Position: Adjunct instructor in Engineering and English – Technical Writing instructor in Mechanical Engineering
What do you do for fun? Read (mysteries, detective stories, historical fiction, current events). My favorite series is the Aubrey/Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian. And I’ve been putting together a specialized presentation for a relative who is homeschooling her children. To date, we’ve covered poetry (for Poetry Week in 2020 and then The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – because who doesn’t like old-time monuments?). Right now I am working on a co-presentation on Modern China with my daughter and it’s been a lot of fun.
What is your favorite thing about working in engineering? My mechanical engineering colleagues are the best: kind, helpful and smart. They made me feel very welcome and valued despite my lack of engineering credentials.
Something really cool happening in engineering at your school? I’ve been working with my colleagues in mechanical engineering to develop the Embedded Technical Writing program. It starts with first year students in their very first semester and continues through their third year.
So far we’ve embedded into five classes, so there is sustained exposure to technical writing concepts and projects. We have expanded to include another technical writing instructor to cover the course load which underlines the commitment this department has to the program. We’re getting ready to formally assess the impact on students and, to some extent, their employers (via co-op feedback).
What is the most challenging part of your job? Keeping up is an issue. I typically teach four writing classes each semester, which means lots of class prep, emails and papers to read. The pandemic added much more follow-up, grace periods and repeated communication with students, something I’m sure most of you have experienced. I’m looking at this as a learning opportunity in human interaction and use of technology.
Project or achievement in your current position that you are most proud of? When I taught Technical Writing in the past, I knew my students for 15 weeks. Now I greet them as first years and see them through graduation four years later. It’s so revealing and rewarding to watch them develop over the course of their college life.
Homer Simpson once said, “Trying is the first step toward failure.”
Like most Simpsons references, it is funny because it is true. Now, I am not pushing for completely not trying. But, maybe I am advocating for not forcing things, especially right now.
At our last in-person conference, which was 10 years ago in 2019, I gave a presentation on becoming an interim director and how I had no idea what I was doing. Bad news and good news were on the horizon.
The bad news? A global pandemic that I will not joke about.
The good news? Now no one knows what they are doing. And I will joke about that.
Directors with 30 years of experience did not know how to quickly go completely remote, run an office over Skype (remember Skype?), or communicate all of this to faculty and students – all at different points on the adaptability continuum.
So, that meant the field was leveled. It still is.
The only things I am sure about are that I still don’t know what I’m doing and that now no one else does either.
For example, we received three different “official” messages on employees returning to campus in June of 2021. One told us to return 100 percent immediately. One said let’s ease into it. One said anything goes.
What I learned in that process was to make my own decision. Take responsibility. Take credit. Accept the consequences.
Asking question after clarifying question would guarantee nothing, as no single source had the singular correct answer, and certainly not an answer before my deadline of communication.
I’m not sure if this makes sense or if it is relatable to any other university, but in all of this mess I found my authentic voice as a higher-ed communicator. All of that fear of saying the wrong thing goes away when you’ve said the wrong thing dozens of times and not been fired or blasted out of a cannon.
My therapist calls this exposure therapy.
So, now for the future. One cool thing is that we all experienced roughly the same thing for the past two years and learned mostly the same lessons. I don’t think things are changing back for marketing and communicators in higher ed. Remote/hybrid work is here to stay.
Now, I’ve seen my share of job postings. Hardly any relevant postings exist right now that do not practically guarantee at least a hybrid schedule and a significant amount allowed for fully remote setups.
Hiring managers say they sometimes get zero (that’s zero) applicants for good positions that are not up with the remote/hybrid times. The ripple effect this alone will have will last for a long time.
As far as challenges, here is one: I honestly don’t know if my reports are always doing their work eight hours a day. I don’t.
An article meets a deadline, a video is on YouTube quickly, and a website edit is done when it should be. That is the same as it was when we were sitting in our meetings and passing each other in the hallways.
For all that I don’t know about their days, I have not felt uncomfortable about it. The uncertainty allows me to give myself, and my team, grace. Maybe after two or three years of fully on-campus semesters, full stadiums, full internship experiences, I will start to tighten up, but I am not betting on it.
We are in a new world. That is for certain and there is no stopping it.
And like Kent Brockman said, I for one welcome our new insect overlords.