Some data on promotion at my university

In this blog post, I would like to provide some data for my colleagues on promotion at our university. I have heard many different comments in regards to research and publications. However, there appears to be very little data, or evidence beyond anecdotes describing what’s going on systematically. So, I’ve sat down and put this estimate together. The following chart of search “results” for publications was created using our Daily Brief newsletter announcements, and doing searches on Google Scholar.

  Assistant-Associate Professor Associate-Full Professor
Year # Promoted to Associate  MEAN  Results

(Prior 5 Years)

Median # Promoted to Full  MEAN Results

(All Years Prior)

Median
2010 11 2.45 1.00 7 6.28 7.00
2011 16 3.00 2.00 5 6.66 7.00
2012 14 2.00 1.00 1 2.00 2.00
2013 19 2.00 1.00 5 4.50 3.50
2014 19 4.00 2.00 5 12.40 13.00
2015 19 2.00 1.00 10 3.64 1.50
2016 14 2.43 1.00 13 5.90 4.00
2017 13 2.23 1.00 16 12.37 6.00
2018 13 2.69 3.00 6 10.83 12.00
All 2.40 1.00 7.86 6.00

These numbers should be considered estimates, for the following reasons:

  1. Promotion is not only linked to “Scholarly Growth” per our union contract. It includes teaching and service. The numbers to not necessarily suggest a “minimum” needed for promotion.
  2. The above only includes those listed in the Daily Brief, and does not include those who were later promoted through a union grievance, or lawsuit.
  3. Google Scholar under-indexes the humanities, and of-course those in the arts might be in fields where one doesn’t publish to gain tenure or promotion. Also, as publishers put more past material online, sometimes these numbers change.
  4. Google Scholar results used are simple counts. There is no differentiation between books or articles. However, our union contract explicitly states that the evaluation process should use quality over quantity.
  5. At the same time, it should be noted that Google Scholar counts also include book reviews, non-peer reviewed reports, as well as publications in predatory journals. However, it should be noted that there was not a concern regarding predatory publications by our university administration until 2016.
  6. It is important to note that our system separates tenure and promotion to associate professors. This means it is possible to receive tenure and be denied promotion to associate professor. It also means someone can choose not to apply for promotion. Nonetheless, for convenience, I have used results in the 5 years leading up to promotion, which is time time-frame when most faculty will also be applying for tenure. However, in several cases people took longer than 5 years to be promoted to associate.
  7. For data on full professors, I’ve chosen to use lifetime results prior to the year in which the individual was promoted. The range in which people on our campus become full professors range from 3 years, to decades, after they receive promotion to associate. Without direct access to everyone’s CVs, it’s really hard to come up with a perfect way to delimit time-to-full.

In the absence of looking at actual publications (not just results) and creating a more nuanced coding system, I did look at disciplinary fields, and academic unit/college. For instance, our College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) is where most of the traditional “research” fields within the humanities, social sciences, and STEM are located. Looking at that breakdown, we see for promotion to Associate Professor for those in Humanities fields, there was a mean of 2.06 results. For the Social Sciences there was an average of 3 results, and for STEM fields an average 3.97. For promotion to Full Professor in CLAS, we see means of 4.85 for Humanities, 11.63 for Social Sciences, and 10.57 for STEM.

Finally, below is data from our Office of Institutional Research regarding faculty ranks.

Overworked? Analyzing my workload

So I teach a lot. I teach an average of 254 students per semester without the help of teaching assistants. I’m sure there are other others who have to do the same. In this blog post, I’m going to take a look staffing at my institution.

While, I’m not the only person who teach such large student loads, such loads are not normal. In fact, my institution advertises an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio. However, that number does not represent faculty teaching load. Even as a measure of class size there are problems. Looking at the Office of Institutional Research’s “Credit Hours Generated by Department” report, and dividing credit hours generated by faculty FTE, we get a students-per-semester average of about 88 students. This is a better estimate of how much “teaching work” a professor has per semester. This means the average faculty member teaches about 88 students across all their course load each semester (which is a bit larger than the 18:1 ratio).

