This morning I attended a presentation about the Fulbright program offered by the US Department of State. I didn’t much about it going in, and honestly more than anything I was attending simply to think about possibilities. As I mentioned in my earlier review of The Professor Is In, I need a Plan B, something to bridge the gap into the full-time teaching job I want.
And as it turns out, the Fulbright program might be a part of that solution for me. The program pays for one year of teaching English in a foreign country or one year of research study in a foreign country that can apply for a master’s or PhD degree or even a post doc. You could even get in on this action a few years after graduation. Recipients are expected to serve as ambassadors of US culture to other nations, and in exchange they get a modest living stipend for a year in a foreign country as well as paid travel to and from.
You need to a have a plan, though. It’s not like you throw your ring in the hat and hope you get sent somewhere great. Your application is essentially no different from a grant proposal, so you propose research in a specific country because something about that country holds an essential element for your research. For example, a biologist studying a species found only in a particular country could propose a research project in that country because only there is found the species that is the focus of the study. In my case, it would be working with a particular researcher. I would propose going to a particular country because in that country lives and works the particular researcher who can foster my research.
I didn’t start my PhD program with the idea of taking my research international, but as I sat listening to the presentation, it all felt right. A peaceful calm and assurance enveloped me. As I have thought about that experience throughout the day, it continued to feel right, like this could be the path for me. I don’t know that it is, but following it makes sense. One thing that sets more qualified candidates for academic positions from the rest of their hopeful competition is an expanded network. The more qualified have recommendations as well as a CV that shows evidence of a network expanding beyond one’s degree granting institution. Simply having a nationwide network would set me apart from the bulk of my competitors, so imagine what an international one would do.
Plus I’m still single and can really more easily accommodate doing this while I still am. And who knows? Going to a foreign country might be what I need to change that! Depending on the country, I might also have access to a healthier diet. I’ve heard over the years people talk about how “polluted” food in the US is. I never gave that much thought until recently. After years of trying to lose weight without much success, I wonder if there isn’t something to that idea.
At any rate, I’ll need to think about this some more. But it could be that an international adventure lies in my future. I’m open to possibility. Maybe this opportunity holds the possibility I really need.
And that brings to me the mixed feelings I have now knowing how things are. I’m nearing the end of my third year, which is when I should have everything together. And instead I got Butkus, and I’m not talking Rocky Balboa’s dog. Had I known at the start of my program what I know now, I could have approached my program differently and used my time better, especially during the summers. Now I just have lost opportunity and the sudden realization that Plan A isn’t going to work for me and, if I don’t have Plan B worked out soon, I could potentially be in a worse situation.
Yes, my advisor should have been my advisor, meaning he should have given me the advice I needed to make the best use of my time. But he didn’t. I don’t hold it against him, because the other big lesson I learned from reading this book is that most advisors don’t advise their students effectively. They are part of a system that encourages them to be the way they are or in the very least does not incentivize them to be what they should be. That’s water under the bridge for me. Successful people deal with the world the way that it is, not the way they wish it would be. I’m not going to look behind. I’m going to look forward.
And that brings me to the final big concept I learned from this book. The most competitive candidates have the mindset of a colleague or peer, not a grad student or an adjunct. Looking back at the last couple of years, I readily can see I’ve had the mindset of a grad student, not a colleague or peer. So, as they say in the Old West, it’s time to saddle up. Lock and load! And I’ve got plenty of ammunition in this book that gives very practical hands-on advice for making a 5-year plan and attending to the details of everything that should go into that plan. In fact, I may use it as a daily meditation. Before beginning my workday, I’ll read one chapter in this book. The chapters are small and many in this tome, and reading just one a day will help to keep the practical ideas and mindsets fresh in my mind as well as spur me on to the track my train should be on. Overall, this is a great book and a must read for anyone considering an academic career. 5 out of 5 stars.
Having decided to back to graduate school, I registered to take the Graduate Record Exam. It’s a requirement for all the PhD programs that interest me, so there was no way out of it.
I took the test a couple of years back when I was playing with the idea of going back to school. My scores weren’t as high as I would like, but I didn’t study all that much for it — just a few hours in the couple of days before the test.
