Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I have been pondering the ultimate destination of my career of late. Will I remain in the community college world or will I throw my hat into the tenure-track ring of the 4-year college? Will I start working with web publishing or keep to a more conventional course?

I know that I am not alone in asking these questions, as this topic was the subject of a recent article in C & EN News (an ACS publication). I recall the article as covering the transition of Ph. D. chemists from higher-ed or industry to high school instruction. The chemists that are featured in the article are all extremely satisfied in their career choices and speak of the extremely rewarding task of expanding their students' understanding of chemistry as well as scientific work in general.

What I find so remarkable about this article is its stark contrast to the attitude held by the academic culture that produces so many of the PhD chemists. I recall how taking an industry position or finding a tenure-track spot at a university always seemed to receive much more respect than choosing the more humble route of high school or community college education. This sentiment, one that I ashamedly admit to have held during my graduate years, usually lead to talk of colleagues who took the less prestigious route with the sort of language reminiscent of conversations about friends with terminal diseases...

"Did you hear that Bob decided to teach at Belching State Community College?"

"Oh (pause with thinly veiled distaste)...that's nice...what a noble choice to go teach the unwashed masses. Too bad he'll never have a real job..."

I realize that I'm being melodramatic, but the scenario is not far from the sad truth. After all, I am guilty of having said similar statements in the past.

So why does academia hold such an unfavorable view of the noble pursuit of pure education? Is it because of the beaureaucratic structure or the fact that too many teachers in this country seem to have, at best, a superficial understanding of the disciplines they teach? I do not pretend to understand this apparent animosity, and I must say, as one who has chosen teaching as a career, that attitude makes even less sense.

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