On the Path to Professing
Jill M. Gradwell
Buffalo State College
In an earlier article in this journal, Alan Jones (2005) articulates the nature of professing in the field
Let's grant that professing is traditionally something done by those who hold
teaching positions, or professorships, at institutions of postsecondary educationat colleges
and universities, where instruction is offered to undergraduate and graduate students.
Professing in this setting, in addition to teaching, involves research, writing, and a variety of
public service. (p. 9)
As I ponder the nature of professing, I reflect on the path that has brought me to this place. Why and
how did I become a member of the professoriate? What in my doctoral preparation prepared me for the trinity
of the academy: teaching, research, and service? Although my family, immediate and extended, played
a significant role in supporting my efforts to complete my doctorate and find employment in the academy, it
is my formal doctoral education that I focus on here. In retrospect, from my position as an assistant
professor of social studies education, I now have a stronger sense of that path. In this paper, I describe my
experiences of becoming a professor and find that it is the journey more than the destination that matters most.
First, I recognize that my circumstances
allowed me an advantage over others starting their doctoral programs. I was the recipient of a
four-year Presidential Fellowship at my university, important
not only for the economic benefits it provided, but
the expectations that came along with being a fellow. As
a Presidential Fellow I was expected to teach at
the college level, engage in collaborative research
with faculty, and participate in special seminars.
Additionally, I was extremely fortunate to have an advisor
who epitomizes what it truly means to be a mentor
and continues to be one today.
Some assume that because you are a teacher educator, you must be able to teach and teach well.
I have learned, however, that teaching is a craft that
must be carefully honed through years of practice
and reflection. Although I taught secondary social studies
for seven years in public schools, there was much to
learn about teaching adults, and specifically teachers.
One exceptional piece of advice my advisor gave me when
I asked what courses to take in my program, was to learn about the various professors and take
courses from those identified as being excellent teachers;
the content of the course was secondary. I found
this suggestion to be wise for I learned more than content.
I observed the teaching of ambitious educators
whom today I try to emulate in my own practice.
Another useful suggestion was to take courses outside of my department that both appealed to me
and complemented my program. I learned how
professors from different fields approach their subject. This
has truly helped me in my current situation as I teach in
an interdisciplinary department of historians, social
scientists, museum specialists, and social studies educators.
As I was making my way through my program, I also took every opportunity to teach at the
college level, first with my advisor and later independently. I
not only taught at the university in which I was enrolled,
but also as an adjunct at a nearby college.
Co-teaching allowed me to collaborate and learn about the
development of college courses. Working as an adjunct
helped to familiarize myself with how other institutions
those that are teaching colleges, and how
those differences mattered with respect to the
environment I wanted to work in later.
Another area of professing relates to scholarly research. I learned to never pass up
a research opportunity regardless of how overloaded I felt. It was during these joint
research ventures that I gained practical experience
doing original research, writing papers, and
subsequently publishing the findings. I struggled, especially
near the end of my program, with the question of whether to devote all my energy to writing
the dissertation or to continue submitting paper proposals for annual meetings, presenting
papers for conferences, and finalizing articles for
publication. I opted to take a longer time in
completing my program to pursue these research
opportunities. I think in the end it was a smart
choice because it helped me to build a strong work
ethic. Also, I had a significant number of national
presentations and some publications on my
curriculum vitae when I went on the job market.
Additionally, it opened networking opportunities for me,
because at the annual conferences I established
ties to other like-minded researchers, and I have
been approached to collaborate on common projects. Finally, because of the numerous research
projects I collaborated with my advisor on, we continue
to work together now as peers. This research relationship has helped me seamlessly move
from student to professor.
Another significant factor in helping me down this path to professing was co-founding
a dissertation support group. Again, listening to
the wise advice of my advisor, I found others in
my program to rely on to read and respond to my work. My advisor was helpful for the
subject-specific nature of my research, but my
peer support group could read my work from an outsider's perspective. Since the completion of
our program, our group has now evolved into an educational research group that meets monthly
discuss relevant issues related to beginning
professors of education. The bonds formed early on in
the program laid the trusting relationship that
One other aspect of professing is to provide service to the profession, college, and local
community. Often, service activities can consume even
the most organized person. My service experiences as
the president of the department graduate student
association and officer in the student special interest group
of my professional organization prepared me for
the numerous demands professors balance. I helped
to organize research symposia, brown bag lunch
series, interdepartment-alumni conferences, and
national student group meetings. I recommend
becoming involved in campus and professional life in some
way during your doctoral studies. I found it helped me
to connect to the campus and my profession,
especially when I was engaged in the dissertation phase of
my program. It also helped me to form ties with
other students in the department, which eventually led
four of the current members of the
educational research group mentioned earlier. As a professor,
the experiences I had as a student have enabled me today to lead committees, hold and organize
meetings, and form networks across departments and campuses.
Although I still feel I am very much "on
the path" to professing rather than at the final
destination of the professoriate, I sense I am inching closer.
Not long ago, a student and a new assistant
professor invited me to be their mentor. This announcement
left me feeling uneasy and unsure about my place in
the professorship. Had I really arrived? In a
conversation with my former advisor, I shared my
insecurities. Surprisingly, he shared his own uncertainties. I
was amazed, given that he is an accomplished,
award winning scholar and teacher, and a full
professor! Like Grant's (2005) description of a high
school history teacher's route to ambitious teaching as
being "more journey than end," I find myself feeling
much the same way.
Acknowledgements: The author thanks Paul G. Theobald and Gary Marotta for their close reading and helpful comments
on earlier drafts of this paper.
Grant, S. G. (2005). More journey than end: A case of ambitious teaching. In O. L. Davis, Jr. & E.
Yeager (Eds.). Wise practice in teaching social studies in the age of high stakes
testing. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Jones, A. (2005). The nature of professing. Professing Education,
For all past issues, please visit
For Manuscript Submission Guidelines , please visit