Passing the Baton

As told to Jan Senn  |  Photographs by Chris Bohnhoff ’93

Retiring faculty members share what they’ve learned with new professors—and the rest of us

You can’t be in a career for 30-plus years and not have learned something along the way about how to thrive in your job. At least, not at Carleton. We asked the three professors who are retiring this year what advice they’d give to a new faculty member. Their answers contain wise counsel for all of us, regardless of what career we’re in or how close we are to retiring.

Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen

Professor of German
At Carleton since 1978

Be ready to reinvent yourself a number of times during your career. It is impossible to foresee what changes will occur in your field, in your teaching methods, in the available technology. When I came to Carleton, I wouldn’t have foreseen that in fewer than 10 years I would have a personal computer, let alone conduct videoconferences on campus with German filmmakers in Vienna and Krakow, as I did spring term.

Embrace the opportunity to teach classes in new areas of your field. You may find that you enjoy them even more than your original specialty. It is especially rewarding to engage in a new topic and new materials along with your students.

Consider contributing a course to an academic concentration. I collaborated with faculty members from departments across the curriculum through the environmental studies program, which has enriched my own teaching offerings and intellectual growth. Even committee work gives you a chance to get to know people and aspects of the College that you didn’t know before. Your ability to give your students advice will be improved by the various kinds of expertise you acquire.

Choose judiciously among all the possibilities, however, since this career will take every minute you give it. Keep up with personal interests that give you a break from your professional duties. At least once a week, make a date, preferably with others, to do something totally different. You need to replenish your own energies and spirit to remain fresh and creative for your academic efforts.

Above all, enjoy the adventure. It’s a privilege to be engaged with such wonderful, creative students and colleagues!

What’s next: I’ve been translating an author from the former East Germany, and I’d like to get that published; there are other people I would like to translate as well. I want to travel and spend time with family. I plan to sort through all my belongings and organize my photos and memorabilia—and maybe take piano lessons.

Anne Patrick

Anne Patrick

Anne Patrick

William H. Laird Professor of Religion and the Liberal Arts
At Carleton since 1980

Find social support early in your career for the lonely work of scholarship and writing. In the early ’80s I met a friend weekly to work on our dissertations and in the mid ’90s I started meeting regularly about work-in-progress with two English professors at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph.

Get to know your students as quickly as you can. Learning the students’ names and something about them was always a priority for me. On the first day of class I would pass around a tape recorder and ask the students to say and spell their name and tell us something about why they were taking the course. That way, I’d get the correct pronunciation of their names and a little bit of their personalities on the tape, which I would review while I was commuting to work. When possible, I would also schedule a half-hour interview with each student at the beginning of the term.

Find out your students’ expertise and learn from them. I had my first lesson on word processing from a student, probably about 1982. Another student gave me some advice on how to go downhill on cross-country skis. Seven years ago, when I told my students I had cancer, one of them who worked in security gave me his pager number and told me to call if I ever needed anything. Students love to help and it gives them a sense of mutuality, which is important for their development.

Learn how to cross-country ski. It is my favorite winter activity. I kept a pair of skis in my office for whenever I could take an hour away.

What’s next: I’ll celebrate my golden jubilee as a professed member of the Sisters of the Holy Names in 2010. In March I moved back to Washington, D.C., where I live near members of my community and my family. I’ve been on medical leave all year to work on a book that I’m wanting to finish: Conscience in Context: Vocation, Virtue, and History. I recently gave a lecture at Saint Mary’s College (Indiana) titled “Women, Conscience, and the Creative Process,” which also will become a book.

Jim Fisher

Jim Fisher

Jim Fisher

John W. Nason Professor of Asian Studies and Anthropology
Director of South Asian Studies

At Carleton since 1971

Don’t worry about being a little nervous; it can help you keep your edge. I always spend some time preparing for a class, even if I’ve taught it before, to stay on top of the topic.

Give full rein to the students’ intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm. Students are challenging and want to be challenged. The atmosphere at Carleton is very different from what you’d find in a large lecture hall with 500 students in a state university. Adapt your teaching style accordingly.

Take advantage of resources to enhance and invigorate your teaching. Viewing a videotape of yourself teaching might remind you to maintain eye contact with all parts of the room. A student observer might make a suggestion to help you clarify a point. There’s always room for improvement.

Become your own person. There’s not just one right way to teach. Everyone does it a different way.

Keep your research alive, or else you run the risk of spending the rest of your life teaching what you learned in graduate school. To stay intellectually alive, you have to stay active in your profession and contribute to it. It wasn’t always easy for me to carve out time to spend a year or two in Nepal and to write up what I found out, but it was always worth the effort. 

What’s next: I just finished a book on globalization and the Peace Corps in Nepal. The whole Himalayan region remains a topic of great interest for me. I want to work on a book about Nepalese humor. (This spring I co-taught a new course on the anthropology of humor.) Beginning in July, I’ll spend a year helping to start an anthropology department at a new university in Bhutan. Twenty-five years ago I helped start a similar department at a university in Nepal.

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