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Why would you or would you not go into academia/teaching?


nehs
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I've been thinking of academia for tha past few weeks now. I'm finishing up my master's and then I plan to go back into the industry(corporate). My major is MIS/Business. I used to work in the industry before I started my master's program and I thought I enjoyed it. Now, I have a job (part-time) during my master's program and I am realizing that I don't like the industry as much. The job makes me tired at the end of the day. I mean , not physical tiredness as I'm a very active person in terms of fitness levels , but mentally draining.

 

 

I enjoy academia. I have published during my master's programs but I haven't done any teaching. I'm thinking seriously of going ahead and getting a PhD after my master's to go into teaching.

 

why would you or would you not get into academia after grad school?

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The academic environment can be more comfortable than the corporate workplace for a lot of people I think.  The main drawback probably is departmental politics.  Depending on how that weighs (in your favor or otherwise), it might not be a problem.  It can impact your salary adversely if it weighs against you.  But if you fit into your department well, I think you could enjoy a more comfortable career in academia.  Have you thought of doing some student teaching to see if you like it?

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Makes sense but I don't think we would know about the politics until after completing a few months at the institute.

 

I have never got the chance or seeked the oppurtunity to teach. I would have to think about it :)

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It might actually be a pretty fluid transition for you, or less of an adjustment as you might expect as universities are increasingly corporatizing their methods and policies. 

 

As far as academic being less mentally draining than a corporate sector career... well... it might not be so easy to say one is better than the other. Academics don't work regular work hours; they work all the time including weekends and holidays. Especially if you're on a tenure track. (There was an article in the chronicle of higher ed I think that said that the avg work week for academics runs about 70 hours for pre-tenured asst or assoc professors) You'll need to teach, do committee work, advise students AND publish a book (generally). That last task is usually done when you're not on campus, so that's where most academics' free time goes to; something you have to do on your "own" time. 

 

Also, even after you get tenured you're still assessed every X number of years (5 or 6 seems to be what I gather) and your publications, conference presentations, talks, administrative contributions and mentorship (AND your teaching) is taken into account. 

 

Also keep in mind that many academics also leave the faculty and start careers in the administration of universities, though perhaps later on in their careers. 

 

All that said, for me, I'd go into academia. I like research and I like teaching. I wouldn't consider it an easier job than in the corporate world (which i've also been in, in the insurance industry). It's equally as demanding, with workload, deadlines and politics; but it's different, both in the experience and rewards. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have been in the mortgage world during my undergraduate studies. I would definitely prefer academia over corporate life. The foundations behind what drives a university is going to be significantly (not 100% always) different than what drives a for-profit business. I experienced much of corporate bullshit and the treatment, and I think I would like to trade it in for some different form of bullshit :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Why I would:

1) Autonomy/independence.  I get to determine what I work on, when I want to.
2) Flexibility of schedule.  I may have to work 80 hours a week, but they're any 80 hours I want!
3) Intellectually stimulating environment of the university.
4) Shaping young minds, I guess.  Helping to influence the future of my field.  I'd like to advise pre-health undergrads in their careers, and maybe advise new doctoral students one day.

Why I wouldn't:

1) I don't really like teaching.  Every time I get involved in it, I always think it's just distracting from my research, so I think that's a sign.
2) I would prefer some geographic mobility.  I don't want a job in a place I hate just for the opportunity to be an academic.
3) I prefer a more medium-stress lifestyle, and I don't want to fight for tenure.
4) Tenure doesn't appeal to me.  I don't want to be tied to one institution for my career; I want the freedom to move if I want to.  I know it's a bit harder to move on in academia when you're an associate or full professor unless you are prolific.
5) I don't want to pay my own salary through grants.  I would prefer a guaranteed salary.
6) Academia moves too slowly for me.  I want my research to go towards applied programs that will solve problems in the more immediate future.  I want to work on very applied issues and help people in the more proximal future.
7) I really don't want to run my own research lab.  It's not that I'm not a good manager, but I would prefer the structure of an established company rather than being, essentially, the proprietor of a small business.  I just want to worry about the science and not the money or the equipment or the space.  I would rather work on a team with other researchers at my level, all of whom have a particular skill set they bring to the problem at hand.  And I want to work for a corporation that hires other people to worry about the money and the equipment and the space and leave me to play with data and write papers.
8) I hate committees, and I hate meetings.  I realize that those happen in corporate, too, but from my (admittedly limited) experience, academia = endless pointless meetings whereas corporate seems to have mastered them a little better.
9) I like routines and predictability.  I know that I enjoy the flexibility of academia, but I also would not mind one bit working a 9-5 and knowing that at 5 or 6 or 7 pm I can drop everything and go home and not think about work the next day.
10) I like juggling multiple research projects at once, but I don't like juggling multiple tasks at once.  I want to be a researcher working on a variety of projects, but not a teacher, adviser, and researcher all at once.  I'm not really good at segmenting my time properly, and I've found that I waste a lot of time transitioning my brain from one task to the next.
11) I like to call myself a "research mercenary."  I am more broadly interested in public health research, but there are a wide variety of fields within that area that I am interested in.  I feel like if I became an academic, I'd be expected to dig a specialized niche within a particular area and burrow into that niche for the next 20 years.  But that's not what I really want.  I'd much rather be a semi-generalist, and know a little about a lot and a lot about one particular area of that lot.

12) Again, I have limited experience, but I find corporate bullshit more understandable than academic bullshit.  Corporations want to make money, and people in corporations work together to make money somehow.  Even in think tanks and policy institutes, the goal is to compete for government contracts and produce good end goals so that more agencies want to contract with you.  Government agencies and institutes produce research for the national good (theoretically) to serve priority areas.  But academic politics drive me nuts.  I always feel a little bit alienated around other grad students who really, really want to be academics.

13) I don't like conferences.  I know I will still go if I am in non-academic research, but they'll be less critical to my career (somewhat) and so maybe I will go to fewer.

Now I sound like a misanthropic academic, lol.

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I've been told by a distant-distant relative (econ professor at usc) that Econ professorship is particularly nice because there's less supply than at other positions due to opportunity costs.

 

top econ people can make WAY more money in the finance industry, which means most people don't want to invest 5 low-income years into a phd at low pay.

 

so those who DO want to become econ professors generally have less competition than science and other fields. plus postdocs are rare in econ, so you get professorship even faster. i'd imagine a tenured professor has a pretty good career and less-stressful lifestyle than a high earning finance burnout (at considerably less pay, of course)

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've been thinking a bit about staying in academia. I'm almost done with my Master's, people keep asking if I'm going to do my PhD but one of the main reasons is that A) I don't know of any PhD programs in forensics and B) My lab PI. I love the field I'm working in, I love the work I do and hope to eventually  work for a large crime lab on major cases. A PhD in my field wouldn't help me in what I really want to do and would just put me in more debt. I love teaching the classes I have, I would love to have my own pick at what to research, etc... but watching my PI each day, all the grant writing, paper writing, constantly dealing with companies over research intentions, and the fact that she just seems generally unhappy all the time has really pushed me away from it.

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I've been thinking a bit about staying in academia. I'm almost done with my Master's, people keep asking if I'm going to do my PhD but one of the main reasons is that A) I don't know of any PhD programs in forensics and B) My lab PI. I love the field I'm working in, I love the work I do and hope to eventually  work for a large crime lab on major cases. A PhD in my field wouldn't help me in what I really want to do and would just put me in more debt. I love teaching the classes I have, I would love to have my own pick at what to research, etc... but watching my PI each day, all the grant writing, paper writing, constantly dealing with companies over research intentions, and the fact that she just seems generally unhappy all the time has really pushed me away from it.