This time around, I’m much more serious about entering a PhD program, so I invested money and about 10-15 hours of study a week for two months before the test. During the test, I felt the pressure of time in each section but didn’t feel the test was any more difficult this time around. I felt the money and time I invested to deepen my preparation were paying off — that is, until I finished and saw my scores. The essays have to be graded by a human being, of course, but both my verbal and analytical scores were lower than when I last took the test!
Yes, that’s right. I spent money and time to prepare more and did worse! This is Exhibit A in my case that the GRE is a scam.
The GRE claims to provide an indication of how well a student will do in graduate school. But I’ve been to graduate school for my master’s degree and can tell you that knowing the definition of some obscure word that no one beyond the top 1% of the most hibernated on the planet use or deciphering a simple math question asked with tricky wording under a time crunch do not prepare anyone for graduate school. In fact, the only thing I can determine the GRE measures accurately is how well one can take the GRE.
So if the GRE doesn’t make a difference in grad school, what does? Here’s my top-three list:
1. Hard work
In grad school, I observed that master’s programs are like indentured servitude whereas doctoral programs are outright slavery. Though not a slave to my major professor since I was after only the master’s degree, I still had to work hard to complete the program.
Early in my grad school days I learned that graduate credits are not the same as undergraduate credits. You often have the same book and course content, but you do at least twice the work, having extra homework problems or special assignments that the undergrads don’t have. And then there is the research, which is no fly-by-night and run-from-your-garage sort of gig. You’ve got to do what is needed to make measurable progress in reasonable time. That means no slouching!
There’s no way the GRE can really test that. I worked hard prepping for two months for that test and look where that got me!
Speaking of no slouching, grad school requires perseverance. You got to have grit to see your journey all the way to the end of the road, because very often the plans you make — especially in terms of research — don’t go the way you planned. Sometimes the answers you need aren’t immediately forthcoming, and you have to keep searching until you find them. There’s no back of the book to check for the answer, and very often you begin looking without really knowing where to look.
The endurance and tenacity needed to complete grad school go way beyond what any timed test can ascertain. On a standardized test, you can complete your section that lasts 30 or 35 minutes, and it’s OK to give up because you’re done. Grad school is a very different animal. I remember weeks of doing research followed by even more weeks of writing and rewriting again and again my thesis.
The essay portions of the GRE are only a half hour each, and there’s no way they can reveal anything more than the ability to construct a basic structure for a document. Producing a thesis requires so much more. I can only imagine that is even more true for a dissertation.
3. People skills
And then there were the endless confrontations with my major professor. Let’s just say we didn’t get along. I just didn’t take well to cutting remarks about my religion. Were my major professor to get that treatment, it would just motivate him to prove the other person wrong. Because it would work for him, he thought it would work for me. But instead it motivated the man I was 15 years ago to find the nearest cave and wait until the storm blew over. Some times that saw me through, and other times I needed to grab my rain gear and face the storm.
Problems like that aside, no one succeeds alone. Everyone needs help along the way. There’s a whole host of folks who support different steps along the journey in a grad program, and knowing how to work with people effectively to procure the result you desire is essential. I learned early in my career that appreciating the “invisibles” — the ones who do the jobs no one else wants to do or who do important work back stage or outside the limelight — can often be the difference between having a really easy job or a really difficult one.
No standardized test can certify the ability to work with people. But that fancy piece of wallpaper in my office that says “Master of Science” might. So might the decade I spent working in industry.
Could I score higher on the GRE? Probably. But when I consider the time I would need to invest to do it, I’m not sure how to make that work. I have to spend a minimum number of hours working so I can pay rent and other expenses. If I had that paid for and could spend whatever time I needed to do it without sacrificing this sleep thing I love, I could score higher. I could do just about anything.
But my end goal is not getting into a particular program or even getting the PhD degree. My end goal is a full-time job teaching college-level engineering classes. The PhD degree is just one step along the way to make myself more competitive. Certainly graduating from a top name school carries some weight. But there’s other factors, like building a good network of contacts, that play just as much if not more so into getting the job I want.