Am I just an outlier?  Using the Credit Hours Report and the university’s annual factbook, it appears that some departments are more likely to have faculty teaching well above that 88 student average. Faculty in my department (anthropology & sociology) as well as those in business, math, and the other social sciences (especially psychology and criminal justice) generally teach more students per semester that those in other fields. So, my teaching load is impacted by department-level expectations from administration, as well as staffing (which is an administrative decision).

Is my institution understaffed? Is that why I have to teach a lot of students? According to the above chart, we see that current faculty staffing is about where it was in 2002/2003 – before a massive boom in enrollment and hiring.  As I suggested earlier, some departments teach more undergraduates than others. So, this suggests that the problem is not necessarily university-wide staffing, but department-level staffing. *** Of course this could be under the potentially false assumption that my institution was adequately staffed at 2002/2003 enrollment levels.

Compared to other institutions, we do not rely on as much adjunct labor due to our collective bargaining agreement. This is a good thing. However, this does mean that in the absence of a large number of adjuncts as well fewer tenure track hires, existing faculty need to teach more. At the same time, we do employ adjuncts who are paid substantially less than tenure-line faculty for comparable work. Yet, it is a bit of a mystery why some departments get adjuncts and why others do not. It certainly is not based on student load – teaching or major count.

So maybe there’s a bias? I have found that (generally) departments with faculty that teach more students per term are more racially/ethnically diverse. This isn’t surprising given that the social sciences, math, and business are the departments with faculty that do a lot of heavy lifting – for general education as well as having large major counts. These are also fields that – according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates – are somewhat diverse (although this depends on the specialty/subfield). This is reflected in our students. Students of color represent 40% of my program’s majors. 27% of our majors are women of color. Are more diverse departments/programs understaffed due to some form of bias?

*** For the record, I see this as an outcome of a institutional problems rather individual bias/shortsightedness. More on this in another blog post.

Wrapping up, I’m glad I’m on sabbatical this fall. I’ll miss my students, but I won’t miss all the course preparation and grading that I have to do.

 

 

What is top-tier?

This blog post is a follow up to my previous defense of scholarly writing and a response to something I have been hearing from some colleagues at my institution– that publishing in top-tier journals is “impossible” for most faculty at my university. In this post, I want to first unpack this problematic assumption and then offer my thoughts on getting work published.

A bit of background: I happen to do interdisciplinary work. What I’ll be addressing might not work for all fields. Also, I am writing this while  at a regional teaching-oriented institution that has a 4/4 course load, where some publishing is required. Despite our faculty collective bargaining agreement explicitly stating quality matters more than quantity, many on my campus would argue that our contract does not offer guidance of how to evaluate quality over quantity. The result has been predatory publishing squeaking through the tenure process in the past, and more recently faculty getting denied due to ill-defined notions of quality.

Getting back to the question of publishing in particular venues – I think that the concern of my colleagues needs to be re-framed in the following ways. What constitutes a top-tier journal? Are we just talking about flagship journals of professional organizations? Are we talking about impact factors and other bibliometrics? Quantitatively, top-tier could mean anything within the first two quartiles of ranked journals in a field – which could account for several dozens of journals that are well cited and publish solid work. However, there are also journals in subfields that are also ranked. Web of Science and Google Scholar have categories beyond traditional/major disciplinary areas. Subjectively, it depends on your subfield. Is it a journal that you have cited in your own work? Is it a journal that publishes work you read regularly?

If I had to provide my own definition, I would say it’s simply a journal that publishes work that fellow scholars in the field recognize and respect.  Usually, this means there’s a correlation with citation counts, but it could be that it is affiliated with a professional association or be with an well known/established publisher. So yes, it’s a broad definition. However, you should always keep in mind what does or does not count in your department/institution as well as your field.