 

If a PhD in your field won't help you do what you want to do right now, then I say hold off. Go out and try to get the jobs you want. Chase the dream job rather than incurring more debt for a degree that won't get you where you want to go. Along the way, you might find that you can teach as an adjunct somewhere with your masters. I know that some of the community colleges around me offer forensic science classes.

 

Also, and I can't believe that I know this, but Ohio University, Central Florida, and West Virginia all have chem PhD programs with a concentration in Forensics, (I have a friend who applied, but ultimately reconsidered and just stuck with his masters).

 

Best of luck to you! 

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Well, from the simple perspective that there are more and better paying jobs outside academia... I probably wouldn't stay.

 

In lots of scientific fields it isn't uncommon for people to do post-doc after post-doc for ~10 years before getting a real job in academia. If they're unsuccessful they end up in industry anyway. Not the way it works in every field, but there are just too few positions in academia to support the demand.

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Why I would:

1) Autonomy/independence.  I get to determine what I work on, when I want to.

2) Flexibility of schedule.  I may have to work 80 hours a week, but they're any 80 hours I want!

3) Intellectually stimulating environment of the university.

4) Shaping young minds, I guess.  Helping to influence the future of my field.  I'd like to advise pre-health undergrads in their careers, and maybe advise new doctoral students one day.

Why I wouldn't:

1) I don't really like teaching.  Every time I get involved in it, I always think it's just distracting from my research, so I think that's a sign.

2) I would prefer some geographic mobility.  I don't want a job in a place I hate just for the opportunity to be an academic.

3) I prefer a more medium-stress lifestyle, and I don't want to fight for tenure.

4) Tenure doesn't appeal to me.  I don't want to be tied to one institution for my career; I want the freedom to move if I want to.  I know it's a bit harder to move on in academia when you're an associate or full professor unless you are prolific.

5) I don't want to pay my own salary through grants.  I would prefer a guaranteed salary.

6) Academia moves too slowly for me.  I want my research to go towards applied programs that will solve problems in the more immediate future.  I want to work on very applied issues and help people in the more proximal future.

7) I really don't want to run my own research lab.  It's not that I'm not a good manager, but I would prefer the structure of an established company rather than being, essentially, the proprietor of a small business.  I just want to worry about the science and not the money or the equipment or the space.  I would rather work on a team with other researchers at my level, all of whom have a particular skill set they bring to the problem at hand.  And I want to work for a corporation that hires other people to worry about the money and the equipment and the space and leave me to play with data and write papers.

8) I hate committees, and I hate meetings.  I realize that those happen in corporate, too, but from my (admittedly limited) experience, academia = endless pointless meetings whereas corporate seems to have mastered them a little better.

9) I like routines and predictability.  I know that I enjoy the flexibility of academia, but I also would not mind one bit working a 9-5 and knowing that at 5 or 6 or 7 pm I can drop everything and go home and not think about work the next day.

10) I like juggling multiple research projects at once, but I don't like juggling multiple tasks at once.  I want to be a researcher working on a variety of projects, but not a teacher, adviser, and researcher all at once.  I'm not really good at segmenting my time properly, and I've found that I waste a lot of time transitioning my brain from one task to the next.

11) I like to call myself a "research mercenary."  I am more broadly interested in public health research, but there are a wide variety of fields within that area that I am interested in.  I feel like if I became an academic, I'd be expected to dig a specialized niche within a particular area and burrow into that niche for the next 20 years.  But that's not what I really want.  I'd much rather be a semi-generalist, and know a little about a lot and a lot about one particular area of that lot.

12) Again, I have limited experience, but I find corporate bullshit more understandable than academic bullshit.  Corporations want to make money, and people in corporations work together to make money somehow.  Even in think tanks and policy institutes, the goal is to compete for government contracts and produce good end goals so that more agencies want to contract with you.  Government agencies and institutes produce research for the national good (theoretically) to serve priority areas.  But academic politics drive me nuts.  I always feel a little bit alienated around other grad students who really, really want to be academics.

