Leaving Behind My Disciplinary Home

Pragmatically embracing the broader fields of management and leadership.

May 12, 2015
Failure, learning, change, adaptation, and evolution are outcomes and dispositions that come naturally to me. I credit my parents’ uprooting the family from our native land, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and moving us to the richest country in the world for my ability to operate comfortably in ambiguous and changing environments. This week, while attending a seminar with a development colleague, I realized that the disciplines I had considered to be my home and my comfort zones were changing. This was not an insignificant cognitive breakthrough for me as I have held on tightly to my scholarly identity as a measurement expert, a social science statistician. My formal academic preparation in the fields of political science, international relations, economics, and educational measurement and evaluation have defined who I am as a professional, my passions as a person, and continue to shape the way that I view the world, my conceptions and approaches to problems and the range of solutions and alternatives to these problems. I realized in that seminar that management and leadership are the disciplines now shaping my professional and scholarly identity.

Early Fascination with Leadership and Management

I have always been curious and fascinated with leadership and management. In graduate school, while my peers took their electives in the math, economics, psychology, and sociology departments, I took my electives in the business school in financial management, human resource management, and organizational behavior. I recognized that those fields would be important to whatever I ended up doing after my Ph.D. I also struggled to tell people what I intended to do when I was done. I went to Boston College with the intent of earning the competencies needed to go back to the state department of education where I previously worked on K-12 assessment and school accountability. Graduate school offered me so many more opportunities. Yes, I developed that strong expertise in assessment and statistics that I went there for, but I also learned a lot about teacher education, social justice, and the politics of higher education from an elite institution’s perspective. Despite that extraordinary education, I could not envision devoting my life to being a tenured professor at a research institution where most of my students would come with tremendous privilege and social capital, and only occasionally would I get a student who was more like me.

Questioning the Tenured Professor at a Research University Route

My exploration of paths other than teaching at a research university was accelerated when I attended my first disciplinary conference of the National Council on Measurement in Education. I encountered a group of mostly much older white males. No one looked like me. The receptions I attended had no other black male or females. There were a few generation Xers, some women, and a sizable number of seemingly East Asian students. (I made no new friends at that first conference, but did make one at the next year’s conference. We’re Facebook friends and keep up with each other’s lives). Luckily, the American Educational Research Association’s conference occurs simultaneously with my own discipline’s, so I did get to meet other people and was not completely discouraged. It was the combination of experiences at these conferences and the range of research and community engagement opportunities in graduate school that led me to conclude that I would not find a full-time, tenure-track position very fulfilling.

Finding Fulfillment in Becoming an Adjunct Professor

While in graduate school, I got the opportunity to co-teach and teach in my own discipline. I found the experience fulfilling and continued to teach at other universities after graduating. Since 2011, I have committed to teaching at a public university where my students are diverse in age, race, ethnicity, and prior professional careers. Teaching in a program that is mostly taught by adjuncts, I have been able to develop a leadership course, shepherd it through the faculty governance system, and I now take turns with the full-time faculty in the program teaching that leadership course. (I am gearing up to teach it exclusively online for the first time this semester. It will be my first time teaching leadership online. I have taught assessment online and taught research methods in a hybrid format, so this will be a new challenge for me. I welcome your advice and tips!).

Coming Full Circle as a Mixed-Methods Leader

Measurement is about data, facts, trends, behaviors that can be explained and predicted, building complex models with high degrees of reliability and making highly valid conclusions, interpretations, and inferences. In graduate school, I learned to appreciate qualitative approaches to research and employed mixed-methods in my own scholarly work. Leadership, I have found, also leaves room for multiple truths, feelings, affects, passions, and desire to affect change in ways that cannot be quantified.

As I sat there in the Alumni Room at Dartmouth University this week, I turned to my colleague and told her how much I appreciated her. She helped me come to the long overdue realization that it is okay to migrate to another disciplinary home. I left the seminar with a sense of professional renewal that was sustained by conversations with my colleague about using a range of advancement/fundraising strategies to fulfill the college’s mission. I will never stop to see the world in terms of trends and patterns nor will I ever abandon my empiricist orientation, as they are core to who I am. But, I can now fully commit to my evolution into areas that have deep relevance for my day-to-day work.


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