The idea that certain types of publication is “impossible” is dangerous. I think my colleagues mean well. We are a teaching oriented institution. However, this assumption discourages junior scholars from attempting to publish in highly ranked journals that can help grow a career. Indeed, one should always keep local tenure/promotion timelines in mind. However, I personally believe that scholars – especially young ones – should always aim for the best journal their work fits in. It increases the visibility of your hard work. Also it is work that is future proof if the journal is ever acquired by another published.

They key here is that the work is a fit for the journal. Prior to submitting your work to a journal, you need to do your homework. Do you cite articles in that journal? Or authors that have published in that journal? Do you engage in the literature that those who have written in that journal work in? Does the journal publish primarily qualitative or quantitative work?

Indeed, it is harder to get published in some journals than others. However, rejection can be valuable. The best advice I ever got in graduate school on publishing is to have a ranked list of where you would like to publish. If you get rejected from your first choice, you move down to the next one until you get an acceptance. As you move down the list, you will likely get feedback that can help you improve your manuscript and have it published in a well regarded venue.

Finally, for some good tips on publishing see Victoria Reyes’ article in InsideHigherEd

 

Working Over The Summer

APSCUF (my faculty union) currently has a blog series that examines what professors do when class is not in session. This is a response to politicians characterizing our workload as being only 17 hours a week. Pennsylvania professors are not alone in sharing their “off contract” and summer activities. Faculty in Connecticut are keeping busy. So important are the summer months to our professional work, faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have written an advice piece for Inside Higher Ed on how to get the most out of the summer (and not burn out). I have my own blog post on summer writing written two years ago. For this post, I’d like to add to the discussion of – not just how much we work as faculty – but how important our so-called “off” time is.

Indeed, for me, as well as my colleagues, there is no “time off.” We work year round, but time for different activities may be allocated differently throughout the year. Summer is when I do much of my course preparation for the next academic year. This means reading new books on the areas I teach, revising syllabi, and updating data in my PowerPoints. This probably is not surprising to those outside of academia.

Summer is absolutely necessary for research and writing, which is not included the politicians’ 17 hour calculation. While we are not paid for the summer (unless we teach), this is when many of us conduct the research that is integral to our jobs as teachers and educators. At teaching oriented institutions, such as the PASSHE system, summer “free time” is even more important for continuing our scholarly growth. During the regular academic year, the time needed to manage four courses per term, grading, student advising, as well as committee and service work makes it extremely difficult to focus on research and writing.

For example, I study cities and globalization. Summer is my chance to travel to the places I study. In the past, I have visited universities in Ethiopia and Turkey. Last summer, I participated in a conference in Italy. While overseas, I am not only interacting with other scholars, but also investigating the processes that shape urban life. The only way this can be done without interfering with my teaching is to do it during the summer. This work is not just “research,” but it helps me in the classroom back in Pennsylvania. By conducting research, I am also preparing for my teaching. In gaining first hand knowledge and other experiences to share with my students, I can be a stronger teacher.

Summer is also the time in which I write up my research. In my field, this means an 8,000 to 10,000 word article that goes through many rounds of revision before submission to a scholarly journal for review by peers and other experts in the field. I believe that my strength as a teacher comes from my ongoing research and writing. Rob Jenkins, who writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, has discussed how writing helps him in the classroom. Personally, I push myself to write for the same reasons we make our students write. It forces me to actively engage the literature and current trends in the field. This requires reading what others of written, thinking about my own research, and figuring out a way to make an effective argument. Furthermore, I submit myself to peer review for the same reasons why peer review is good for student writing as well. It forces me to clarify and effectively communicate ideas – valuable skills in the classroom.

As a sociologist, the American Sociological Association (ASA)’s annual meeting in August typically marks the end of summer. In the past four years, Kutztown has sent six undergraduate students to the ASA Honors program. This puts us in the company of elite research schools and selective liberal arts campuses – campuses that provide greater institutional support for research and professional development. Supporting student research and encouraging students to apply for such programs, requires active engagement in the discipline. My colleagues and I do this, because it is part of our professional identities – which extends beyond our specific university employment. This is tied to our passion for our field, research and desire to share the discipline with our students. In order to do this, we need to keep up with our research and spend our summers preparing for our annual conference.