I won’t be scammed into spending more money on a test that scores me lower after I spend substantially more time preparing for it. All told, all my scores for different test administrations are in the same neighborhood, so I’m resigned to take my GRE scores as they are and do the best I can with them. I’m going to play to other factors that influence the outcome I want, some of which are real strengths for me.
The top three qualities I’ve mentioned for grad school success are among my strengths. The decade I spent working in industry taught me that I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to succeed. I can be (and am) a work horse and keep working hard, persevering until my goal is reached. I also persevere in continuous improvement efforts, always looking for and striving after that next level of performance. And forging partnerships with the right people can help with achieving that success as well.
If a particular school or program is insistent that I have a higher GRE score for admission, then to me that simply indicates that school is not somewhere I am supposed to be. Doors will open to the place where I need to be and close to the places where I do not need to be. That’s been true all my life, and I don’t see why that should change any time soon. So now I move on to the next step and whittle down my list of potential schools for applications!
I found out just today that my first proposal to present at a professional conference has been accepted. The first annual Treasure Valley Adjunct Conference has been organized jointly between Boise State University, Northwest Nazarene University, and the College of Western Idaho to showcase the work of adjunct faculty. Presentations can address ways to improve instruction in the classroom or highlight work such as research or creative endeavors which adjuncts have pursued as part of their profession. Click here to see a complete schedule of the event.
I submitted two proposals because I thought it would double my chances of getting accepted. I’m not whether or not my chances doubled, but I am glad to see that one of my proposals was accepted. My presentations will focus on my experience in transforming my statistics class, a subject usually considered dry and boring, into something fun and enticing for students to engage in real learning. What I submitted was just abstract; in reality, I had nothing. Now I need to get busy and put a package together for the conference which takes place on May 15. My consolation is that the semester will have ended the week prior, so that should free up some space in which to prepare. (Note my crossed fingers behind my back as I say that!)
I’ll be sure to update this space with more news as it develops.
I may have spoken too soon earlier this month when I expressed the hope that my hard work in my job would actually benefit me somehow — at least that is how I felt in the immediate aftermath of events from this past weekend.
It’s time to set schedules for summer semester, and I really need to teach two classes in order to make enough money to upgrade my living condition. To do that, I need to show a potential landlord a pay stub in which the net pay for a single pay period is above a certain threshold. (Yes, I’m looking to rent primarily because I’m thinking seriously about leaving the area to start a PhD program in Fall 2018.)
Things actually looked good a week ago. I had already been given a physics class, and I had my eyes set on a potential stats class to add to it. That would give me my two classes. I submitted my request and awaited the response.
The response came, and it wasn’t what I expected. My department chair wouldn’t give me the stats class because she said it conflicts with the physics class already on my plate. I realized that the other department head hadn’t changed the schedule like we agreed, so I asked for one business day to fix the schedule so I could get the stats class. I pointed out that my heart was really set on it and I had worked hard to improve the class and prep materials for the flipped format. Those materials would be really useful for students taking a summer class which requires students to learn twice as fast as during the normal semester.
Why did the schedule need changing? For some reason that still escapes me, the physics class was scheduled with lab in the morning and lecture in the afternoon. When I saw that last summer, I asked why it’s flip-flopped from the traditional format of lecture first and then lab. I was told scheduling conflicts. But as the semester unfolded, it became clear that I was the only one teaching in the classroom we were using, and no one else was using the lab. I was able to make a schedule that used that backwards arrangement, but it was awkward.
When I got offered the class again for this summer, I asked about presenting the lecture and lab sections in a more traditional arrangement. I was promised that it would be granted, which would allow me to teach the stats class as well as the physics class. But that switch wasn’t made by the time my department head looked at my schedule when considering giving me the stats class.
By the time I routed back to get the schedule updated, the stats class had already been given to someone else. I felt extremely distraught at hearing that news. Does all the hard work I’ve done — and I work my fanny off way more than most adjuncts — with all of my classes and stats in particular not merit the consideration of waiting just one more day? I have no idea who got the class, but I do know everyone at this school who teaches stats. I can guarantee that none of them are going the distance I’m going for the students. Shouldn't that enter into the equation of deciding who gets what if any class?
