The Stories We Make Up About Ourselves
Fitting in vs. Belonging: The Costs and Benefits of Conformity

Academia Redux: Joining the Institute of Technology at the University of Washington, Tacoma

My new office This past Monday, I returned to the classroom after a hiatus of over two decades. While I have given occasional guest lectures and other presentations in academic settings in the intervening period, for the next six months, I will be engaging with students in classrooms at least twice a week in my new role as a Lecturer in the Computing and Software Systems program at the Institute of Technology at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

I'm excited about the opportunity to interact more regularly with students again. I don't much care for the title, "Lecturer", as it implies a predominantly one-way style of communication, and I see education as more of a conversation, a cooperative endeavor in which I hope to learn at least as much as the students do. And given that the two courses I'm teaching this quarter are outside of my primary areas of expertise, I fully anticipate that this will be a quarter filled with teachable moments for all participants.

Having recently written about narrative psychology and the stories we make up about ourselves, I've been reflecting on my own life story, and what this latest chapter represents. 21 years ago, I resigned my position as Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Hartford in order to work full time on a Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, with the initial intention of returning to teaching with my union card in hand. However, after completing my thesis in Artificial Intelligence, I was interested in trying something completely different, and followed a path into industry research and development that involved a blend of Ubiquitous Computing, Human-Computer Interaction and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work Whatever. I've always imagined myself returning to academia at some point, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to explore whether this is the appropriate time and place for a renewal of my passion for teaching.

My new colleagues at the Institute of Technology have been enormously supportive as I learn or re-learn both the content of the courses and how best to facilitate the learning of that content by the students. I'm impressed with the techologies that are available for promoting interaction in the classroom and hands-on experience in the labs, and am taking as much advantage of best practices developed by my colleagues as possible. Practicing Brene Brown's prescription for wholeheartedness and connection through courage, vulnerability and authenticity, I have been very open with the students, and they have also been generally patient and supportive as I do my best to get up to speed on multiple dimensions simultaneously. I know that several of these students know more than I know about some of the material we're covering in both courses, and I look forward to their continued contributions in this cooperative learning experience.

As part of my commitment to always do my best, I will postpone the inclination to write more about this transition at the moment, and turn my attention back to preparing for my second week of classes. After just one week, I can better understand the relative infrequency with which my Twitter friends from academia post status updates, and I expect my own social media use to continue at significantly reduced levels for much of the quarter.

FeelTheFearAndDoItAnyway-20thAnniversary In carrying on a tradition in past "transition" blog posts, I want to re-share one of the most valuable resources I've encountered - and regularly revisit - for making decisions about significant life events, the No-Lose Decision Model from Susan Jeffers' book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway:

Before you make a decision:

  1. Focus immediately on the no-lose model (whichever path you choose will provide learning opportunities … even if it’s learning what you don’t like)
  2. Do your homework (talk to as many people as will listen … both to help clarify your own intention and to get alternative perspectives)
  3. Establish your priorities (which pathway is more in line with your overall goals in life – at the present time)
  4. Trust your impulses (your body gives you good clues about which way to go)
  5. Lighten up (it really doesn’t matter – it’s all part of a lifelong learning process)

After making a decision:

  1. Throw away the picture (if you focus on what you expected, you may miss the unexpected opportunities that arise along the new path you’ve chosen)
  2. Accept total responsibility for your decision (don’t give away your power)
  3. Don’t protect, correct (commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you got … but if it doesn’t work out, change it!)

I more recently re-encountered some corroborating wisdom from Dan Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness - another source of insights I revisit periodically, especially on the cusp of important decisions - as articulated by Ze Frank:

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