four. However, there are some simple steps that may be worth your while and save you much time, energy, and regret down the road.

Talk to people. Sounds simple right? You talk to people every day as part of your new position, so why not use some of that time strategically? Look for people who just achieved tenure, those about to undergo P&T review, and anyone else you can find. The more information you can garner up front with regard to the expectations at your institution in your department at this point in history, the more you can plan ahead to meet them.

Identify a potential mentor within your department (someone who knows the ropes; someone you can trust to tell you the truth about your work and standing in the dept), then ask s/he to be your mentor.

The minute my cohort stepped on campus in August for faculty orientation, our associate dean immediately began chanting “Become a pack rat!” I took his advice and developed a system for easily and quickly filing away evidence of my teaching, research, and service activities. For example, where is that conference program from your first semester that lists your name and the title of your brilliant presentation? Where did you leave those thank you cards from students that experienced a major paradigm shift in your course? Easy- you filed it neatly away in your “T-R-S bins.” Okay, maybe you did not create the bins your first semester, but now is a good time to start. For a cheap bin solution, I used paper box lids and marked them each with a sharpie in huge letters: Teaching; Research; Service. They reside in an out of the way, but accessible spot in my office. After I speak at the Psi Chi induction ceremony, the program goes directly into my service bin. When it came time to produce my third year review binders, all of the evidence was at my fingertips and ready for me to organize.

Create a word document for recording everything you do (teaching, research, service). When it is time for annual review and P&T, you will not be able to remember all you did in the last 12 months or all you did during the last 5 years.

Always keep your vita updated. What’s that? You just got the email saying your conference paper was accepted? Close that email and edit your vita right now!

Use the third year review (or second or fourth year for some institutions) to your advantage. Truly approach this as your dry run for tenure. Organize and present your materials just as you might plan to do for the official P&T review. If your university, school, or department does not currently conduct the formal pre-tenure reviews, consider asking your friendly neighborhood associate dean for an informal review.

Self-promote. Writing your tenure narrative is far from the moment to display your modesty. Quite the contrary. This is the time to get comfortable with self-promotion and let go of the idea that nice girls and boys don’t highlight their successes.

Based on the feedback I have been able to gather, the tenure narrative is your chance to illustrate not only what you have accomplished as a junior faculty member, but also your ability to reflect on your research, teaching, and service. Your P&T document provides the opportunity to clearly explain how your work connects with the work of others and what you contribute to psychology as a whole. In addition, consider the impact of a solid narrative that succinctly describes how your teaching, research, and service intertwine and complement one another as chapters of your professional story.

Think ahead about possible external reviewers. As you jet set all over the world to conferences on your undoubtedly unlimited travel budget, keep an eye open for associate professors at comparable universities that know your area. Introduce yourself and get to know these people because they may be willing to serve as external reviewers later on. I currently have a colleague in panic mode because she must send out her P&T materials in two months, but never thought to network at conferences to identify possible external reviewers.

Set up multiple ways to get student feedback. Course evaluations often give limited information and are at the end of the term. Get student feedback on assignments, lectures, class activities, quizzes & exams earlier in the semester. Make appropriate adjustments and let students know you take their ideas seriously. Keep these materials for use in your P&T packet.

Don’t be shy! If you work with a student for a year on research or serve as faculty advisor to a club, ask students to write recommendation letters that can be used in your P&T materials.

Research early and often. Hit the ground running and make the most of years 1-3. Given journal lag time from acceptance to publication, these years are extremely important.

Remember- not all service is equal. Ask mentors what types of service are most valued by administrators. Ask those that have served on merit review committees or P&T committees before.

Keep stellar records of any service activities you do such as flyers highlighting the talk you gave to a psychology class at the local high school. Service is one of the most difficult areas when it comes to providing evidence, so keeping good records is even more essential. Get involved with professional organizations like SPSSI to establish professional service.
As P&T review creeps closer and closer for me, I cannot say that preparation such as my T-R-S bins have erased all of my tenure anxieties. However, my own use of the tips outlined above certainly eased many of them. Hopefully, you will find at least one gem of an idea here that you can use to reduce your pre-tenure stress and get you one step closer to the “Associate” title.
[Note: This post was originally contributed as part of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Early Career Committee 2009 blog.]

Grant Writing- No Map and No Compass

If your grant-writing experience in graduate school paralleled mine, then you probably earned your degree with no idea how to go about tackling external funding. Although some of my grad school friends worked in labs that regularly wrote NIH grants, the lab I belonged to was quite grant-free.
When I arrived at my tenure-track job bright-eyed and bushy tailed, I had absolutely no aspirations for grant work. The entire world of NSF, NIH, and others just seemed out of reach, mysterious, and downright scary. But then, in my first semester, a funny thing happened. I learned that my university provided competitive internal grant opportunities designed to serve as seed money for faculty research projects. With the full expectation of not being funded, I wrote up a 10-page proposal for a diversity course effectiveness study I was planning for the next semester. Much to my surprise (seriously, extreme surprise), I was awarded one of those internal grants to get started.

Of course I am not writing about this to chronicle my internal grant efforts. When I began thinking about some of the challenges early career SPSSI scholars face, the pursuit of grants must be one of the greatest unknowns we will encounter. Those of us in the academic realm face the confusion associated with exactly how grants fit into the promotion and tenure package. Do I have to pull in external grants in order to get tenure? Is it optional? No one knows!! Early career scholars in professional settings outside academia may feel grant pressure to secure their future employment. And that is even more stressful. The question for me is- where do we get the training for this?

