June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
New Engineering Educators
15.265.1 - 15.265.11
Caution! Rough Road Ahead - the Transition from Industry Professional to Engineering Educator
The decision to join the ranks of the engineering technology faculty at a well respected university was a no-brainer for two industry veterans. Once they got over the pay cut that is. Money isn’t everything, after all, and pales in comparison to the rewards of working with future generations of problem solvers. In search of those rewards, armed with 37 years of collective experience, the authors would certainly waste no time in imparting their wisdom to classes full of eager students waiting to learn what it’s like in the real world. Or would they?
The transition into academia proved full of surprises, both good and bad, for each of the authors. Some of the challenges would likely affect any new faculty member, but some are certain to be unique to the authors due to their “tenure” in a corporate environment. The freedom from corporate objectives and standard operating procedures offers a refreshing autonomy, but not without some struggles in figuring out just what to do and how to do it in an academic world where individual creativity is protected through the absence of such direction. Pairing that with a compressed timeline to climb a very steep learning curve in providing meaningful course content every day, sometimes twice or three times a day, proves to be very stressful to industry veterans who were accustomed to preparing a presentation at most once per week, but usually less.
Gone were the days of being on top of the game, knowing the core competencies of a company and the technological specialization associated with it. In the role of an engineering technology educator, expertise in seemingly all things is expected, forcing a cleaning out of the cobwebs that have accumulated on many things unused since the educators’ own education two long decades ago. While the hope is to bring real world, industry focus to the education provided in the program, the students are leery to accept this from anything less than an expert.
Success in the corporate world is usually driven by attaining corporate goals, causing employees to view problems and challenges realistically in order to meet a given timeline. Being such a realist is a stark contrast to the idealists who thrive in academia, whose lifelong search for a new innovation may go unfulfilled but will never be thwarted or discouraged. This is their purpose now, a concept that can take some getting used to. Similarly, tenure-track compensation is a difficult concept for those accustomed to the pay-for-performance structure found in industry.
This paper recounts the common experiences of two industry veterans in their first two or three years of teaching, offers suggestions to mentors and administrators of new faculty, and provides advice for other new faculty experiencing a similar transition from industry to academia. The intent is to make the road along this transition less bumpy and full of mostly good surprises so the rewards of teaching can be more quickly and more smoothly attained.
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