While I’m starting my second year of Assistant professor, it is worth to look back and see how was my first year. It may help to improve my professoring skills or maybe help someone else who is just about to start his academic career. In numbers, last year I taught five courses (all of them new to me), supervised tree urop students, and co-supervised tree masters student and one phd student. In terms of service, I reviewed 12 papers to four conferences and journals. I also published nine research papers and submitted two research grants.
Let me distill this.
I taught five courses in 2017, all of them for undergrad. My peers in the US would consider this a very high workload, but I would say that this is the normal workload in Brazil. In my department, in particular, no professor teaches less than 4 courses per year. But a professor can teach as many as five in a single semester. The exact number depends on some variables such as the number of urop students or if the professor teaches grad courses. If the value of the first variable is greater than 2 or if the second one is true, you can teach the minimum number of courses in that given term (which is two). One interesting thing in my university, which is quite common in other Brazilian universities, is the fact that when you join an university as a professor, you do not teach for grad school straight ahead. Instead, you should “apply” for teaching in grad school. They do that to make sure only professors interested in research are within the set of professors that teach grad courses. And your permanence in this set depends if you are doing good work. Otherwise you are out (of the grad school program) and should apply again. Important to say that you can only supervise master or phd students if you are in a grad program. Not sure if that makes much sense, but this is how things work over here. I applied in the second semester and I can have master students this year (phd students only after one master student graduate).
Getting back to the courses, I taught Algorithms, Databases 101, Operating Systems (Lab), Advanced Data structure, and Advanced Databases. All these courses were new to me. It took a lot of time to create the material for these courses, and I still have say they are not great. The problem was that I was not that excited with teaching. I like teaching but my first semester workload was a kind of disappointing to me (I want to do research and other things). I also have a hard time with one class of students that were not motivated at all. This issue was completely new to me and I had no idea on how to address it. I chatted with some colleagues and some of them also reported the same felling. Last year I went to two educational-focused software engineering conferences. I also discussed this matter over there, but this time I went back with some possible solutions, which can be summarized in PBL (Problem-based learning). The courses that I taught followed that traditional lecture format (e.g., the professor talks, the students listen). Although students have problems to work on, the most interesting ones were in mid to the end of the course. Only later I realized that if a student is not motivated from the beginning, it is not an interesting problem at the end of the course that will change her mind.
Although I was very passionate about some of the topics, it was hard to transmit such passion to students. One initiative that I’m willing to give another shot is to bring open-source software projects inside the classroom. Generally speaking, the students really learned new skills and enjoyed the work. There were also students that faced many barriers with Git and those that did not even try. Students’ motivation is still one thing that I should learn more.
Advising students is one of the most fun and interesting thing in this academic career, I think. However, as I said, it was not straightforward to join in the grad school program. Since I just get into it, one could think now I can have many students. However, new professors are limited to one master student per year. They say that because they do know how do the professor work. Only after the first master student graduate is when you can have as many as you want. Actually, up to three master students per year (department rules). The good thing about this restriction is that it forced me to look for collaborators. In 2017 I co-supervised four students (3 masters and 1 phd). Only one of them is a student at my university. 3/4 of these students were fist authors in papers published last year. The one without paper has one paper under submission and is currently working in another one. I believe these are good results. I also advised three urop students. This group of students was particularly interesting to me because I perceived that there are many undergrad students that are as skilled as or even more skilled than many master students. One particular urop student really impressed me and we may submit her work to a good software engineering conference in 2018 (which sometimes is hard to do with master students).
Research and Service
In 2017 I published nine papers. However, six of them are short papers. I have to say that I was tempted to submitted that many short papers (some of them were very old stuff that I’d pay to not touch in the data anymore). Still, I am the first author of four papers (although two of them are remaining unpublished parts of my phd). The other two papers pretty much reflect my lack of students: short papers with little depth. Don’t get me wrong. Short papers are good: the information is quickly transmitted and easily consumed. However, publishing a lot of short papers is not a synonym of high quality research. I plan to do less of it in 2018.
Finally, I reviewed 12 papers for four conferences. This is a low rate and I’d like to improve it. However, I’ll only receive more invitations if I keep publishing good work.