What better way to get a feel for a particular career path or job setting than to hear from a professional actively working in the field. The following three university teachers provide an inside view of academia.
Jill Winland-Brown—Professor of Nursing
Jill Winland-Brown is a nurse and a doctor—a doctor of education— who teaches future nurses at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. She has been a registered nurse (R.N.) for more than thirty years and a university professor for twenty. She earned her R.N. in a three-year diploma program. After working for seven years, she returned to school to earn her bachelor’s, then her master’s, and, finally, her doctorate. She worked as a nurse throughout her studies.
The Work. Jill describes her work as having three components: teaching, service, and research. She teaches clinical and theory courses such as nursing ethics, leadership management, and technological skills (giving medications, starting IVs, and so forth) twelve hours a week. In addition, she prepares lessons and grades assignments.
The service portion of her job involves giving something back to the community and to the university. In this capacity, she serves on a number of boards and committees and advises both undergraduate and graduate students and helps them with independent studies or with their theses or dissertations.
The third component, research, is expected of a professor to further her own knowledge and that of others in important areas. Some of her research topics have involved problems for disabled nurses and summer camp nursing. She writes papers that report her findings and submits them to professional journals for publication.
She feels that she does a little of each—teaching, service, and research—every day.What Jill loves most about her work is watching her students learn and mature and then go on to find rewarding careers. She enjoys working with a wide range of students, whether they’re freshmen, seniors, master’s students, or R.N.s coming back to earn their bachelor’s degrees.
As an advisor, she works with students who are assigned to her when they begin their studies and stay with her throughout their programs. She likes being able to follow them through their educations and to get to know them well.
In addition, Jill enjoys being near people who are working in a variety of disciplines. Most hospital nurses work only with other health care professionals, but in a university setting, she comes in contact with people involved in many kinds of work.
Although she believes strongly in giving back to the university, the committee work takes a lot of time. And as a university professor, she also faces the pressure of “publish or perish.” Professors are expected to write articles and have them published in professional journals—in many cases, a teacher’s continued research funding depends on these publications. “You might spend a lot of time on two different papers,” Jill says. “One gets published right away, and the other you might have to submit several times, but they’re both of equal value. It takes a lot of time.”
Judy Burns—Adjunct Lecturer
Judy Burns teaches screenwriting classes at UCLA Extension and in UCLA’s master of fine arts program. She has had an extensive career in television, including writing for shows such as “Star Trek,” “Mission Impossible,” “The Fugitive,” “Magnum, P.I.,” “Vegas,” “T.J. Hooker,”“Marcus Welby, M.D.,” “Lucas Tanner,” and “MacGyver.” She also teaches screenwriting classes on America Online.
Judy spends six hours in the classroom each week, teaching two classes. She also keeps office hours and usually spends a few hours a week meeting with students. Preparation and grading also add to her schedule; for a three-hour class, she puts in an additional six hours.
She teaches a graduate course called Polishing Your Script in UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television. It’s the first time the program has offered a class in rewriting, and Judy was asked to teach it because of her work in the Extension program.
She enjoys the constant contact with the students, saying, “I find that writers who work in a little room sometimes become too introspective and don’t maintain contact with humanity—which is what they need to write and talk about. The constant influx of new ideas is great—you absorb all of that.”
The only downside is that teaching takes time away from her own writing and forces her to set aside specific time to do her own work. But other than that, she’s very happy with her teaching job.
Getting Started. Judy has a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from the University of California, Irvine, and a master’s with an interdisciplinary major in theater, English, and history from Cal State in San Bernardino. She also earned a doctorate in critical studies in theater at UCLA.
She worked her way up through Hollywood as a story editor and producer, so she learned these skills from some talented people. In that position, she was on the other side of the desk every day listening to writers who came to sell her their stories. After a while, she decided that it was time to pass on all of the information she had accumulated. However, she realized that in order to pass it on properly, she needed to understand the roots of screenwriting. Judy says that she became a screenwriter basically to earn money. She was an anthropology student at the time, saving for a ticket to Africa to work on an anthropological dig.
