10th Aug, 2011

The next phase

To look at things on the bright side, I’d like to think that I’m making it very easy for people to say that they are “regular readers” of my blog, by making that take only about twenty minutes per year. If I were to look on the less bright side, I might lament the fact that I’ve been unable to keep up the blog at anything like a reasonable rate. But I have good reasons for that, and things might change soon. So read on!

In my last post, I described how busy I was during the first term in my new job at Uppsala University. Now I’ve finished my second term in the job, which made the first term look easy. Over the past year, I’ve taught seventeen courses (some with up to three sections or groups) with a total of about 225 different students, many of whom were in more than one of these classes. For those of you not familiar with the Swedish university system, a course here involves less than a course in, say, the US system, so 17 courses in Sweden is probably more like 8 or 9 courses in the US. Of course, the content of the courses is still different, so in terms of the total amount of things to keep track of, it’s still a lot. Add to this the fact that all of these courses were new for me.

Teaching students how to write was a big part of this work. Since about half of these courses involved writing essays, over the past year I have read about and graded about 700 essay drafts (two each for 350 essays). Some of these were several pages long, though most were only a couple of pages. Nevertheless, it adds up to a lot of practice at teaching academic writing, which will be put to good use this coming term. More on that in a moment.

In the middle of all this teaching, I have managed to take a bunch of trips. In the last six months, I have been to Spain and Portugal, Chicago, Oslo, Boston, Colorado, northern Sweden, and Estonia. About half of these trips were to give talks or teach a course, so although they were enjoyable, it made for a lot of extra work, not to mention making it hard to keep up with my teaching load.

And so, given all this, imagine my relief and excitement when I found that I had been awarded a post-doctoral fellowship! It’s a position in my current department—I even get to keep the same office. So I am happy to say that this month I start a two-year position dedicated not primarily to teaching but to research. Specifically, my teaching load goes down from about nine courses per term to one. All of the rest of my time is to be dedicated to research (and other miscellaneous departmental duties). And amazingly, since this is funded by the university and not by a grant, I am free to work on whatever projects I choose.

Clearly, such a position could be abused, if one were inclined to lie in a hammock and sip margaritas instead of actually doing research. So I really appreciate the faith in me that the department has demonstrated by giving me a position with so much freedom. And importantly, this comes at a time in my career when I really need to do a lot of research and publish a lot. So I could hardly be in a better position, with the one exception that I don’t yet know where I will be working after the two years are up. Not a minor problem, but one that will hopefully sort itself out.

I’m even excited about the one course I’m going to be teaching. Together with my wonderful colleague Angela Falk, I’ve been put in charge of designing a new course in academic writing (called Introduction to Academic Writing), which will be a required course for all 120 or so of our incoming undergraduate students. Angela and I are putting together the lectures and designing a rather complex course involving us and five other teachers, each of whom will have one or two groups of students. It’s an interesting challenge, which I am enjoying thus far.

I’m also glad that I won’t be on total hiatus from teaching, since I really do enjoy teaching. My students in Uppsala have been terrific, and I’ve had a really good time working with them; I’ll try to write about my teaching experiences in my next post. But as any academic can tell you, nothing sucks time away from your research like teaching. So this post-doc position is a real godsend for me at this point in my career.

I am also hoping that having a less chaotic schedule will enable me to get better at staying in touch with people, including writing this blog. So if I owe you an e-mail, feel free to remind me, and stay posted to see if I really manage to emerge into the sunlight during this next phase.

Responses

Congratulations! That is really fantastic.

(And I must say I was startled to see a post from you pop up in my reader! Here’s hoping that I will get to feel less shock about that in the future.)

I really like your writing tool software! Being French living in the UK, I have many contact with the public as we own some holiday flats in Scarborough and although my English is alright, my wish is to improve it even more… So thank you for giving us this chance! Una.

Sounds like you are a world traveler. I just found your blog and i am looking forward to reading your posts. Seems like your POV on life is very similar to mine :)

It would be cool to be able to take one of your classes. Your writings and articles have been so interesting i could only imagine what a class would be like! Where did you say you taught?

Thank you Gregory for not only building such an important tool but also for making it available for everyone to use. It truly shows your dedication to teaching. I have a feeling there is a lot more that one can learn from you than just how to improve your writing skills.

Thank you Gregory for not only building such an important tool but also for making it available for everyone to use. It truly shows your dedication to teaching.

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