In conclusion, our “off contract” time is valuable to both our professional identities, as well as our students. We go above and beyond because of we made the decision to devote our lives to the study and teaching of our disciplines. Claims by politicians that we only work 17 hours and have summers off demonstrates both a lack of understanding and respect for our profession.

What I Learned From Video Games

This post is not about video game scholarship. As a pop culture fan and sociologist, it is an area that maybe I will read up on when I have time. This post is about how video games made me a better student and later scholar (#academicgamer).

First, some facts about video games: According to the Entertainment Software Association, 155 million or 59% of Americans play some sort of video game (this includes a wide range of games from Call of Duty to Candy Crush).  In 2015, the average game player was 35 years old. This is up from 31 years old in 2013. The average age of game purchasers is 38. As an older millennial, I am right in this age bracket. I grew up on computer and video games. The original Nintendo and Mario were a major part of my childhood. I also played DOS games on the family’s old XT computer such as Jump (Janitor) Joe. Given the number of hours I have (and continue) to pour into video games, I would like to think that they had a positive impact on my life.

Here are some things I argue that I have gained from playing video games:

  1. Critical Thinking Skills: I certainly believe that video games developed my critical thinking skills. I grew up playing the Sierra On-Line text parser games. This required you to type in simple English what you wanted your character to do, such as “open door.” If the door was locked, you needed to figure out how to get into the building in a different manner. Even in current AAA games, problem solving and puzzles are an important part of gameplay. Last year, I finished Batman: Arkham Knight. An optional ‘quest’ is locating and solving the Riddler’s puzzles across Gotham City. These puzzles require the player to figure out which one of Batman’s weapons is most appropriate for activating a Rube Goldberg-eqsue contraption in order to obtain a trophy.
  2. Knowledge: How many of us played Oregon Trail? Or the great Carmen Sandiego series? In addition to explicitly educational games, other games weave history and literature into their plots the same way historical fiction does. More recently, the Assassin’s Creed series has done an amazing job mixing historical figures and places into their gameplay. Last year, I visited Florence, Italy. I could not help by remember all the times I navigated the main character Ezio up the cathedral and other landmarks.
  3. Inspiration: I’m an urbanist and SimCity undoubtedly shaped my interest in studying cities, as did the Civilization. I remember a graduate class discussion on Malthus and soil quality. I distinctly remember thinking about urban expansion in Civilization that day. One of the things I would like to work on in the future is video game simulations of urban environments.
  4. Entertainment: I think the most important thing I currently get from gaming is a chance to have fun. As a busy teacher, researcher, and new parent, video games a chance to relax and escape into other worlds such as Skyrim, or Thedas.

Here’s my PSN ID and current trophy count

Millennial Faculty (Yes, they exist)

clockEvery year, the Beloit Mindset List comes out and faculty freak out over it on social media. What bothers me about the reaction is that they forget that it is normal for different generations to experience different things. I am also bothered by some of the reaction that people have to studies regarding the millennials. In the case of higher education, I believe some of my colleagues forget that there are now millennial faculty members (which plays a part in #Ilooklikeaprofessor).

Rob Kelly wrote in 2007, “Millennial Faculty Are Coming. Are You Ready?“ Millennial faculty now exist. We are in our late 20s and mid 30s. From the standpoint of age, this is expected. In many fields, the age of new PhDs and assistant professors sits around 33 [1]. Although the average age of tenure being granted in 39, some “early Millennials” born just after “Generation X” may have already received tenure and those born shortly after will be will be going up soon [2].

In this blog post, I want to talk about what college was like and how it influences our (or at least my) learning, teaching and research.

