Five Pieces of Unsolicited Advice for (New) (PER) Faculty

  1. Be an Advocate for the Field: I have found it important to think of myself as a front-line representative of the entire field of PER, especially research-based teaching and learning of physics. From this perspective, it helps to fill in the gaps of your familiarity with curriculum and instructional strategies that were beyond your range of first contact as a researcher. Maybe you were really familiar with UW Tutorials, or modeling, or ISLE, or SCALE-UP, or PET or learning assistants, or studio physics, or whatever… now you need to be a knowledge resource and even advocate for all of this and more. For me, as a graduate student and postdoc I was more concerned with filling in gaps in my knowledge of research theory and methodology, and it took a fair amount of effort and time to fill in gaps of my knowledge of curriculum. Also as a graduate student, I was trained to be productively critical of physics education research, and to talk in ways that represented that. As an advocate for the entire field, you need to learn to talk as a bit more as an advocate than a critic.
  2. Treat your Non-PER colleagues as experts on teaching–whether its the teaching of their courses, or their students, the departmental curriculum, whatever. Proactively seek out their advice, knowledge, and opinions, even if some or a lot of they say disagrees with your little PER heart. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw from, and some of it will be spot on. A lot of what is spot on will be based on experiences you don’t yet have, or on knowledge specific to your setting and students / curriculum. Try out some of the things they suggest. If it works, let them know. If it doesn’t, say, “Hey I tried that thing you suggested, but it didn’t work. Can you tell me more about how you make it work?” Treating them like a trusted, knowledge colleague on teaching makes it much more likely that they will reciprocate.
  3. Make Amends when you Act out as a Jerk about Teaching: At some point, likely more than once, you will be a jerk about something education related. When you recognize it, let people know you are sorry and make amends. This can happen in all kinds of ways, and it’s important to recognize when you have trampled on someone for the wrong reasons.
  4. Talk about Students and their Learning not Your Teaching: Try not to talk about your own teaching that much, especially at first. Stick to asking your colleagues about their teaching. When you do want to share something about you teaching, do it by sharing what your students are doing. Make it about the students, not about you. Like, “Hey I want to show you something my students did.” …  or “Hey, check out this paper my student wrote.” Keep the focus on student learning and your excitement about what students can do. Over time, someone might start to ask how you got students to do that, and you can share a little bit,
  5. Be a Point of Contact for PER Resources: When colleagues finally do come to you for advice on teaching, don’t moralize or pontificate. Instead, be a provider of resources. Be the advocate for the field of PER and point them to resources that you think are closely related to their question, concern, or issue. Let them know that their concerns and questions are important. Share more of your own thinking later if they come back again to talk about, or as follow up.

2 thoughts on “Five Pieces of Unsolicited Advice for (New) (PER) Faculty

Add yours

  1. Thank you. You highlight things I refused to do when coming to Maine (2001 was different from 2011, I think, but more importantly I was a coward in some areas). Seriously, I love your blog and your deep, powerful, public ways of thinking about these issues.


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    1. Thanks Michael. I do think it’s important to recognize that my advice has strong temporal and situational boundaries. The “typical” challenges that PER faculty face have changed but even its present variability is large. My advice could, in fact, be horrible in different contexts. I was thinking about that today, actually. For me, where I am, I don’t have to constantly fight for my identity as a physicists and researcher. I had the luxury to spend my time and efforts trying to elsewhere. That would not be true everywhere, and it’s not wholly true for everyone here where I am now. It’s definitely a privilege I enjoy to be so idealistic about it all.

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