The authors of Kickstarting Your Academic Career: Skills to Succeed in the Social Sciences, Robert L. Ostergard, Jr. and Stacy B. Fisher, discuss their experiences teaching undergraduate students and how those experiences—some great, some challenging—shaped the writing of this very helpful new skills guide for first-year college and university students.
Over the decades of teaching experience that we have accumulated we like to think that we have probably seen it all; yet, every year we continue to be amazed at the gap between how much we assume students know about colleges, universities, research, and studying, and how little some actually know. We have had great moments in the classroom—student awards and achievements, scholarships and fellowships, defended theses, and, the ones we always love, those “ah ha” moments and the joy on students’ faces when they have them. We have also had moments that we wish we could bleach from our memory—stepping in between combatants during an impending fight in a large lecture hall, student outbursts, students watching the Star Wars Trilogy during class, and, one of our favorites, a student who took out a set of toenail clippers and clipped their toenails during a seminar. No, you can’t make this stuff up! With each successive year, it seemed either our syllabi were getting larger to cover eventual class issues or we were spending entire class sessions going over what we had always assumed was basic knowledge that students possessed. Yes, one of us even pondered if we had to have a “no toenail clipping” policy.
When the University of Toronto Press approached us to write Kickstarting Your Academic Career, we saw it as an opportunity to think about our assumptions as teachers and as researchers heavily engaged in teaching. Both of us are lucky to be in a research department that also prizes teaching. Five of our current faculty members are award-winning teachers and advisors with a few up-and-coming “rock stars” so we are also in an environment that is flush with ideas for interesting approaches to teaching and learning. For better or worse, this environment also has given us a certain perspective about balancing our research with our teaching. Not everyone is so lucky to be in such a department, but trying to be a researcher, a teacher, and an administrator all at the same time can be overwhelming. We want to be good at these things, but there is also a certain reality that goes with each of the hats we wear. Thus, the approach we have taken in the book is not necessarily as a “friend” to our students, but more as mentor or, as one of our reviewers kindly said, “Like an older sibling explaining what it's really like after high school.” We certainly have a perspective that might be “teacher-centric,” but we also have a perspective that we think is equitable for our students and representative of all students who want to get the most of their education.
As professors, we enter lecture halls at the beginning of each semester with our own understanding of what students do and do not know. One problem with that type of assumption is the simple fact that each student has his or her own story. As a group, they come from such diverse backgrounds that it is difficult to assume anything about what they know. As professors, we now try to avoid making the mistake of assuming everyone is already on the same page in terms of skills. Our book is an attempt to fill that void and to provide students with the tools that they need to excel as undergraduate social science students. Entering college or university is scary, and sometimes downright terrifying; few things are more intimidating to students than their first college or university examination, or even their first email correspondence with a professor. The culture is different and the expectations are even greater than most of them anticipated. Kickstarting Your Academic Career attempts to shed light on these topics and to provide students with an easily accessible source for navigating through this new world. We try to answer students’ questions that they never wanted to ask because they did not want to be “dumb” or to say something “stupid,” while also giving professors a way to address situations that they find uncomfortable or just time consuming in an already busy day. Studying at a college or university is meant to be challenging. If it can be made just a bit easier for students and professors, then we have succeeded in providing something useful to both groups.
Robert L. Ostergard, Jr. is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Stacy B. Fisher is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Excerpt: Click here to read the introduction and Chapter Two: So You Thought You Knew How to Read?
Infographic: How to Read and Take Notes from a Textbook
Instructors: If you are an instructor who will be welcoming new students into your classroom this year, contact us for an examination copy of Kickstarting Your Academic Career. This book is designed to save time for both students and instructors!