Higher Ed Goes Digital (late 1990s-2000s)

I hate the term “digital natives” – commonly associated with millennials. However, I think it’s important to talk about growing up with digital knowledge. Perhaps the most important experience that we had in college was having broadband internet access.  Compuserve existed in the 1980s and AOL went online in 1991, but they were typically accessed via dial-up modems. Similarly, there were intranets on university campuses. However, the availability of broadband access to the World Wide Web in college fundamentally connected technology and learning for many of us. More specifically, we had dorm rooms with ready internet access (either wired or later with wifi).

This had a very significant impacts on our lives. The release of Napster in 1999 changed the way we relate to digital content. While, those of us early millennials owned physical media, the MP3 explosion altered our relationship with such physical artifacts. This had implications for knowledge. Books, articles and course readings need not be locked away in a library or within a physical book. In fact, according to Publisher Weekly, in 2011 those born between 1979 and 1989 bought more books than Baby Boomers (with 43% of those expenditures going to digital purchases).

Microsoft Encarta came out in 1993. This and other encyclopedia programs meant large unwieldy formats such as Encyclopedia Britannica (as well as other types of indexes) were simply inefficient ways to look up information. This was followed by Wikipedia going online in 2001. Card catalogs are a distant childhood memory (if at all). As an academic generation, there are those that rarely or never read bound editions of academic journals. Not coincidentally through the 2000s, university libraries began to invest less in study carrel spaces and more in “information commons.” Book acquisitions dropped, as budgets were reassigned for online journal databases.

In addition to digital versions of books, the way we learned was always supplemented by the internet. The Blackboard Learning System debuted in the fall of 1998, and by 2004 the company had thousands of “clients” using it to post syllabi, readings, and offer assignment submission. We used email as well as AIM, ICQ, and Facebook to interact with our TA’s and our classmates. RateMyProfessor went online in 2001 affecting what classes we chose to take.

If our undergraduate experience was about digitally consuming knowledge, graduate school meant producing research digitally. I certainly do not know anyone who used notecards to create bibliographies in graduate school. Most of us have never used a typewriter. Those who conduct historical research can now use digital archives in conjunction with “analog” sources in archives. This meant the “physical” act of research and dissertation writing was fundamentally different. EndNote Plus was released in the 1990s and grew in sophistication and popularity in the 2000s. Similarly reference management software such as RefWorks was released in 2001, and Zotero in 2006. Personally, I cannot imagine not using Zotero for my dissertation, much less having to re-format references for publication without it. For Millennial graduate students and faculty, other things like digital humanities, blogs, conference live tweets, conducting ethnography online, job rumor wikis, etc. increasingly play a role in our academic/professional lives.

Millennial Faculty (2010s)

The preceding paragraphs have largely focused on the cultural and practical differences that millennial faculty experienced. However, I want to also mention that we experienced a very different economic situation. As the PEW Research Center has found, our entire generation faces very different economic and educational challenges than Generation X, the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. We have higher levels of student loan debt. We finished (or are finishing) our doctoral degrees in a world where we had to teach as well as publish much more to even be considered for a job (which might not even be tenure track). Peter Higgs (of Higgs Boson fame) has noted the brutality of today’s publish or perish world.

The narrative I have presented is not a digital versus analog debate. It is not about the virtues of the millennial experience, or that we had(have) it harder. Rather, it is a more serious take than on what the Beloit College Mindset List does every year – only with faculty not students. It’s also a reminder that things change, and it’s normal.

Visualizing the 100 Largest Cities in the U.S. (1840-2010)

In a previous post, I discussed how I like making visualizations for my classes using Google products. It’s a good exercise for me, and hopefully it leads to something useful in fall. My weekend project was this map of the 100 Largest Cities in the U.S. (1840-2010) using Google Charts’ GeoChart. It was largely based on this code. However, I had to make a number of changes to have it do what I wanted it to do. I also had to organize the data in way that was useful. The dots on the map mark cities that are amongst the top 100 urban centers in the United States in a census. The slider is a date filter that allows one to either move decade-by-decade to see the rise of cities in the Sunbelt, or see the persistence of a city in the top 100 depending on how you move the sliders.


