#et4online Reflection on Career sessions

At the #et4online session, I went to both the career sessions – one for ed tech practitioners (e.g. instructional designers and educational developers), and the one on ed tech scholars. Last year, I only went to the scholar session, but I found that they kept referring back to the practitioner session so I wanted to make sure that this year I had context for both. I recall that last year, I left the scholar session a little disillusioned about the career path. I blogged asking Where are the real Ed Tech scholars? in part because all the invited scholars had followed a career path that led them to Ed Tech through something else. They did not choose Ed Tech, Ed Tech choose them.

Part of the reason I go to the career sessions is to get a better sense of the state of Ed Tech careers. I don’t necessarily want to follow in the path of any of the presenters, I just want a sense of what paths are out there.

The first career session I attended was the EdTech as a Practitioner/Leader session. My only criticism of this session is that two of the three presenters were from the same institution (California State University – Channel Islands). I must say, it sounds like an awesome place to work. The challenge I have is that it doesn’t give you enough of a sense of what is out there. The key advice from this session was (1) figure out what your niche is, (2) make a name for yourself, (3) being connected makes a difference – so time spent fostering connections is worthwhile.

The second career session I attended was the EdTech as an Academic.  For this session, I was struck by how all the presenters were women. I was also struck by how the advice we were given seem to be “volunteer”. If you volunteer lots, then paid opportunities will find you. Honestly, I really struggle with this advice. In some ways, it is exactly what I’m doing. But as a self-employed person, it is exactly what I’ve been trained to be careful to avoid. If you give too much of yourself away, then people won’t pay for you. There is a tension there that I need to figure out. For example, a Twitter friend commented to me that she only goes to conferences that pay her to attend. As a part-time/adjunct professor, self-funding a conference is an expensive proposition that doesn’t necessarily result in return on investment. I get that. I am just privileged enough to have the luxury to buy my seat at the table – at least while I qualify for the student rates anyways!

My criticism for this session is largely that it seemed that all presenters knew each other through Merlot. They all seem to say the same thing – volunteer for Merlot. I also felt there was a lack of adjuncts presenting. The reality for most people completing a PhD in education today is that we will be doing adjunct work. At the eLearn conference I met a women who was making a good living as an adjunct – she had figured out how to teach well online, and make a decent living from it too – that is what I was hoping to see at the panel. I kind of felt like the panelist were not connect to the state of todays job market.

What was also problematic is that they didn’t really let anyone else talk. These were suppose to be round-table discussion – without hierarchy – and yet each of the presenters seem to feel the need to address the one or two question with long diatribes that are much more conducive to panel discussions. There seem to be a lack of quiet times, that would allow other people to jump into the conversation.I felt that I needed to be a little rude and put my voice forward aggressively to get a question in. My tweet summarizes my option of this session rather well “This is a Merlot stacked session… not enough room for people to ask questions … let there be empty space in the conversation”.

Note that neither the Practitioner nor Academic career sessions were available to virtual participants. I did debate bringing Maha into one of the sessions through #et4buddy, or doing a Google Hangout to bring in some virtual participants but I realized that I really didn’t want the sessions to be recorded in any way. In some ways the sessions are a safe space for asking questions and exploring career issues and options. Recording or live broadcasting would take away that safeness.

Although not specifically a career discussion, the  Ed Tech Women: A Conversation panel (#et4women – inspired in part by a blog post I made relating to my experience at the conference last year – Does Ed Tech have a man problem?) involved a fair bit of career discussion. I was struck by how all the women presenting had previous careers in the corporate sector. They had left the corporate sector because they wanted work that was more meaningful. One of my challenges with academia is that it often does not recognize the work that is done in the corporate sector. More specifically, I spent over 15 years working in the corporate sector, and yet a career in academia means I need to start at the bottom. My prior experience is discounted. What the women on the panel did not say, and what I struggle with regularly, is the huge pay cut they took to be in academia. One reason women are drawn to the corporate sector is that it pays so much better than higher education does. One reason women leave the corporate sector is that it doesn’t understand work-life balance (not sure academic is THAT much better – but it is usually a little more time of day flexible).

So there you have it. If I were to do it over again, I would not choose to attend the scholar session. The practitioner session was worthwhile because it was my first chance to connect with Michelle and Michael – two really cool people – and since connecting is perhaps the most important bit of advice, I’m glad I did it :-)

2 Comments on #et4online Reflection on Career sessions

  1. Ur right about the paycut transferring from corporate to academia. I am just privileged enough that I don’t need to worry about it. I am even luckier that I could do my grad work remotely (my uni didn’t have an edu degree back then, which i could have taken for free coz i work there) which meant no scholarship chances (gotta thank my parents for this).
    But yes, academia is more flexible timing-wise for wirk-life balance BUT to succeed you need to be “always on” which is not the case in most other careers even medicine where they get official days off. Except medical academics. They probably have it the worst.

    Re volunteering, I actually believe it’s true that when you volunteer a lot you get a lot back. I don’t know that it’s a strategy and you need to know whether what you’re volunteering *could* be paid instead, but if it isn’t then in academia the vvolunteering builds reputation.

    For example we write free stuff on our blogs and elsewhere. Other ppl read it then ask you to write other stuff that they pay you for. There is one magazine that used to pay me but couldn’t keep up so i started giving them republished stuff from my blog (less effort for me), but I did gain from the reputation (it is an Arab world focused magazine) two paid-for-invited trips to 2 Arab countries where i was invited speaker. And a consultation. So yeah, it actually can pay off in the end if you’re doing the free stuff that will build your reputation enough to be then invited or paid for more. You do it all the time with your blogging and your BC MOOC. I get invited to take part in research that pays. Things like that

  2. Hi Rebecca. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts about these sessions. I wanted to note that I volunteered to participate in the Practitioner session in place of Jason Rhode, who could not attend due to an unexpected situation. I agree that three individuals from three different institutions would have been an improvement, it I also felt good about diversifying the gender composition on the panel.

    I’ll pass on your feedback about the academic session. Good points.

    By the way, I too started in a corporate role. Fourteen years ago, I left a position in high tech to accept a full time community college instructor position (which I mentioned on the panel). I took a 45% pay cut to do what I loved. It was financially the worst decision I’ve ever made (at a time when I had a 16 month old and would soon have my second child, resulting in a $1600/month daycare bill). You’re right. These things are important to the conversation.

    And…for the record…you’re a very cool person too. :)

    Michelle

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