This blog post is related to my previous reflection on “getting things done” and prioritizing. It refers to my experience in a primarily teaching private comprehensive university.

Skyping with middle schools about genetics. Very cool experience- also a bit of stretch on my abilities.

Skyping with middle school kids about genetics. Very cool experience- also a bit of stretch on my abilities.

As I look back and reflect on the many things that I had to learn just to keep afloat, a predominant group of my students come to mind.

Since I started teaching in the US in 2005, a large proportion of my students have been pre-nursing students. Over the years, I have talked to many of them about their plans and goals, and kept track of their journeys either personally or through social networking.

I feel for many of them. Expectations for nursing have shifted dramatically over the past years, from the Gold Rush of the nursing shortage in California to the recent reports of hiring bottlenecks and the sad plight of many new grads. Along the way, requirements and pre-requisites changed, making the goal a moving target. Whatever was an extra skill last year may have become required this year, and students had to adapt and scramble along the way.

It is expected, of course, especially in very technical fields, that the skills that were competitive before quickly become obsolete, and people has to keep acquiring new skills and competencies just to keep up. But it seems to me that the skill set required for a science educator has broadened considerably in just a few years.

Consider online teaching. The first time I taught an online course was in 2007, without really knowing how to teach online. Over the next years I learned quite a bit, and currently consider myself knowledgeable. During this time, being familiar with online platforms has transitioned from being slightly suspicious to something useful, and these days it is almost required.

What about education of science per se? It feels like a revolution has taken place in just a few years in how science is supposed to be taught. It is great and exciting and empowering…but it takes a while to learn about learning theories and assessment modalities. And Bloom’s taxonomy.

To boot add all the outreach and marketing skills. In my previous posting I referred to exciting side projects that fizzled- most of those were outreach projects, trying to establish partnerships and collaborations. Outreach takes time, effort, and skills. Oh and personality. As an introvert, reaching out to strangers drains me mentally and emotionally.  But even writing emails and coordinating conference calls take time and effort.

Now to the bright side. Personally, I have always been more the “Jack of all trades” kind, so most of the time I like learning new things. And looking back, it have been mainly those leaps of faith and new adventures that guided me to the next door opening, the next mentor, the next opportunity.

There is a lot lately out there about the alt-ac careers, the many “soft skills” that academics need to learn to succeed in other areas. But even in academia, there is a lot of pressure to acquire new skills besides the traditional research/writing knowledge. And it is a fine balance. Although my position is mainly a teaching position, I do lab research and hope to go back to publish hard science some time soon. How much more I gain in my teaching practice by learning a new approach if it eats into my precious time to run certain experiments? How much I gain by trying to network for a collaboration if it will affect my class prep time?

I do not do New Year’s resolutions…but some time last December I decided to really focus on a few priorities (research and publishing on the top) and try to 1) avoid the siren song of new and cool ideas, and 2) say “NO” more often. On the last day of a mostly nice holiday break (not counting a really bad bout of the flu) I am bracing myself for the return of insanity starting tomorrow. But I hope to stand firm. I will try, at least!