I felt extremely powerless in the aftermath of those events. It’s a simple misunderstanding and failure to act on others’ part that is entirely outside my control, which wouldn’t be a big deal if the financial repercussions from those events weren’t so serious. Not teaching that extra class means losing about 15% of my income for the year. Plus I’ll be scraping windows again this winter. Argh! And all the hard work I’ve done in my job doesn’t mean jack. So why even go the extra mile? If nothing I do makes me more competitive or gives me any advantage, why not just do the bare minimum with whatever I’m given and spend my time that I won’t get back in other pursuits?
Talking to my department head wouldn’t make a difference because she’s stepping down. That means someone else will be making those decisions in future. I wanted to talk to the dean, but she was out, taking advantage of Spring Break being next week. Fortunately, a full-time colleague I’ve come to know and trust was still on campus, and so I reached out and asked if we could talk. She graciously accepted, and we arranged a meet.
I explained my situation and how I felt about it, declaring that I wasn’t looking for an answer so much as a sounding board. I’m glad I picked this particular colleague. She emphasized with me and shared some of her experiences when she was an adjunct for a few years before she started her present full-time position. As she talked and explained how all I am doing all the right things — focusing on improving my classes for my students, always engaging in some type of professional training or learning, serving on committees, and otherwise busting my fanny in my job — I began to realize that what I am feeling is just par for the course on the journey from adjunct to full-time teaching position. I just need to stay on the good train I’m riding.
Further reflection on my situation helped me to see the opportunity ahead of me. True, not getting that second class I needed to meet my financial goals provides a real obstacle. But I can use the time that I would be using to teach that class to pursue another opportunity. Perhaps there is another place that I can teach or another job that I can do. Maybe I should take the materials I’ve worked so hard to assemble for my stats class and build a website where I offer to sell videos and other teaching aids on individual statistics topics a-la-carte style. I’m not sure how much money I could make with that, but I am sure that many students as well as working professionals in industry who need to learn stats would pay good money to learn what they aren’t learning through the resources they have presently. Plus I could use selected portions from such a course to boost my resume or CV in furthering my teaching career.
Overall, I’m feeling much better about how the dust has settled than I was previously. I hope to make good use of what I have to improve my situation, and I’ll certainly be updating this blog with future posts about my progress and results. So stay tuned.
I've been participating in the CWID Advisory Committee which makes recommendations for changes to the first semester experience course at CWI, where I teach. Last Friday at the regular meeting I received a letter from the lead faculty expressing appreciation for my contributions.
I was totally not expecting to receive anything like this. While it doesn't help me pay any of my bills, it does help me to feel a bit more appreciated. I'm giving my employer leaps and bounds more labor than what I am being paid to provide, and this acknowledge of my service feels good to receive. Plus it's another brick in the wall of my career.
What exactly did I do? More than anything I present a different perspective. Most who serve on the committee come from the humanities and the social sciences. Someone like me coming from a physical science / engineering background provides a perspective that the others don't often see. And when it comes to making decisions about the direction the program should take, having more perspectives is often better than fewer.
I'm still serving on this committee and have no plans to quit while I continue to teach at CWI. As I'm thinking of going back to grad school, I might be teaching here for only one more year. That said, however long it happens to be, it's good to work with people who appreciate what you do and aren't shy about sharing it.
It’s that time of year again when I need to scrap the windows on my car. And the other day I was thus engaged when lo and behold — my scrapper broke. Because I was running just a tad bit late, I had to find another one in a hurry. Fortunately I did and arrived to my morning class on time.
But after the dust settled later that day, I returned home and reflected on my experience. That ice scraper lasted me about 11 years. I first got it while living in upstate New York, and it saw me through many winters there, upstate South Carolina, Seattle, and Idaho. As I examined the broken pieces of my ice scrapper, I naturally began to do what any good metallurgist would and conduct a failure analysis.
