Alumni in academe become ‘professors on call’ for Chicago students pursuing professional teaching careersBy Josh Schonwald
In October 2004, Chicago students who are preparing to go on the academic market got access to a tremendous Chicago resource—more than 60 experienced professors who are standing by, eager to counsel aspiring academics on the nuts and bolts of acquiring a faculty appointment.
The University’s new program Professors on Call taps into the University’s vast network of alumni who work in academic positions. These “professors on call” provide assistance to current students with crafting cover letters and curriculum vitae, preparing syllabi and teaching portfolios.
The University, long renowned as the “teacher of teachers,” has thousands of alumni in academe, said Shoshannah Cohen (Ph.D.,’98), Assistant Director of Graduate Services for the Humanities, the Divinity School, and Career Advising and Planning Services. Now, using the Alumni Careers Network, current students and alumni can search an online database for a list of teaching alumni who have volunteered to assist them.
Elizabeth Chandler (A.M.,’72), Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and a creator of the new program, along with Cohen and Penelope Petropoul (A.B.,’96), Associate Director of the University Alumni Association, expects Professors on Call to be a very valuable resource for students in the coming year.
Going “on the market” for the first time is a daunting task for many students, said Chandler. “Getting a chance to have a test run and to get concrete feedback on their applications from, in some cases, people within these institutions or similar institutional types will give them a great sense of confidence.”
Moreover, Chandler said, having alumni as a resource is especially valuable. “Since they understand the educational experience of our graduate students, our alumni can coach them on how to reframe those experiences in such a way as to speak to the interests of faculty and students in other colleges and universities.”
A collaboration of the Center for Teaching and Learning, Career Advising and Planning Services, and the Alumni Association, the program was initially conceived to take advantage of the new technology afforded by the Alumni Careers Network.
Both Chandler and Cohen, who assist students in preparing to apply for academic jobs, agree that one of the program’s greatest assets will be helping address questions about the wide range of academic options, from teaching at small liberal arts colleges, to urban commuter institutions, to large state institutions.
Students at Chicago and at other elite research institutions often get feedback geared toward positions at elite research institutions, Chandler said. Many faculty members here, steeped in our distinct culture, may not be familiar with the nuances or demands of other types of institutions.
With the availability of Professors on Call, students interested in a teaching position at different kinds of schools can contact faculty at similar institutions. Course load, mentoring responsibilities, the college’s culture, emphasis on research—each kind of institution has a very different set of needs, Cohen said.
“Our students will be able to get a chance to see if their interests fit with these institutions.”
At its launch in October 2004, the program had 61 alumni volunteers, and both Cohen and Chandler expect many more of the University’s teaching alumni will join Professors on Call as the Alumni Association promotes the program beyond the pilot group.
To explore the Alumni Careers Network, visit its Web site at http://alumnicareers.uchicago.edu. Further information about the Professors on Call program may be obtained by contacting Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Petropoul said the Professors on Call program is the first in a range of Alumni Careers Network projects that are being developed for students. Similar programs will be launched with the Human Rights Program, the Graduate School of Business and the Department of Physical Education & Athletics.