By R. Eric Landrum, Ph.D., Boise State University & Garth Neufeld, Cascadia College
Let’s just say from the start that we (Eric Landrum and Garth Neufeld) are delighted that we were asked to write a blog post for GSTA. We are both heavily invested and deeply believe in the mission of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP), and of course that pipeline starts with GSTA. Thank you so much for the invite!
Whether a graduate student’s ultimate goal is to achieve employment in an academic setting or a professional setting, there will be an application for a position, competition for a good job, and the need and desire to stand out from the crowd. As we change jobs throughout our careers, this process repeats itself, whether in or out of academia. Each of us wants to make an impact, and in higher education, that goal has become so formalized that operational definitions exist (e.g., h-index). As graduate students, we suspect you are pushed hard to think about peer-reviewed publications in top-tier outlets with high impact factors, grant applications, conference presentations, and perhaps the occasional book chapter. These are certainly the traditional means by which graduate students and new assistant professors have been demonstrating impact for the past century in psychology.
Allow us to be so bold to suggest that there may be alternative, non-traditional means to demonstrate our impact on our discipline. Back in October 2017 we launched a podcast called "PsychSessions: Conversations about Teaching N'Stuff." We ask our friends and colleagues to sit down with us for about an hour and we record an unscripted conversation about the teaching of psychology and, you know, stuff. By the way, we give our guests complete editorial control; if they want something deleted, we delete it. To date, there is no advertising and the podcast is not monetized, although two episodes were sponsored (our travel expenses to interview Bill McKeachie and Charles Brewer were paid for by STP).
As of this writing, we have released 21 full episodes and 3 mini-episodes of PsychSessions. Has the podcast been wildly successful? Hard to say. We do know from the media company that manages our podcast (Libsyn) that since our October 2017 podcast launch, all of our episodes cumulatively have had 5,710 unique downloads. Does everyone who downloads the podcast listen to it, or listen to it in its entirety? Doubtful. But now think about impact. When thinking about book chapters or journal articles that either of us has written, did any of those artifacts of our scholarly prowess have any impact? Might listening to a podcast be more impactful that publishing a rarely-read journal article?
Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki (2017) surveyed psychological scientists about their perceptions of the utility of using blogs and Twitter to communicate psychology to the general public, and the key challenges to these communication streams becoming an impactful practice appear to be (a) the attitude that communicating scientific findings to the public is less prestigious than communicating scientific findings to the science community, and (b) the inability or lack of time to be able to tweet or use blogs effectively.
For now, graduate students will likely have to follow, for the most part, the centuries-old recipe regarding impact and establishing one’s credentials – we hope this balances between part scholar with research skills (publications, conference presentations, grant-writing ability) and teaching skills (teacher-training, supervision, actual teaching experience). We think it is easy to imagine an assistant professor job opening at a prestigious institution with over a hundred applicants for the singular position. Now imagine the bevy of well-qualified individuals who excel in both dimensions of research and teaching – what shall be the tie-breaker? Perhaps the tie-breaker might be that applicant’s ability to have an impact beyond their own classroom and research lab – whether that be 10,000 followers on Twitter, a podcast, service to a national organization, founding a non-profit organization, community organizing, or other creative endeavors that demonstrate professional skills. Real impact.
ReferenceWeinstein, Y., & Sumeracki, M. A. (2017). Are Twitter and blogs important tools for the modern psychological scientist? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12, 1171-1175. doi:10.1177/1745691617712266