Hittin’ the lecture circuit


Over the next couple weeks, my show is going on the road!

Tour dates:

  • 18 Oct 2013 – Boulder
  • 28 Oct 2013 – Miami

No tickets required. I am likely to entertain, and there’s a good chance of some enlightenment. There’ll be fun natural history, big questions, medium-sized answers, and a refutation of dogma.

It’s not frequent that a person from a teaching-focused university, like myself, ends up getting invited to give a talk at an R1 institution. It’s not a freak of nature or anything like that either. But if you look at the roster of speakers in most seminar series, it’s usually a roll call of other research universities. So, when you see the roster of the departments hosting me, it tends to look something like this:

Moab sticker

If you think that’s self-deprecating humor or some kind of dig at myself, please look in the mirror. Because Moab rocks. I love being from (the metaphorical) Moab. Clearly, Moab is the outlier, just like California State University Dominguez Hills is an outlier among Stanford, UMass, and the University of Vermont. That’s not a bad thing; I think it’s wonderful.

I just read something written by a professor who just left her job at an R1 university for a job at a Liberal Arts College, in order to solve a 2-body problem, and she is still settling into the new job:

I am learning that folks still define themselves as researchers here.

This shows that there is still plenty of work to be done, when a researcher shows up on campus and doesn’t even realize that her own colleagues are also researchers, and perceive of themselves that way!

One of these days, perhaps, it won’t be so surprising that tenure-track faculty at colleges and universities see themselves as researchers, and that the broader community will recognize the same. The more they invite me, and other research-oriented faculty from teaching institutions, to seminars at R1 universities, this fact should become self-evident to grad students before they leave grad school.

If universities aren’t inviting research-active faculty from teaching institutions as a part of their seminar series, then they are only perpetuating the misrepresentation of the status quo in higher education.

But for the moment, these invites are uncommon, and it provides an extraordinary opportunity to show folks what kind of research happens at my university. I’m excited for the trip because it’s going to blow some folks away how badass my stuff is, and how many of them won’t even see it coming.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, because whether I like it or not, I’m representing a whole class of researchers who do great work in teaching institutions. Even after I give a kickass talk, it’s inevitable that at least a few people will think that I’m punching above my weight. But if I go in with that kind of attitude, then that would only reinforce the false notion that I might have a chip on my shoulder about not coming from a research institution. Am I conscious of the issues face by researchers in teaching institutions and how we are perceived? Of course I am – I started a whole blog about it!

So, I’m just visiting to have fun, hang out with fellow biologists, share what I can, and learn what I can. And if you’re on the front range or on the toenail of the Florida panhandle, then maybe we can chat about your stuff, frontiers in the community ecology of rainforests, and, of course, ants.

More on seminar series tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “Hittin’ the lecture circuit

  1. Hey Terry,

    Really looking forward to your visit in Boulder! I think we may do breakfast Friday. Here, we grad students decide who to invite. Perhaps this gap is already closing? IMO there’s no consistent difference in the quality of colloquia between visitors from major research universities and smaller colleges. Plus, there’s much interest among the grad students in alternatives to R1 faculty jobs, making these invites even more of a priority.

    • Max (et al.): Looking forward to it! Indeed I wouldn’t think there’s a difference in quality, just a difference in frequency – good to hear you agree. I’m glad to hear about the interest in non-R1 jobs, too. (As I bring up in tomorrow’s post, I think most grad students invite folks whose work they admire who they might be interested in postdoc-ing with. At least, that’s what I did when I was in grad school.)

  2. Just for the record, I’m at a research university, but I’m rarely invited to give talks (and then it’s usually by close friends), and nobody’s ever invited me to come as far as from CA to Miami! Which is just a small illustration of the idiosyncrasy of seminar invitations, I think. Without wanting to deny anything you said in the post, I’d just add that there are always lots of considerations that go into who gets invited to speak where.

    • We pretty much can’t bring in international speakers, even though folks coming from Mexico or Canada could be cheaper for some domestic travelers. It’s a frustration. I wonder if that does limit invites across the US/Canada border. (One of my early posts was a semi-rant about the bureaucracy involving international travel at my university and how it continues to hinder my research program and cause us to waste money on airfare)

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