Advice for new faculty

I was recently asked to participate in a panel for new faculty at UBC’s Okanagan campus. My task was to briefly talk about 3 points, when I arrived as a new faculty member on campus (back in 2008!), what did I:

  • need to know
  • want to know
  • wish I knew

In case it is useful to anyone else, here are my answers as it pertains to teaching and research. Some of this is specific to UBCO, but other points are more general.

  1. Need to know – while there is a narrative in academia that you can be either good or passionate at research OR teaching, it is possible to be passionate about both! Students are inspiring as they bring with them a new curiosity that can spark new curiosity in you about your own research topics. Combining research and teaching is a bit of a “buzzword” in academic circles, but it truly does help you develop both your research and teaching programs. Your students will also become your research assistants and your graduate students and at UBCO there is a great program (the Work-Study) program that new faculty need to know about as it covers part of the cost of student salary (matched by your own research funds). The positions are wonderful opportunities for students to gain experience doing actual research, but can also help new faculty members continue to move their research programs along as they work on developing their teaching, including developing new courses, which can be time consuming.
  2. Want to know – I wanted new faculty to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, which may lead to new new opportunities and collaborations that you would never have dreamed possible. Many people are hired based on the research they’ve done for their PhDs and feel like they shouldn’t or can’t expand their research interests. While I did continue my “traditional” research as a new faculty member, I also tried new things; I did an online survey of people learning Na’vi (the language of Avatar) and the number of doors that opened to me is something I would never have thought possible (working on Man of Steel, Power Rangers, and Alpha), finding new venues for my research and other topics I’m passionate about, linking my new research with my continuing research, participating in Tedx talks and so much more.
  3. Wish I knew – As a new faculty member, I came in as a replacement position for another linguistic anthropologist and took over his courses in the beginning, but I quickly added my own and made his courses my own (the ones I liked, I did delete historical linguistics from the calendar – not my thing!). So, even though you may have been hired as someone’s replacement (retirement position, someone left), you don’t need to be that person and teach the courses as they would have taught them. You were hired to be you – so do you! I added for the UBC crowd that our University motto is Tuum Est. Our new students are told this motto so many times during Orientation, but when I polled the room the new faculty hadn’t heard it yet. Tuum, Est means – “it’s yours” or “it’s up to you”, which is something new faculty need to hear just as much as our new students.



This blog post originally appeared on March 24th, 2015.


Photo credit to Robyn Giffen (thanks, Robyn!)

February 28th, 2015, 4th International Conference on  Language Documentation and Conservation, Honolulu, Hawai’i

In February 2015, I presented a paper called “Reading Dictionaries in the Dark: The significance of evolving language materials” at the 4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation. In my paper, I described the importance of developing tangible materials, no matter how imperfectly made, in language documentation work, so that community members have something to hold on to and use as long-term projects, which might take years to develop, go forward.

However, it can be challenging to work on these tangible pieces of language documentation when we are faced with the academic pressures of “publish or perish”, particularly for new scholars and graduate students. To help provide some support, therefore, I coined a hashtag in this presentation as well – #GetYourLangDocOut.

I was inspired by the social media trend to #GetYourManuscriptOut, started by Raul Pacheco-Vega as a way to “fight procrastination in academic writing through crowd-sourcing”. In this example, when you are working on an academic publication you share with your internet networks so that you can have a sense of shared support and connectivity.

Similarly, the hashtag #GetYourLangDocOut (aka #GetYourLanguageDocumentationOut) purpose is to encourage the development of language documentation materials through crowd-sourcing of support. It can be used to share with others when you are working on  materials which aim to give language documentation (in whatever form – books, games, music, films etc.) back to community members for them to use in their language endeavours.

Just to clarify, the hashtag’s use is NOT to point fingers about procrastination (we academics get touchy about our writing deadlines and this is true of the language documentation materials we collect as well or it has been in my experience). However, I know I could and should do more with the Kala language documentation that I’ve been involved with and the Kala dictionary project, which I described in my presentation, truly showed me why this was important for raising the prestige of Kala and for empowerment of community members.

So, let’s celebrate our contribution to the tangible items we are involved in producing for communities when we #GetYourLangDocOut!