Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Who is that middle aged person talking to me and why am I listening…?

Professors. Teacher assistants. Post-graduate students. Doctors of Philosphy. Academics. Writers. These are the individuals who stand in front of many students beginning every September to lecture them about what they (may) need to know. So who exactly is that middle aged person talking to you as you scribble down notes during your three hour lecture sessions? As it turns out, they are not just teachers; they are researchers and writers.

When moving from high school to university, this change was one of the most notable ones that I didn’t notice immediately. Although there is some demand for respect, not all professors require you to call them Dr. _______ (actually, not all of them have a PhD). But, calling this middle aged person by using the designation doctor or professor is not a bad start.

University professors are not teachers

Not to be mistaken, university professors are not LIKE elementary or secondary school teachers. The latter folks make their money and promote the growth of their careers by teaching young adults, preparing lesson plans, and sometimes taking additional courses. University professors do these things AND conduct research. I suppose that an accurate description is that university professors lecture classes of students in order to make money but the reason that they are there is to conduct research. But really, they’re not making copious amounts of cash when their royalty cheque comes in when their most recent publication sells out of the 1,000 copies initially released for publication. While other teachers promote the growth of their careers by teaching, university professors do so by seeking to “publish or perish”; the idea that you must continue to research and publish your findings lest you lose your authority – and potential for tenure – for not continuing to do so.

So what sort of research do university professors do?

Well, to say that their research is ground breaking is an understatement. Really, I would expect that all research would be ground breaking during its time; if it wasn’t, then either the researcher didn’t do a thorough job or the research topic has been beaten to a bloodier pulp than a beaten dead horse.

Research that is conducted by professors is quite diverse. Nipissing University’s Dr. Nathan Kozuskanich (say that 10 times fast without mistakes!), originally from the Barrie area, studies American history and specializes in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Many of us will recall it as the right to bear arms. He is particularly interested in what the Founding Fathers of the 18th Century meant by a person’s right to bear arms; obviously, this issue has present day application regarding gun laws in the wake of many gun related crimes. Dr. K tells all here.

Dr. Dana Murphy has research interests regarding the elderly adults and is the overseer of the Northern Centre for Research on Aging and Communication that is located in the halls of Nipissing University. Students can also volunteer their time to be research subjects and receive a small honourarium for their time and effort. And no, this does not involve putting shampoo in your eyes and measuring the amount of tears that result. Learn more here.

Dr. Jim McAuliffe, current chair and professor of Nipissing’s new Bachelor of Physical Health and Education (BPHE) degree has studied athletes. Particularly, his recent study attempts to measure reaction time out of the starting blocks for runners. He can be read about in the Washington Post here.

So how does someone go from being a high school student to university professor? Well, mainly two things: lots of education and lots of money. Consider this equation: Education = Money. I think that my point is clear.

But really, after obtaining a 4 year undergraduate degree, students then pursue education at the graduate level in a 1 or 2 year program with the idea of developing and performing some original research that could be published as an article in a peer reviewed journal. After that, a PhD (which stands for Doctor of Philosophy – I didn’t know this until 2nd year university) can take upwards of 3 years to complete, and that is fast-tracking. Many professors take these latter degrees as part time study. Why? Well, they’re already up to their ears in debt and must work at an actual job before having the highest academic designation bestowed upon themselves. Do you think that you are so sick of your 3rd year university research essay that you want to punch it through the Milky Way? Well, try working on the same paper for multiple years! Welcome to the life of a university professor.

So after all of this education, you are actually a doctor! Well, not a medical doctor at this point and, you may have to watch yourself. As Dr. David Tabachnick, professor of Political Science at Nipissing University, once said, “If I’m on an airplane and someone yells that they need a doctor, I usually just keep my hand down so that I stay out of trouble.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You do know that many teachers are not just teaching these days... many actually complete research, not unlike the university professors, while carrying out their daily business. Many are working toward their Masters Degree, or are on multiple committees that promote research and work in curriculum development and modification, new and unique management strategies, etc. So while they may not be "researching" in the way you see as a university official, teachers are just as much a part of the research community.