The neat thing about the GeoChart API is that it rendered within the browser using SVG. While the GeoChart API will recognize place-names, it loads much faster if you use latitude/longitude coordinates instead of place-names. There are 269 cities in the map above, with data drawn from 18 census years.

This was meant to be a fun weekend project playing with the GeoChart API. I’ll probably play around with this a bit more, so that I can make use it in my urban sociology course in the fall.

Why I wrote about Spider-Man

Although my primary area of specialization is urban studies, I recently published an article entitled “Fear of a Black Spider-Man: Racebending and the Color-Line in Super Hero (Re)Casting” that is now online ahead of print. In this blog post, I figured I’d talk a bit about why I wrote that piece and link it to why I think personal interests, research, and teaching are closely connected.

My article seems timely given the recent news that there will be a new Spider-Man movie starring a new actor produced under the watch of Marvel. It may also seem timely given the recent suggestion that Idris Elba play James Bond or the recent news of Mehcad Brooks playing Jimmy Olsen in the upcoming Supergirl television show. However, this is not a new issue and the issues of race, racebending, and casting is a recurring debate amongst fans of superheroes and other genres. This debate is something that I have been following as both a fan and a social scientist for the past few years. However, this is my first research article on the topic.

The origin of my work on race and superheroes goes back to my dissertation. In a chapter, I use Zorro to discuss the not-so-fine line artists, authors, and writers walk when they appropriated non-WASP culture for popular dissemination. I specifically discuss how Johnston McCulley was very careful to make Zorro of Spanish and not Mexican descent. This choice to make Zorro specifically European was not simply to tell a good story. It was a choice that was influenced by racial attitudes of the time. However, my dissertation wasn’t about Zorro or superheroes. It was about the use of “Spanish” culture in California’s built environment and visual culture.

The reason why I became interested in the Donald Glover controversy is that I enjoy comic books, superhero movies, and video games. However, as a critical social scientist, I cannot help but be persistently aware of the under-representation of different groups in popular culture. As a sociologist, I’m always using my “sociological imagination” to see the connection between aspects of everyday life to larger social realities. Essentially, I wanted to put my training and curiosity to use, while digging deeper into something I enjoy.

Another reason why I chose this project is that I wanted to do something different. I wanted to explore a different topic and employ different methods to test myself. To put it simply, I made myself write this article for the same reasons why I make my students write papers. Doing the research and writing the paper allows me to develop and test my skills and knowledge in another area of interest.

Finally, I was teaching courses on race and ethnicity every semester when I was working on this project. So reviewing the literature, conducting the research, and writing helped me in the classroom. Bringing this research into the classroom – partially since it was about Spider-Man – was enjoyable for both myself and my students. It was a fun way to show my students the connection between personal interests and research.

It’s unlikely that I’ll continue to do research on superheroes, but I think it’s an exciting time to be a fan. The news that Spider-Man can be included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the coming Captain Marvel and Black Panther movies, as well as the recent shake up of the Avengers in the comic books are intriguing on so many levels.

Reflections on Addis Ababa, Urbanization and Globalization

Splatter Compass

20140722_093946

I’m currently back in Addis Ababa after teaching in Gondar and visiting Bahir Dar. After spending about 2 weeks here in Ethiopia, here are some of my thoughts (or some brainstorming for future research) in my last 24 hrs here in Ethiopia.

When I first read Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums in graduate school in 2007, I noticed a table using United Nations data that suggested at 99.4% of Ethiopia’s urban population resided in “slums.” In comparison, neighboring Sudan had 85.7%. Another point of comparison for my friends who are reading this blog entry, Turkey had a 42.6% slum population. At the time, I couldn’t help but think that the percentage for Ethiopia made no sense, unless one is only using very Western definitions of urbanization and slums. Informal settlement would be a better term. This is why AbdouMaliq Simone in his introduction to Urban Africa discusses the importance of  local social practice and organization as the lens to use when examining cities in Africa. If one uses terms such as percent urbanized a great deal of nuance is overlooked. For example, according to the World Bank, Ethiopia’s urban population had only grown from 15% in 2000 to 18% (of ~91.7 million) in 2013. Addis Ababa represents about half that percentage. Similarly, according to the World Bank the percent of Ethiopia’s urban population in the same time period with improved sanitation only improved from 22% to 27%. In other words, there appears to not have been a great deal of “urbanization” or “development” is taking place given those numbers.