For me, having some success with internal grants gave me the confidence to pursue my first external grant with NSF. I am still working on finding external grant success, but getting through the first submission made it easy for me to consider future NSF grant proposals. My advice to early career scholars is to check into possible internal grant opportunities. Not only will it give you some grant-writing experience, but it will also help you collect the necessary pilot data for your external grant. Even better- get to know the friendly people in your local Office of Sponsored Programs (or some other title for the research office). You might be surprised by all of the grant allies you will find hiding there!! During my own feeble attempt at NSF funding, I learned that there are people on campus that understand the federal grant application process who could support me through each hair-pulling stage. They already understood the NSF language, the forms, how to upload everything properly, and how to handle the budget request.

Considering my grant-writing experience at this point is still probably less than many graduate students, my main hope is that this blog post will inspire much discussion of your ideas about finding grant sources, making time to write the grant proposal, tricks and tips, or advice for early career grant-writing. While waiting for your comments, I will re-read my NSF reviews and hope that I have better luck next time!

[Note: This post was originally contributed as part of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Early Career Committee 2009 blog.]

Advising the Advisor: What Am I Doing, What Should I Be Doing?

-guest post by Jeannetta Williams

I’m Jeannetta Williams and I’m in my 4th year at a private liberal arts university in Texas. I’m an assistant professor in the psychology department, which is the largest major on our campus (around 350 or so students). Recently I received some good news–that I’m our school’s nominee for the university’s outstanding advisor award. As part of the nomination application, I’m required to turn in lots of materials–my CV, letters of support from students and colleagues, and my “Advising Philosophy.” A what?!

So, you can guess what I’ll be writing for the next few weeks. I’ve been working with students for several years so I must have some idea of how to advise students, but I’ve never thought about writing it down. I did some cursory scouring of the Net for advice on advising and I’ve come up pretty short. Most of what I’ve found has focused on getting students ready for graduate study in psychology. This is helpful, but only a small part of what we do as advisors. In chatting today with our director of the teaching excellence center, she remarked that advisors play a critical role in student retention, but few institutions require an advising statement in faculty applications (although the # is growing).

I didn’t receive any specific training during graduate school on the do’s and don’ts of faculty advising, but I don’t know if my experience is unique. I’m lucky that our university provides training for advisors, but the expectations for each department vary widely. Here’s where you come in. In your view, what are the essential characteristics of being a successful advisor? How do you manage all of the varied aspects of advising, such as formal academic advising vs. informal advising? Sharing information about careers inside and outside of academe? Advising student organizations? Bringing professional development opportunities to students? What do you know today about advising that you wished you knew while on the job market or in your first faculty position?

[Note: This post was originally contributed as part of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Early Career Committee 2009 blog.]

How to Write Less During the Summer

-guest post by Paul Silvia, author of How to Write a Lot

Today is the last day of the semester. For me, this is a time of reflection, of remembrance, of muttering under my breath like an under-caffeinated madman who has found the end of his rope and hopes to menace the nearest grade-grubbing undergraduate with it. But each end is a beginning, and for academics the end of the spring semester heralds the beginning of that glorious, shining time—summer.

Professors and grad students talk about the summer with an eschatological fervor. When the last and final things have been graded, when the students have retreated to the beer-and-vomit encrusted hovels they came from, then real writing can begin. Phew. Now we can start (or finish) that article, book, thesis, dissertation, or grant. Finally.

Yearning for summer is bad. Academics look forward to summer writing time like pre-teens look forward to vampire novels: the anticipation is intense but the result is disappointing. The summer has grim demands of its own. There are windows to paint, minivans to clean, and dogs to bathe—writing isn’t the only thing that we’re good at putting off. The juice-boxes, animal crackers, and Mapquest printouts and won’t clean themselves from my Toyota Sienna, despite my months of patiently waiting for them to do so. (I’ll give them a few more months—there’s no need to be pushy.)

And our bad habits and counterproductive mindsets don’t change when the semester ends. The academic lifestyle lends itself to booms and binges followed by busts and burnout. We write little during the semester and then crank it all out in hypomanic binges during the weekends and breaks. If we treat the summer as a chance to binge, then we are perpetuating the binge-and-burnout cycle. We might get a lot done over the summer, but then the semester starts, so we wait for the Christmas break, and then for Spring Break, and then it is summer again.

I suggest a simple alternative, one so straightforward that it sounds alarming: we can choose times for writing during the week, and then we can write during those times. (If you have read my little book How to Write A Lot, this notion of a “writing schedule” will sound eerily familiar.) Imagine, for a moment, that you have chosen to write 6 hours per week, perhaps 9 to 11 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. If you write every week, then it doesn’t matter if that week is the frenetic first week of class, the dismal last week of class, or even a breezy week in July. Choosing time to write will flatten your writing output—you’ll write the same amount, more or less, every month. This slow-and-steady approach is not glamorous, and it takes a bit of discipline at first, but it is the reason why some people write a lot and most people struggle.

If you have a writing schedule, the summer weeks are like any other week, only sweatier. You could choose to spend more time writing during the summer, but you needn’t. You could, horror of horrors, take time off. You could rediscover why the summer months are called “summer vacation” by people with normal jobs and well-balanced lives. You could say “I’ll save that writing project for the fall semester.” You could, dare I suggest, even clean your minivan—but that might be going too far.

[Note: This post was originally contributed as part of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Early Career Committee 2009 blog.]