Abstract: Becoming a Professor: A Collaborative Autoethnography of PhD Students' First Teaching Experiences (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

569P Becoming a Professor: A Collaborative Autoethnography of PhD Students' First Teaching Experiences

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Matthew Walsh, MSW, PhD Student, Indiana University, Indianapolis, IN
Eprise Armstrong Richardson, MSW, PhD Student / Research Assistant, Indiana University, indianapolis, IN
Background and Purpose:  The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE) recommends that social work doctoral programs prepare students for both research and teaching.  Despite this call for more support and classroom experiences, only 49% of the 69 US GADE full-member PhD programs required students to take a teaching or social work education course.

Teaching is a challenging endeavor, especially early in one’s career.  Common issues result from both practical aspects of teachings such as grading and lesson planning and coinciding emotional feelings such as self-doubt, insecurity, and fear.  As such, it is important to examine this learning experience.

Methods: The participants were two PhD students in their first teaching experiences teaching a MSW research class.  One, a white male in his third year of the program, had completed a pedagogy course and was engaged in a certificate program for college teachers while the other, an African American female in her second year, had not engaged in any pedagogy course or program.

Collaborative autoethnography (CAE) is a qualitative method that is collaborative, autobiographical, and ethnographic all at the same time.  CAE was used as it provides an opportunity for self-reflection which is an important exercise for new teachers. 

Participants engaged in journal writing before and after every class session and after receiving course evaluations.  After the semester was completed, the researchers engaged in a semi-structure interview/conversation with each other lasting 1.25hrs.  All of this data was transcribed, coded, and analyzed using consensus coding methods.

Results:  Two major themes emerged from the data.  The first theme was that of “warring emotions.”  Both participants spoke about self-assurance and fear in equal numbers.  Self-assurance consisted of a sense of confidence, growth, and accomplishment that seemed to improve during the semester and was highlighted by positive interactions with students.  However, fear was also a strong presence in the data and was demonstrated by feelings of anxiety, doubt, inadequacy, and the imposter syndrome.  Participants spoke of fear of being challenged or “found out” by students.  These feelings subsided during the semester but would emerge again as new or difficult situations arose as it did with the male participant when he caught a student plagiarizing halfway through the semester. 

The other major theme was “learning on the job.”  Finding comfort in the professor role and seeing areas needing change in the future were the two biggest subthemes. Managing expectations of self and students also came up frequently.  Finally, figuring out logistics revolving around program policies and technology was also part of this theme.

Conclusions and Implications: Based on the findings, it appears that PhD students new to teaching would benefit from support and mentoring from experienced educators.  Topics should include both pedagogy techniques and program specific guidance.  PhD students who are teaching should also seek support from their peers.  Being able to process the accompanying emotions that came with teaching was beneficial for participants and should be offered to all emerging professors to assist in navigating their dual role of student and professor.