13) I don't like conferences.  I know I will still go if I am in non-academic research, but they'll be less critical to my career (somewhat) and so maybe I will go to fewer.

Now I sound like a misanthropic academic, lol.

 

Why I would go into academia:

 

1) Autonomy/Independence - I could choose my research topic and when I want to research it

 

2) Flexible Schedule - I would not have to work all day

 

3) Rewarding - I could help people learn

 

Why I would not go into academia:

 

1) Teaching - I dislike teaching.  I have taught before and I will hopefully not do it again.

 

2) Schedule/Routines - The work never ends.  Professors are always preparing for class, teaching, grading, or researching.  They also have to meet with students and deal with administration.  This means working on weekends and holidays.

 

3) Competition - It is really difficult to get a full tenured position at a university.  Universities are increasingly hiring adjunct lecturers because it is easier then giving someone tenure.

 

4) Meetings and administration - what juilletmercredi said

 

5) Niche - It is good to have a specialty.  But I also want the opportunity to explore new areas in my subject.  I am interested in international affairs, specifically the U.S.' relationship with Asian countries.  If I was in academia, I would probably have to become an Asian Studies or Political Science professor.  I do not want to limit myself to only knowing about Asian countries.

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  • 2 weeks later...

OP here -- I'm starting to look out for teaching jobs, possibly at CC to see how teaching really feels. I have a dose of research already  but wanted to know what teachign really involves. Most positions ask for a PhD but i'm going to try with my master's.

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Good for you, nehs! You never know until you try it. I thought I would love teaching (because I loved school as a student). Well... a decade later, and I discovered that I don't love teaching as much as research. Actually a balance would be nice, but I couldn't do much research as a K-12 classroom teacher. I think being in academia will allow me to do research on something that I'm passionate about (education, schooling, teaching, learning) and still engage in teaching but to a lesser degree. I've just recently decided that I do want to aim for R1 institutions, not because of academic prestige, but because I just love research. Some of my colleagues know for sure that they enjoy teaching more than research, so they are aiming for small liberal arts colleges. Personally, students scare me--I was an okay teacher, but I could never have become a great teacher. But the only way that I found that out was to try it!

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  • 6 months later...

I would love to explain materials to a room full of students - preferably as objectively but in-depth as possible to give them a solid background in the topic and allow them to determine what to do with the information themselves. 

 

The drawbacks would involve fielding bizarre, out-of-left-field or less than borderline-comprehensible questions from students (which is something an instructor should be careful to handle with tact). Surprisingly (or not) I have seen a lot of this in undergraduate psychology and political science classes that I have been in as a student. 

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Why I would:

1) Autonomy/independence.  I get to determine what I work on, when I want to.

2) Flexibility of schedule.  I may have to work 80 hours a week, but they're any 80 hours I want!

3) Intellectually stimulating environment of the university.

4) Shaping young minds, I guess.  Helping to influence the future of my field.  I'd like to advise pre-health undergrads in their careers, and maybe advise new doctoral students one day.

Why I wouldn't:

1) I don't really like teaching.  Every time I get involved in it, I always think it's just distracting from my research, so I think that's a sign.

2) I would prefer some geographic mobility.  I don't want a job in a place I hate just for the opportunity to be an academic.

3) I prefer a more medium-stress lifestyle, and I don't want to fight for tenure.

4) Tenure doesn't appeal to me.  I don't want to be tied to one institution for my career; I want the freedom to move if I want to.  I know it's a bit harder to move on in academia when you're an associate or full professor unless you are prolific.

5) I don't want to pay my own salary through grants.  I would prefer a guaranteed salary.

6) Academia moves too slowly for me.  I want my research to go towards applied programs that will solve problems in the more immediate future.  I want to work on very applied issues and help people in the more proximal future.

7) I really don't want to run my own research lab.  It's not that I'm not a good manager, but I would prefer the structure of an established company rather than being, essentially, the proprietor of a small business.  I just want to worry about the science and not the money or the equipment or the space.  I would rather work on a team with other researchers at my level, all of whom have a particular skill set they bring to the problem at hand.  And I want to work for a corporation that hires other people to worry about the money and the equipment and the space and leave me to play with data and write papers.

