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Report from the 2010 AAPT New Faculty Workshop

cheerful folks conferencingLast week I had the privilege of attending the 2010 New Faculty Workshop put on by the American Association of Physics Teachers, co-sponsored by the American Physical Society and the American Astronomical Society, and supported by the National Science Foundation. The term “new” is a bit of a misnomer because most of the faculty in attendance were “new-ish”, having had at least a year of teaching experience. The meeting was chock-full of helpful information about issues specific to teaching physics, but there was also quite a bit of practical material that can apply to anyone in academia.

One of my favorite bits of advice came from Eric Mazur, who is best known in pedagogy circles for his book Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual. His presentation included suggested methods for quantifying the effects of pedagogy implementation, such as concept inventories like the Force Concept Inventory for physics. Mazur said, “the plural of anecdote is not data.” I felt this was really helpful to remember as we faculty should be mindful of assessment methods and the data that is needed to assess and improve teaching.

Bob Hilborn held a helpful discussion on tenure issues. He emphasized the importance of record-keeping as you build your tenure file. His suggestion was to have a central location to keep information you think even might barely be needed for your file, such as a journal of daily activities or a file folder where you toss in any piece of paper that documents your tenure efforts. Hillborn also mentioned the Wieman factor, where the factor = results/effort. The less effort you have to put into something, the bigger the factor towards your work.

Finally, Tim Slater gave a talk on time management. He rightfully argues that one of the biggest issues facing faculty is managing email, and so the talk turned into an email management talk. You can find the slides here, but below are a list of pointers pulled from the talk which I thought would be helpful for the ProfHacker audience.

  • The amount of email you receive depends upon how much you send, in most cases. If you can reduce the amount you send by communicating with other methods (such as by phone or walking down the hall), you can reduce the amount of email you have to deal with.
  • Consider that with others, email is often just a means of getting heard. You can manage your email in a way that helps them feel that their need is met. In the case of students, consider noting in your syllabus that you respond to student email only once per day. Or give the students a special email address where they can reach you, and activate an auto-responder message that will remind them when you address student email. This can alleviate their anxiety of needing to be noticed.
  • Just as it is often most time-efficient to batch laundry and dishwashing, batching your attention to email can pay off in gains of time. Slater recommends setting specific times to deal with email, such a slot in the late afternoon.
  • Slater uses a digital calendar to manage his to-do list. He puts recurring items in their slots and puts his week’s to-do list items on Saturday of a given week. When those items are completed during the week, he moves them over to the slot in which they were actually completed. Reviewing his calendar gives him a sense of where his time goes.
  • One final piece of advice for strategic planning: Slater recommends taking some time to define what success looks like to you in the practical sense. Is it completing 5 papers a year? Landing 2 grants? Keeping your lawn from turning into a jungle? Getting a birthday card out to each of your loved ones? By writing down these work and non-work goals, you give yourself some tactile measures of success that can help you choose where to put your time.

And that’s the report from the AAPT New Faculty Workshop. I’m already benefiting from implementing some of these ideas in my own work processes, especially adapting Slater’s to-do list calendar integration and putting into my calendar after the fact what I did during the hours of each day. What conference tips have you implemented in your work routines and how have they helped you?

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user criminalintent.]

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