I have been a professor for close to 20 years now, after having spent the previous 15 years in industry where I worked in engineering, manufacturing, and supply chain management. There are many positives associated with teaching that I would like to share with you, as well as a few frustrations.
- Creating unique courses that students connect to. Not every student connects to a course. Making the intellectual and emotional connection generally happens more often with graduate students than with undergraduate students.
- Student feedback comes in many forms, including formal course evaluations and notes from students such as the image on the right. I have always found the formal course evaluation to be a great source of practical feedback to improve course content and delivery. And it is rewarding to receive complimentary e-mails and handwritten notes from students.
- Seeing students prosper as a result of obtaining their B.S. or M.S. degree, and especially the adult working professional students whose education helps them achieve a major career change that results in a much better job, more responsibility, higher income, and so on. Many students who have been laid off from work find a new professional life as a result of our academic programs.
- Working with a good group of colleagues, both staff and professors.
- Having the time to think as well as do, versus the strong focus (over-focus) on doing while in industry.
- As a result of the above, being able to continuously learn and grow in ways that would not otherwise happen. This is what leads to scholarly output in the form of trade books and academic papers — and in the case of my work, always with a practical orientation.
- Pioneering the application of Lean principles and practices, which I learned in industry, to teaching and helping other professors (and K-12 educators) do the same. Click here to learn more about Lean in higher education.
A Few Frustrations
- Teachers, from about third grade forward, teach students how to do research and think critically. Yet, when they enter the workplace, doing research (to know for certain what one is talking about; the facts) and thinking critically (to advance knowledge and practice) are absent to a remarkable extent. Knowing how to do research and think critically is not an “academic exercise.” It has enormous practical utility and benefits in the real world of business and life. Think: Have you stopped doing research after you graduated? When was the last time you logged into your Alma Mater’s library to print out some e-journal articles in your field of study, to keep up-to-date, expand your knowledge, or learn new things? When was that last time that you did some serious critical thinking? When the boss confidently said “Blah Blah Blah,” did you say to yourself: “Is that true? Am I accepting it just because someone with power said it? I better check on that, because we might be doing the wrong thing.”?
- Similarly, graduates who enter the workplace focus on doing, and do not balance thinking and doing. The way you help make the world better is by consistently doing both, not just one or the other.
- University leaders who do not understand or care about Lean for managing and improving the institution (both teaching and administration) and indifference or disdain for Lean among colleagues. Generally, the views that “we’re different” and that anything that comes from industry is judged, a priori, as deficient, defective, or otherwise unusable in higher education. In other words, a lack of research and critical thinking, and the view that certain traditions remains useful.
- Generally, widespread misunderstanding of what professors do (in my case it is a 7 day-a-week job, due in-part to online courses and the need to be responsive to students), and overall decline of the profession in recent years.
I’m sure I have forgotten some things, but these are the main points that I wanted to share with you.