8) I hate committees, and I hate meetings.  I realize that those happen in corporate, too, but from my (admittedly limited) experience, academia = endless pointless meetings whereas corporate seems to have mastered them a little better.

9) I like routines and predictability.  I know that I enjoy the flexibility of academia, but I also would not mind one bit working a 9-5 and knowing that at 5 or 6 or 7 pm I can drop everything and go home and not think about work the next day.

10) I like juggling multiple research projects at once, but I don't like juggling multiple tasks at once.  I want to be a researcher working on a variety of projects, but not a teacher, adviser, and researcher all at once.  I'm not really good at segmenting my time properly, and I've found that I waste a lot of time transitioning my brain from one task to the next.

11) I like to call myself a "research mercenary."  I am more broadly interested in public health research, but there are a wide variety of fields within that area that I am interested in.  I feel like if I became an academic, I'd be expected to dig a specialized niche within a particular area and burrow into that niche for the next 20 years.  But that's not what I really want.  I'd much rather be a semi-generalist, and know a little about a lot and a lot about one particular area of that lot.

12) Again, I have limited experience, but I find corporate bullshit more understandable than academic bullshit.  Corporations want to make money, and people in corporations work together to make money somehow.  Even in think tanks and policy institutes, the goal is to compete for government contracts and produce good end goals so that more agencies want to contract with you.  Government agencies and institutes produce research for the national good (theoretically) to serve priority areas.  But academic politics drive me nuts.  I always feel a little bit alienated around other grad students who really, really want to be academics.

13) I don't like conferences.  I know I will still go if I am in non-academic research, but they'll be less critical to my career (somewhat) and so maybe I will go to fewer.

Now I sound like a misanthropic academic, lol.

 

I'm not in a Ph.D program yet, so I don't think I have a perpestive to give, but I do have some questions. Regarding Cons 5, is that particular for the STEM fields or for the social sciences as well? I always thought that the university pays your salary and grants are for particular research projects.

 

I agree with suckiness of department politics and endless meetings, the lack of geographic/institutional mobility, but tenure does appeal to me. Ideally one can find a pleasant enough town and then learn to love it, but with the job competition right now, I don't think we have much of a choice. However, for Cons 7 & 9, I think that's only true as long as you haven't climbed the corporate ladder high enough and not yet become a high level excutive. At that point you do have to work extra long hours and handle managerial tasks. Regarding niche, I do believe that expertise can only come with specialization. And in my field at least, you're allowed to have several niches (I hope that's the correct plural), albeit they're usually closely related. One professor/researcher can specialize in political communication, civic engagement and media law; or media & technology, gaming and virtual identity, and violence in the media at once. I think that's quite enough to dedicate a research career to.

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@VioletAyame:

 

1. I am a social scientist, heh.  I'm a psychologist, more specifically.  Psychology is one of those weird social sciences that functions, many times, more like a natural science than a social - in that we are organized into labs, we run experiments, and most of our research runs on national/federal grants.  So we're often included in the round-up of people expected to fund our own salaries.  I would imagine it's less of an issue in anthropology or sociology or political science, although it would depend.

 

It also depends on the institution.  I happen to attend a "soft money" institution where many/most professors across many/most fields (especially the STEM, but in my department as well) fund most of their salary through grants, but it also varies across department and school.  There are many "hard money" institutions where that is not the case.  Most institutions are hard money, especially if they are not R1 institutions - but even many R1s, like Michigan, are hard money.  I'm also attending an academic medical center, which is different.  In academic medical centers it is much more common to pay part of your own salary through grants.