Having a key to the physics lab at work proved really helpful. Although the lab itself isn’t really set up to perform professional grade failure analysis work, I can find more equipment there than I can at home. At home I don’t have hardly any of the necessary equipment. Even with what I could find in the physics lab, my only camera is inside my phone, so it's not the best. But like any good engineer, I did what I could with what I had and made it work.
I started by laying out the broken pieces for measurement to provide both a sense of scale and the relative position of the fracture. Whole, the scraper measures about 60 cm in length. The fracture occurs at an approximate 60̊ angle from the length measurement line at about 10 cm from the scraper end.
A closer view of the fracture zone provides great detail not only of the angle of fracture but also of the chipped locations on the edge of the scraper facing the camera view. These chips result from the occasional vertical impact forces to which I subjected the end of the scraper as I tried to break through ice on my car. Note the metal scale at the bottom of the photo is in centimeters the same as the wooden meter stick towards the top of the photo.
I then placed the fractured end of the scraper into a clamp and positioned it for photographing. First I tried to get a closer view of the chips along the crossways support piece which evidence the manner in which I sometimes used my ice scrapper --- to crack the ice so as to remove more quickly. This photo doesn't provide the best documentation, but it still shows fairly well the type of impact forces to which I subjected my ice scraper over the years. Looking back, I realize I should have found a way to include the metal scale in the photo. I guess I was too excited. It has been a few years since I was this intimately involved with a failure analysis.
I then proceeded to document the fracture surface. Of the several photos I took, this one seems to provide the best resolution. (I use that word best loosely, since I realize a scanning electron microscope produces the truly best resolution of an uneven surface.) Note the darker gray discoloration of the central web piece in contrast with the lighter gray discoloration of the remainder of the fracture surface. Observing the positioning of what appear to be striations on the fracture surface (red arrows mark the edges of three of these striations), a fatigue crack initiated in the lower left corner of the central web cross-section as indicated by the yellow arrow. The vertical impact forces I mentioned earlier likely initiated the crack.
Once the crack had grown so as essentially to remove the central web from the load distribution in the cross-section, the overload in the remainder of the cross-section quickly advanced the crack to final fracture, severing the functional end from the rest of the scraper.
Admittedly I don't know much about fracture in polymers, so I was surprised to see the striation effect on the fracture surface as I would in metals, and especially at such low magnification. Doing some research into the subject, I've learned about chain scissons --- the breaking of chemical bonds in a polymer backbone due to intense localized heat. This heat can result from externally applied heat (not this case), ionizing radiation (negative on that), chemical reactions (not really likely), or mechanical stress (bingo). It makes sense then that the breaking of these bonds resembles a crack with growth fronts marked by striation-like features on the surface.
On that note, it would be helpful to know what material the manufacturer chose for the ice scraper. Mechanical properties of polymers vary wildly because they depend greatly on the arrangement and composition of the polymer chains within the material. Thus, processing plays a huge role in determining the mechanical properties of polymers. Due to the nature of the intended application (variable cycle impact loads in low temperature environments), I would have selected a thermoset polymer. But that's all conjecture. Without more information, I really can't do much more with the analysis of this specific failure.
Still, it was great to be back in the saddle again, if only for a brief moment. Despite the mini-emergency it gave me, this incident has benefited me by leading me to reflect on my future career plans and to realize what I really need --- someway, somehow --- is a mentor who can show me the ropes in the fracture of many types of materials. Looking ahead ten or more years down the road, being able to provide fractographic interpretations of fracture surfaces, regardless of material, could prove quite beneficial to my future career. I'll have to consider ways of finding such a mentor.
The other day my department chair approached me and announced that she had a special present for me. It's not often I get presents; anything more than twice a year is certainly an outlier. Interested, I turned around in my cubicle chair to find her handing me a gorgeous piece of . . . . wallpaper? Well, not quite, but not that far from it.
I've played this silly HR game before, so I smiled and feigned excitement. "Hey! A certificate! Wow!"
"Yeah," she rejoined, "you could frame this and put it on your wall."
Yeah, my bathroom wall, I thought to myself.
