Securing a position as an adjunct professor less than six months after completing my doctorate was both exciting and terrifying. Three months later, I can honestly say that it is some of the most rewarding work of my life to date.
I urge clinical psychology students to remember that the potential applications of your training do not begin and end with seeing and serving clients.
A few days of Googling and combing through job listing sites led me to apply for a position as an adjunct psychology professor at the Camp Lejeune extension campus of Campbell University. I completed and submitted my application, all the while thinking that there was no way they would hire someone so freshly out of school.
Sure, I had experience in education and tutoring, but nothing like this.
Much to my surprise and joy, they hired me!
Then, panic set in for a second time – Would I know enough? Would the students, many of whom were non-traditional aged students, and therefore older than me, take me seriously?
A million questions and doubts flew through my brain. I spoke to some of my own undergraduate professors, who were incredibly encouraging. They reminded me that as a recent graduate, I have the distinction of having learned the most up-to-date content, as well as being the most attuned to both the challenges and tricks of the student experience.
Their encouragement and continued support has been instrumental as I join their ranks as a professor.
My First Class
When the first night of my first class, Developmental Psychology, rolled around, I introduced myself as Dr. (a title I’m still getting used to bearing), and was simultaneously surprised and relieved when students called me that (as opposed to Ms. or by my first name). I had read, reread, and heavily annotated the first chapter of our text, but my nerves were on high alert when I opened the publisher-provided PowerPoint slides for the first time…then I started speaking, and my nerves disappeared.
I looked out at my students, many of whom were several years my senior, and saw learning happening in real time. No one was rolling their eyes or looking at me with doubt – I had the information, and they were receiving it with interest and attention. My fears of not being able to assert my authority melted away. I did not have to assert it; it was simply assumed and respected.
I still feared the inevitable student question that I could not answer. I had a template of how I would respond in my mind, (“Good question! I’m not sure I know the answer – why don’t you do some research, and I’ll do some research, and we’ll touch base on the subject next class?”), but I worried that it might undermine my credibility (perhaps the biggest take-away of this blog so far is that I worry too much…).
Of course, a student asked a vaguely relevant question on night one that had me stumped. I responded with my pre-planned answer, and to my relief, he heartily agreed! Now we both know a bit more about toddler night terrors.
Why I Love What I Do
Since that first night, I have approached each class session with more confidence and excitement than the one before. When it comes down to it, I studied this field because I love it, and teaching gives me an opportunity not only to revel in that love, but also to inspire it in others.
Every time a student asks a question that leads to a thoughtful class discussion or that shows that they are applying the book contents to the context of the real world, I am overjoyed. I love seeing that lightbulb moment when a student just “gets it.”
While I am sure that professors in a variety of fields share my passion for the work, I think there is something very special about the study of psychology in particular.
A fellow psych professor recently told me that she loves “breaking (or reinforcing) their notions of what being human really means.” Through the study and teaching of psychology, we have a unique opportunity to break down some of the most closely held assumptions of why we are the way we are and why think the way we think.
I do not share my experiences to seduce clinicians away from clinical work, but rather to highlight an additional path that may not have occurred to non-researchers like myself.
Providing therapy can be phenomenally rewarding, and I certainly intend to reintegrate it into my life in the future, but I have found teaching those who may soon join my generation of clinicians (I’m far too close to it to think of it as a generation yet-to-come) to be more exciting and rewarding than I could have imagined.
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Lovely article, Dr. Wesh! I’ve been considering teaching as well, and your experience has inspired me to keep it as a viable option!