Are you interested in teaching in higher education? Meet Dr. Shawn Ambrose, Capella University PhD in General Business Management graduate and chair of the Department of Business Administration at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
He shares his story and tips for breaking into teaching at the college level.
Q. How did you land your first teaching position?
A. I actually landed my first teaching position by responding to an advertisement in a local newspaper. I was straight out of my master’s program and began teaching as an adjunct faculty member at a local proprietary trade school. I needed to get my foot in the door someplace, and that was a good place to start. Shortly after, I got another adjunct position at a community college.
Looking back at my first positions, I realize that my background really gave me an edge in the application process. My undergraduate degree was in journalism, and I also have an MBA. I’ve always had good communication skills, and I used that to my advantage to illustrate that I had the skillset to communicate effectively to students. In addition to my academic credentials, I had been a restaurant manager and a member of the Army National Guard. These leadership and communication skills were enough to get me an interview.
Q. Did you have teaching experience before landing your first faculty position?
A. I really didn’t have any formal teacher training. I used what I thought to be best practices from my own teachers and just dove into it. Once I started teaching, I used the feedback from course evaluations to develop my teaching style and become a better teacher.
Q. What surprised you about working in higher ed?
A. How much work it is! I had talked to other professors before I took the plunge, so I had a slight idea, but it is a tremendous amount of work. The amount of time you put in for course preparations, teaching, working with students, and grading assignments adds up to a lot.
Q. What do you want people to know about the culture and working environment in academia?
A. There are a few things.
First, in order to get your foot in the door, you need to be persistent. Finding a faculty position is all about timing. There are certain times of year when schools are typically looking to hire adjunct faculty. In my experience, that has been in the spring in preparation for the next fall semester. Spring is a good time to apply.
I would also suggest following up two weeks before fall semester starts. Things happen. They always do. I frequently have to find new adjunct faculty at the last minute. It’s usually the applicants who call and follow-up that I remember. If they’re qualified, they will probably be more likely to get the position than those who don’t follow-up.
I would also stress the importance of highlighting any training you have on your resume. Even if it is not in a traditional school setting, it will prove that you have an interest in the field and some of the skills needed to succeed.
Q. What do you find most rewarding about teaching in higher ed?
A. It is very gratifying to see students succeed. When students contact me after graduation and share what they have accomplished, I find that to be so rewarding.
Q. What do you find most challenging?
A. The balancing act is the most challenging part of the job. I am involved with committees, on the faculty senate, hold office hours, advise students, teach classes, and have a family at home. It’s hard to find a balance between all of these commitments. It’s important to know your priorities and be flexible. One of the things I do to help maintain this balance is spend every Sunday with my family, and completely unplug from my work email, etc.
Q. When you need to hire a new faculty member, what do you look for in a candidate?
A. There are three things I focus on: 1) any previous teaching experience; 2) the completion of a doctorate in their field of teaching (primarily for full-time faculty); and 3) candidates who have presented their dissertation at a conference or workshop. Presentations are a great resume builder that can help you stand out in the field.
Q. Any further advice for someone looking to teach in higher ed?
A. Not all jobs are advertised. Smaller schools often don’t have the budget to widely promote their open positions. I used a community college database and applied for every position I was qualified for. Most of these positions weren’t advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education or any similar publication.
For adjunct positions, I would encourage applicants to reach out to the dean or other academic leadership directly.
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