"Totally," I replied with my best Californian accent.
Honestly, I'm grateful to have my job. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else but teaching college students. So I don't really need a certificate to know that my employer who won't allow me to work more than 30 hours/week because the administration doesn't want to pay for the health care and other benefits the law demands I receive if I work more than 30 hours/week appreciates me. I know that my students appreciate me, and honestly, that really is enough for me on the appreciation front.
But if my employer really wanted to do something more to express appreciation for my efforts, I have a better way to spell appreciation than C-E-R-T-I-F-I-C-A-T-E. And my way of spelling appreciation uses way fewer letters. It's C-A-S-H. No, I'm not talking about that guy named Johnny who sang about a boy named Sue. I'm talking about greenbacks -- or their digital equivalent -- in my bank account.
Yeah, I'm going to keep on dreaming.
My employer will do practically anything to help us adjuncts feel better about our position --- anything that doesn't involve cash, that is. The administration is extremely tight when it comes to money. That may be good accounting practice, but it's hardly good business practice. You're retarding your organization's growth when you don't take sufficient care of your employees, especially the ones who take care of the reason why your organization exists in the first place. It's no surprise the turnover rate here is as high as it is.
I persist on because (1) I love teaching and don't want to be doing anything else and (2) I'm consciously pursuing my desired career. This past summer is a great example. I worked my tail off developing the physics class I taught this past summer. But I certainly wasn't doing it for my employer. I was doing it because I cared about my students and I wanted to build a reputation and a portfolio to go with it. If I didn't need the reputation or the portfolio, thus leaving my employer's concern as my only motivation, I wouldn't have done the tenth part of what I actually did. No one feels to sacrifice for someone who consistently shows no desire to sacrifice for them. That's just human nature.
I am in no way complaining. As I said before, I love my job and am very grateful to have it. I'm OK not having the cash I believe would better show appreciation because I'm doing OK as I am. I don't want to go into teaching to get rich. I want to go into teaching because being in the classroom and the lab makes me feel alive. There's other reasons, but that's the first one. I just can't do much with a certificate. Cash, on the other hand, presents multiple possibilities. I could pay a bill early. I could invest in one of my businesses. I could support a charity I believe in. Or I could just enjoy myself with a nice trip or a special purchase.
Like I said earlier, I'll keep on dreaming. And I'll keep working my career plan. One day, I'll have all the pieces fitted together. Then I can pull out that certificate I got the other day and say, "See? This is where it all started."
Yesterday was the last official day of summer term, and I find myself reflecting on it. I can't help but conclude that Summer 2016 was my best semester yet as an instructor, and the summer term isn't even a full semester.
I worked really hard the past two months teaching Physics 100, a general survey class about physics. Granted it's not that hard to teach; I am an engineer, after all. But it took a lot of work to improve upon the class so that my students could have the best experience possible. I was offered to teach the class when the person who normally teaches it had other plans for the summer, and the department chair thought of me. I guess voluntarily submitting the course curriculum guides and syllabi for three engineering classes that the school is not offering but should caught his attention.
The lecture slides as left to me were all PDFs, which of itself would not have been a problem if the lectures themselves could keep the interest of the average student. The problem was they were focused almost exclusively on lecturing. There's no way that would satisfy for the 3-hour class times the summer term demanded. I had to develop in-class activities and demonstrations to keep the students interested and engaged. And because the lecture slides I had received were all PDFs, I couldn't just slip in a few slides here and there with the activities on them; I had to develop my own slide decks from scratch.
In addition, the labs were in great need of improvement. One was missing from the manual, so I had to develop that one on my own from scratch using only materials that were already had in store. I also developed two new labs from scratch. One of these labs was a simple experiment involving temperatures probes and rulers of different materials in melting ice. The student learn about rates of heat transfer at the same time they learn about the nature of temperature during changes of state. And yes, I said changes of state, not changes of phase. Don't get me started on my tirade about the diminished view of physicists when compared to metallurgists in this regard. I let others believe what they want, but to me solids, liquids, and gases will always be states of matter, and not phases. I'm too much of a metallurgist ever to adopt the physicist's convention.
