In which Chad puts on public display some of his worst human qualities: insecurity, narcissism, bitchiness, the tendency to generalize from anecdotal experience, and self-pity over academic problems that are fairly one-percenty.
For the typical college or university faculty member, most of one’s work consists of teaching and research. The relative proportions of effort spent on these endeavors depends to a large degree on one’s institution, to some extent on one’s departmental culture, and to the degree possible, on one’s personal preferences. In my own field of mathematics (but I suspect in others as well), there’s an ambient and vague or sometimes not-so-vague notion that research is higher on the pecking order. This bugs me. People who consider research their primary avocation should be grateful to those who devote time and passion to training students at all levels. Sometimes the prejudice goes the reverse way, though, so I must also say that people who are primarily teachers should be grateful for the world of research, which stimulates and guides what we can and should teach to our students.
I work at Macalester College, a liberal arts college in Minnesota. My own ideal balance between research and teaching is approximately 50/50, with wiggle room in either direction. Those of you in academia will recognize that it’s fairly difficult to find an institution where one can strike this balance. Many research institutions find me far too teaching-y. And for my tastes, many institutions that have teaching as their primary mission have teaching loads so intensive that they would really preclude my preferred minimal pace of research. I feel very lucky to be at Macalester where, while I don’t strike my ideal balance with bull’s-eye precision, I come pretty damn close.
In the following anecdote, I’m going to anonymize some information because I don’t want the other party to be identifiable. At the time I’m writing this blog post, I’m at a conference. A dude from the U.S. Department of X, who may well have had good intentions, looked at my name tag and said "Macalester College... I think I've heard of that before" (he then proceeded to confuse it with Carleton College). I looked at his name tag, looked him in the eye, and said "Oh yeah, Department of X… I'm not sure I... oh, wait I think I might have heard of that once."
Many of us at liberal arts colleges have to constantly fight uphill for legitimacy in the world of research. I swear I am not just having a chip on my shoulder here. My lived experience is that people at big universities, research institutes, think tanks, governments, etc. tend to assume I don't know anything mathematical because I am not at a huge name school. Now here’s where I will be slightly obnoxious. I actually do have a research profile. I mean, I am not winning a Fields Medal or Abel Prize anytime
soon ever, but I've had continuous grant funding since 2006, I publish papers in good journals, I have won a few very modest research prizes and honors here and there, and my papers even get cited... sometimes a lot.
Let’s get back to the chip that is, or is not, on my shoulder. I am curious to know if others out there feel like I do. Because when I go to conferences, I feel like I see it happen in real time. People look at me, look at my nametag, read the info, register a “huh?” on their face, and then move on to the next guy (and yes, the next one is usually a guy). Also, if we want to move up to the large sample size of n = 2, a former student of mine in an excellent Ph.D. program reported to me that an undergrad said to them “nobody should ever go to a small liberal arts college if they actually want to be a scientist.”
Being dismissed in research settings is annoying not because I think research is somehow globally more important than teaching and thus feel slighted, but rather because I, for a wide variety of reasons, have chosen to devote half of my professional efforts to it. I perceive inherent privilege in being at an R1 school.
In case you are not someone who thinks about privilege a lot, let me interpret. It's not that I don't have people who respect me and my work. I do. But the most common default assumption an academic stranger makes about me is that I have no research chops, whereas the default assumption about an R1 researcher is that s/he has a good research profile. As far as privilege deficits go, I fully admit that this is a tiny one. I am a white, male, cisgender, able-bodied, upper-middle-class, educated guy. I don't have a lot of inherent privilege deficits. I recognize what the cosmic role of dice has given me. Still, while I can put my minor challenges in perspective, they are still my challenges. Even though I am not at a research institution, like most scholars, I just want to interface with others, share my ideas, hear their ideas, and forge connections and collaborations so that I can make better contributions to the world.