“And here I was suddenly selling, then on staff,” she says. “I was a writer, but I’d never had any academic training for it. I was a transplanted anthropologist. It’s not a bad background, that and psychology, but I’d never had Shakespeare courses or drama or read a Tennessee Williams play. But I had a knack for writing, and I had read all my life.”
All of Judy’s screenwriting credits are in television. Her break came with “Star Trek,” and the episode she wrote, called “The Tholian Web,” won an Emmy for special effects.
“I don’t want to disillusion young people, but I had managed to work consistently for twenty years and then decided to go back to school and teach what I know. I’d rather be poor and refreshed, constantly in contact with students. There comes a time when you have to give it back and fill up your own container. After twenty years, I felt depleted. By going back to school, I had the time to read and then took teaching assistant positions and was suddenly in contact with young people, and my universe expanded beyond just television.What I found was that the more I read, the more I absorbed, and I then almost immediately began to teach these things. I learned to appreciate teaching as an art form.”
Advice from a Professional. Judy says that in order to become an instructor, you need a solid history of working in a particular profession, or you need to get at least a master’s degree, if not a doctorate. You must be willing to invest the time to accomplish this, because a bachelor’s degree won’t get you very far.
Marshall J. Cook—Professor
Marshall J. Cook is a full professor in the department of communication programs, part of the division of continuing studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is also a writer with hundreds of articles to his credit, a couple of dozen short stories, and numerous books, including Writing for the Joy of It, Freeing Your Creativity: A Writer’s Guide, How to Write with the Skill of a Master and the Genius of a Child, Slow Down and Get More Done, Leads & Conclusions, and Hometown Wisconsin.
Before coming to Wisconsin, he worked for eight years as an instructor at Solano Community College in Suisun City, California. Marshall describes his current position as different from that of the traditional campus teacher. The Division of Continuing Studies is a separate unit within the university with the primary mission of adult education. He conducts workshops and does some consulting and on-site training of newspaper people and corporate communicators. For example, he runs a media workshop for police officers called Preparing to Be Interviewed by the Press, one on newsletter preparation, and another on stress management that follows his book, Slow Down and Get More Done.
Marshall says, “Basically, I offer anything we can sell to the public. We’re an income-generating unit, unlike campus teaching, and we’re responsible for paying our own way.”
In this capacity, he develops the workshops and also helps to publicize them in addition to his teaching duties. Each year he teaches between sixty and seventy workshops and also does guest speaking engagements and helps out at other conferences. While this might sound like quite a heavy workload,Marshall points out that there is no research component to his job. His research is all practical, and his publications are all mass media because that’s what he teaches.
The work is diverse and offers a rare opportunity to combine writing with another career that complements it. As he says, “The writing helps me teach, and the teaching helps me write.”
Although the work is stimulating, he admits that it can be very tiring.Marshall does a lot of traveling to conduct workshops, and sometimes he does as many as three in a week.
Getting Started. Marshall has a B.A. in creative writing and an M.A. in communications and print journalism from Stanford University. He attended law school for about four months but realized that although he enjoyed studying the law, he wasn’t interested in the actual day-to-day work of practice.He taught one English class at the University of Santa Clara in California and was hired full-time when a position became available. Marshall worked in the English department for four years and found himself thoroughly enjoying his job, remembering that his dream had always been to be a teacher and writer.
He began working as a member of the academic staff at the University of Wisconsin in 1979 as a program coordinator. Marshall acknowledges that he’s among the last people who entered the system in this way, moving from the academic staff track to a tenure-track position. He became an assistant professor, which is a professor without tenure, worked the required five to six years, and applied for tenure at the associate professor level. Three years later, he became a full professor.
Advice from a Professional. Although he was able to move directly into a tenure-track position with a master’s degree,
Marshall advises that today you will need a Ph.D. to achieve the same goal. “It’s a wonderful thing to do if you get the chance to do it,” he says. “You not only study and discuss interesting ideas, but you get to share them and watch them grow as you interact with young minds that aren’t nearly as trained as yours but are flexible and hungry for the knowledge you have.”