Because each lecture covered a whole week during the normal semester and class sessions were two days apart each week, I was kept very busy trying to implement my vision for improving the class. I had to compromise in some regards due to time and manpower constraints, but that just gives me ways to improve the class further if I ever get to teach it again. And I hope that I do because, as much work and late nights as I put into improving the class, I really loved being in the classroom and the lab helping my students to learn more about the physical world around us all.
And as everything was winding down, I got some great comments from my students. They were so great, I got their permission to share them. What I have here is a sampling, but reading the praise from my students makes all the late nights worthwhile and together with the pleasure I experience while administering the course confirms that my career move in this direction is the right one for me to make.
In addition, one of my students approached me after class and said that he wanted to transfer to my alma mater and study materials science and engineering so he could follow in my footsteps. I can't begin to describe how gratifying that made me feel. I want to inspire and to educate the next generation of engineers, so getting feedback like that is what I live for.
Overall, I feel amazingly blessed that I had the opportunity to teach physics this past summer. It was a rush in multiple ways, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent with my students. Now I will need to get ready for the upcoming fall semester, which starts in three weeks. I'll be teaching my first online class as well as a special section of a first-semester college skills class that will include a study of engineering failures and their connections to other facets of life like business, politics, history, and literature. I'll be sure to post more about these classes as time goes on. For now, I'm really grateful for the summer teaching experience I've had and look forward to even better days yet to come.
This week saw the demise of my initial efforts into entrepreneurship. I entered the office of the Secretary of State and filed paperwork to kill my business.
Considering my new employment and the hours which I am required to be at work, a restriction which prevents me from tutoring during prime hours for that activity, I decided it was time to walk away. I also had grown tired of dealing with parents who wanted me to fix their kid. That consideration certainly ensured that my decision to walk away would not be revoked, at least for the present moment.
My business may be dead, but I don't consider my effort to be a failure. Quite the contrary! My experience was very successful, especially considering what I learned from my period of self-employment. For one, I learned why most people don't engage self-employment. They don't want to have to chase after their work every day in order to get paid. They simply want to show up at their workplace, do their work, and collect their pay. It takes a different sort of person to run against that grain.
I also learned a lot about marketing, advertising, legal structures, and tax structures. The website I developed for my business reflects much of that learning. Given that I deleted my website with the death of my business, I've assembled some screen shots so that you could see what I built.
My home page contained a rotation of photographs, the first of which appears above. The next appears here, and the others are scattered throughout this post. The content is a brief summary of the highlights of what appears in other pages. I had started a Facebook page but never really used it. My attitude towards Facebook explains part of the reason for that. I had also contracted with a Canadian company to provide credit card processing for my clients, as I insisted on payment before rendering services to customers who hired me themselves, independent of any third-party service provider. However, I did not anticipate the regulatory management required on my end, and I never worked through it all since most of my customers were approaching me through third-party service providers.
Here I provide a brief background about myself and my business. While I describe a disagreement working for corporate America, that doesn't mean I don't mesh with large organizations. If that were true, I wouldn't be fitting in as well as I am teaching at the college level.
I also wanted to give back to my community, and so a portion of my earnings were contributed to a religious organization which used 100% of my donation to help others in need. My desire to give back was inspired in part by Arnold Schwarzenegger and his response to the question "What is the secret of success?" If you haven't heard his answer, you should look it up. It's very inspiring. He gave 6 rules for success, and giving back is Rule #6.
On this page I detail the services I provided as well as pricing. Pricing was always difficult. Government taking about half my earnings means I needed to charge twice the amount I needed to pay my expenses and pay myself so I could in turn pay my bills and have a decent standard of living. Competing at that price point proved challenging, especially when the competition was some punk teenager who didn't have living expenses to pay and was looking simply for some extra cash. But I made a good go of it while I was in business. I justified my higher price with something a teenager couldn't provide --- real world experience about what is really important to master beyond the current assignment in front of the student. And my clients appreciated that insight tremendously.
The image shown here is a little grainy. The image quality is fine, but adding it here requires an expansion of the image that shows some partial degradation. I can provide the original image, which can be read much more clearly, upon request.