However, there have been dramatic urban transformations in recent years. For instance, Wendel Cox at New Geography has looked that the evolving urban form of Addis Ababa. There clearly is urbanization taking place. There are unavoidable new construction projects in many areas of the city, especially around Bole. Streets are torn up for Chinese backed transit projects such as a new boulevard in commemoration of the African Union’s 50th anniversary in 2013 and a massive (elevated) light rail project projected to open in 2015. The Chinese Communications Construction Company was given a 1.5 billion dollar contract for the light rail project. More recently a Turkish firm was given a major road construction contract. In other words, there’s a massive transformation going on that is re-shaping the city. It’s not uncommon to see “shacks” adjacent to new buildings. I’ve seen several vacated communities of shacks made of earth, corrugated steel, and other materials next to new development of multi-story concrete apartment buildings as one travels from Bole to the old Piazza area of Addis. 

There’s a very interesting story regarding globalization and urbanization here to be told (or will be unfolding), since outside of Bole, there isn’t a strong (Western) multinational corporation presence in the visual urban landscape. However, behind the scenes, in the periphery, factories by Chinese and Turkish firms are being built. Billboards for Arçelik appliances in English, or a Turkish restaurant with Ethiopian staff blasting American hip-hop, as well as authentic Chinese banquet hall style restaurants and shoe shine boys have greeting me in Mandarin reveal an amazing social-cultural tapestry (amidst the extreme inequality) as well as the dynamics of the so-called South-South economic expansion. 

Summer Travels and Teaching Overseas

PassportLast summer I taught at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey and this summer I’ll be headed to the University of Gondar in Ethiopia. As I get ready for departure, I want to do a blog post on teaching overseas.

Although, I cringe when people call me a “teacher” (since I’m a researcher as well), teaching is very important to me. I enjoy being at a teaching oriented institution. However, I’m often jealous of friends and colleagues at research institutions who have resources and schedules that make going abroad easier. In the absence of those resources, teaching overseas during the summer is a great opportunity to both develop myself as a teacher and conduct research. Importantly, working with students overseas makes me something other than a tourist. While, I don’t horribly mind being a tourist (sometimes), being one certainly limits you. As a social scientist, it’s important to have first hand knowledge that isn’t filtered through pre-packaged vacations. I don’t want to just visit places, I want to get to know as much about a society as possible.

I teach and write on globalization and cities, as such, being able to live and work in other parts of the world (even if briefly) is vital to my intellectual and professional growth. As Donald Hall writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the benefits of teaching abroad include “important pedagogical, research-related, and life lessons.” It allows me to bring experiences back into the classroom and it informs my research writing. Overseas teaching not only gives me intimate knowledge of places and people, but forces me to critically think about the material I teach or write about.

From the standpoint of research, I was able to meet with colleagues (old and new) to share ideas last summer in Istanbul. I also learned a great deal from my students. My time there led to two article manuscripts and a new perspective on the city’s dramatic growth since my first visit in 2006 (and subsequent visits in 2008 and 2011). Perhaps most interesting was being able to teach an environmental sociology course amidst the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul.

This summer, I’ll be visiting Ethiopia for the first time. This trip will greatly support my ongoing work on global urban development issues. While most of my time will be in Gondar, I’m looking forward to seeing Addis Ababa. As an urbanist, it’s always interesting to see different types of cities. I’m hoping to learn about the city and the country, as well as examine the connections that shape different types of urbanism around the world.

Follow my trip via this blog and my twitter account.