 

Con #9 refers not to the long hours (which I don't mind) but to the mutability of those hours.  Even many high-level executive may work a 12-hour day, but when they come home at 8 pm they don't do work for the evening.  It depends on the job, of course, and you can also go into fields where this is not an issue.  I also want to clarify that these are cons for me at this particular point in my career.  In 10 years I anticipate that I will want more managerial roles and may be more amenable to leading people.  But for now, I want to play with data.

 

I think whether or not expertise only comes with specialization depends on what you mean by 'expertise.'  I tend to think that expertise comes with experience, and the point of a PhD is not to teach you a specialty but to teach you how to learn.  My experiences have supported that; I realize as I am writing my dissertation that the point of every experience in my PhD program so far has been leading up to this: teaching me how to function as an independent scholar, teaching me how to teach myself things very very quickly so that I can do the work I want to do.  Researchers, after all, just find information.  Once you realize that you realize how tremendously transferable the PhD skillset is to other areas.

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When you say you've never taught..

 

Not even a Graduate Assistant covering a basic 101 class or as a TA covering a lab...?

 

Because most of the people I know who may have thought the grass was greener got that basic "taste" and decided it was something they wanted to avoid in the future at all costs.

Edited by Loric
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I enjoy teaching to a certain extent. However, it's also easy to pass that off as an afterthought, when your higher priority is research. When I TA'ed general chemistry, I found myself barging into the help room 15 minutes before class to pick up a textbook and learn what we were supposed to be talking about, and sometimes relearning what I've forgotten. That routine more/less worked for general chemistry, but would definitely not fly in a more serious course. I feel kind of guilty, because I did not take the time to really get organized for the course. And I didn't take any time to interact with my students such that some would have taken a greater interest in my course, instead of falling asleep.

 

As for academia. I have no idea. I've heard of good/bad in academia and industry alike. In academia, you get a more laid back atmosphere, more freedom in choosing your research thrusts, but it also requires tons of time and dedication to grants and papers. It pretty much consumes your life. On the other hand, in industry, you're free after you clock out, there's no pressure to "publish or perish," but your projects are probably a lot less engaging, and more focused on saving the company money than coming up with new ideas. I don't think you can make a truly informed decision about this until you do your first rodeo - so to speak.

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I was absolutely and utterly terrified of teaching...  But then I TA'd 3 labs this semester.  I'm still a little nervous about the new classes next semester, but it's never going to be the overwhelming terror it was the day before I started.

 

But... whether this makes me want to go charging into academia like a bull on red crack is another story.  One of the points in my application statement was that I was very much on the fence about whether I wanted to enter academia or industry.  I still am - even though the teaching/public speaking anxiety was a part of that indecision.  juilletmercredi paraphrased most of the other concerns quite eloquently.  In general, I'm trying to let the entire PhD experience guide that decision.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I could see myself going into academia after working in the industry for 10-20 years.  During my undergraduate studies, I had some professors who worked in industry for 15 years before teaching at my school, and I honestly enjoyed their classes more than the ones taught by professors that stayed in academia their entire career.  I hope to one day provide that value to students.

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Ditto on what everyone else with teaching experience has said.

 

In addition, unless you get a tenure-track or full-time permanent (CC) job, you won't have any job security semester-to-semester.  It's great.  Good luck buying a house or even a car when your teaching job(s) show up as "Temporary" assignments.

 

If you can get a permanent/tenured position, the job security is better (though institutions can still pull "retrenchment").  The pay still is less than what you can make in industry jobs. The work follows you home -- students get upset when you don't respond to emails at 1:00a.m.  And grading is the most time consuming and contentious activity (for most fields).

 

You need to like teaching and you need to be good at it, otherwise it will only be problematic.

 

*If you haven't taught at all, you need to intern in a professor's class, job shadow, or get a TA position before you make this kind of decision.

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I definitely think the flexibility, independence, and opportunity to work with students appeals to me. I figure there will be many intro level classes where the students are uninterested, and maybe even angry or annoyed they have to take the class, but I'd still like to give it a shot.

 

Fears? The competition and pressure for tenure, and the politics going on behind the scenes scares me a little. D;

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