As mentioned before, I worked with third-party providers for my business. These partners provided portals for the clients to find me. So all of the advertising and marketing they did, allowing me to focus more on the actual work of my business.
Not all of these partners operated with the same model, however. For example, Tutor Select charged a set rate for access to the students on their site, with prices differing depending on the subscription purchased (weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually). However, Tutor Doctor sells contracts to its customers, who purchased a set number of visits with a tutor. I get a portion of that contract fee for my services.
Thumbtack was very different; they charged me for the privilege of making a quote to a potential customer. That model did not mesh with me at all. My price wasn't going to change; I listed it on my website. So paying out money to quote a customer base that, in all honesty, is comparing quotes from different vendors made little sense for me. These people are looking for lowest price, and that wasn't me. And Wyz Ant charged 40% commission on whatever I charged. With the government taking half, that left me with 10%. That left me with a pittance, which despite my higher-than-average hourly fee wasn't even close to minimum wage. Needless to say, I didn't use them very much.
The good part of all this, however, is that I got to see how different approaches did or did not work. And I learned a lot about the marketplace and how business works. I knew these things on a superficial level before I worked my business, but owning and operating my own business gave me a better appreciation of what all my employers have experienced.
I learned early in my career that, when you explain the expectations up front, you tend to have fewer problems down the road. I also learned the importance of documenting procedures so that any who have questions or concerns can consult a common reference for resolution. That's what this page provided. I leveraged what I could glean from the experience of others in addition to my own experience in creating the policies for my business. Again, as with the Services page, I can provide a better quality view of the image upon request.
My clients were very satisfied with my work, continuing a long standing tradition I have adopted in my career of delivering good work on time every time. I really wished that they would have been willing to add their recommendations to my LinkedIn profile, but I'll take their good words all the same.
Note the scheduling button, which appears throughout my site, links to a separate calendaring application called SetMore that managed all my appointments for me. And it was free since I had no need of the advanced options requiring subscription service. My experience with them was really good. I had no complaints.
Smart but Scattered Kids
I mentioned earlier how I tired of dealing with parents who wanted me to fix their kid. As a professional, I felt it incumbent upon me to explain what my business could and could not do for potential customers. I also noticed some of my competition promising to deliver what they really couldn't, and I wanted to warn people about heeding that siren call. Those considerations gave birth to this page. I think I make a pretty good analogy with the roofer and the plumber.
News and Events
I didn't use this page much because I focused so much on actually operating my business, but I did take a moment to mention how I gave back to my community in terms of not only money but also time. I volunteer as a merit badge counselor for several merit badges and was invited to organize and provide classes for two merit badges (Energy and Engineering) at a summer merit badge camp. The classes were a huge success. I still have the presentation slides for each of those classes, which I can make available upon request.
This final page provided means for potential customers to contact me. The address was for the mailbox I had enlisted for my business, which I wanted to keep separate from my home address (for reasons which should be obvious).
A few more words
Some might say that my business failed. I submit the opposite conclusion. Sure, my business didn't make me independently wealthy. But my business was a huge success. I learned an incredible amount about how business actually works and about the interplay between business and government. I also acquired a new appreciation for what all employers experience, particularly with the headaches from paperwork needed to satisfy government regulation. I never hired employees, but it wasn't hard for me to imagine (and still isn't) what a headache that must be at times as well.
And whatever aspect of my experience others might insist is a failure can be a stepping stone in any future attempts towards greater and more palpable success. After all, the real failure failure occurs not from getting knocked down but from deciding not to get back up and try again. Will I try this again? Tutoring may or may not be in my future. Other business ventures, yes, but at least for the next few years as a supplement to more traditional employment working for someone else. I don't really miss having to chase down my work and really enjoy both the ease of simply showing up to my workplace and finding my work there and a steady paycheck. But my experience running my own business will now inform everything I do from here on out. And I see that as a very good thing.
Here you can find news and announcements I want to share. In between I'll include reviews of the books I read. Find me on Goodreads.com for more book reviews.