“Be hopeful and don’t give up no matter what…”
Assistant professor career path/job description: What is it?
It is mainly teaching university-level courses and conducting research in your own area of expertise.
What is your educational background?
I have a BS in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, MS in Biomedical Engineering, Biomaterials subfield and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.
How long have you been doing this job?
I have been teaching in universities overall for 4 years. I was a part-time lecturer for 2 years and I’ve been an assistant professor for 2 years now.
Why/How did you choose this path?
I have always been interested in conducting research in a lab. In my high school years chemistry was one of my favorite subjects and with the university entrance system in our country, I ended up in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, an engineering discipline where chemistry is highly involved (close enough :)
However, during the first few years of my engineering education, I didn’t really enjoy my area. And during my summer internships in factories (tractor and railway factories to be specific), I realized that I didn’t want to be an engineer working in a factory, doing almost the same thing each and every day. I also hadn’t found any area of materials engineering that I was interested in at that point, so I felt a little lost, career-wise.
Luckily, in my senior year, I was introduced to the area of biomaterials, through some elective courses, and I loved that topic. So, I decided to get an MS degree and see how that works out. It turned out that I really enjoyed research in that area, which led me to pursue a PhD degree (although I got my PhD in Mechanical Engineering, I continued working on biomaterials.) And following that, I thought it would be ideal to have a professor position at a university where I can also continue my research on biomaterials.
Does your family have a role in choosing this career?
Well, considering my parents are both high school teachers and my brother is a professor of architecture, one could argue so, the urge to teach seems to be somehow in our genetics :)
Actually, I’ve always been more interested in the research aspect of this job. After pursuing my MS, I was considering finding a job as a researcher, but at that point, my brother convinced me that an MS is not a research degree but a PhD is. And he was right. And my parents have always been more than supportive as I wanted to continue school.
So, I can say that, yes, my family might have influenced my career choice, in a positive way. But they never forced me into anything.
Did your career path meet your expectations?
So far, yes and no. Since I am still at the beginning of my full-time position, I am still in the period of putting the teaching part of my job in order. For the past two years, I had at least one brand new course to teach each semester, and it is a very time-consuming process to prepare a course from almost scratch, especially for this one course which was not even my area. So, that had been exhausting and a little frustrating, especially since it left me no time to work on my research, the part of my job that I loved better. Moreover, I’ve been teaching really crowded classes, so the grading part has also been a little overwhelming.
Another issue I’m having is the very limited lab facilities provided in my institution (of course that is also specific to my case), which won’t likely improve in the near future. For that, I’m counting on collaborations with the former institutions I worked in.
On the other hand, through preparing and teaching new courses, you get to learn new things every day. Working in academy also provides you with a certain level of flexibility and independence, which I enjoy. It doesn’t feel like a dead-end routine. Having eager and enthusiastic students, whose progress you can witness can be really satisfactory. So, at the end of the day, I keep the hope that, once I put my teaching-related tasks in order and I can also focus on my research. At that point, I guess my career path will be much closer to meeting my expectations.
To sum up, my assistant professor career path does not completely meet my expectations so far, but I’m hopeful.
What mistakes did you make in your career path?
I guess I lacked self-confidence, especially as a graduate student. I could have been more self-confident and pushing.
Also, during my search for a permanent position, maybe I could have been more open-minded to some options. And in that job search part, I might have decided too fast to warrant a position, maybe I could have pushed for more.
Do you find yourself in a state where you question your career path? Why?
Yes, when teaching-related tasks consume my whole time and when I come across really de-motivating students who are not interested in learning at all. Those times I feel like a trapped high school teacher and I feel sorry for all the time and effort I put into preparing all that material to teach what to whom! I feel like I could have been conducting research that whole time instead. I question my assistant professor career path even more when I find this little break to do something research related, but then the facilities are too limited to let me do anything.
But as I mentioned in one of the previous questions, I keep my hopes up for research. I am hopeful that now at the end of these 2 years, my courses are all organized, I can spare much more of my time for research. And for the limited lab facility problem, I can make things happen through collaborations (fingers crossed :)
How hard is it for you to change your career?
It doesn’t seem very easy since I’m educated in something very specific. And after all this education, I don’t want to go back working as an engineer in a factory.
But on the side, I enjoy playing drums and getting lessons on that. So, if I ever decide to change my career, I guess I’ll make a really dramatic change and move onto music.
Can you describe what makes you happy/satisfied with your career now?
Teaching motivated students and having a positive influence on them, and having new ideas for research.
10 years from now?
I hope that I will have my own biomaterials lab and spend the majority of my time on research.
What motivates you to get out from your bed and start working every day?
My cat, music and coffee :) Really depends on the day actually, but I guess overall it is that I get to work in a job that I chose and really worked hard to get.
What makes you sad in your career path? Why?
Having students and professionals around who do not care about science at all. Those are the people that make me question my career for the reasons I described above and also are the ones that make me less hopeful for a better research environment.
How do you keep on learning? What is your secret to continuous learning?
I really like learning new things and luckily that is a big part of my job.
Can you recommend a Ted talk/YouTube video/blog post/Twitter account for people who need inspiration/information?
How do you make today better than yesterday?
By being hopeful and not giving up, no matter what.
Any pieces of advice to the people who will walk on your career path?
It’s not an easy job, you have to be really patient to get somewhere and love what you do.