Career Profile: Mike Phillips
Illinois Valley Community College
IVCC is a two-year community college.
Click on a topic to read Mike Phillips's answer to an individual question, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Educational background and career path * Current job responsibilities * Best part of the job * Challenges and strategies * Qualifications * Balancing work and life * Advice
Briefly describe your educational background and career path.
I began work as an environmental geologist at a private consulting firm in 1989 and moved to a similar position with the Illinois State Geological Survey in 1992. At the ISGS, I participated in outreach activities at schools and helped lead field trips; in addition, I started teaching night classes at several local community colleges. At Shawnee CC in southern Illinois, I proposed and began teaching a new course in Environmental Geology and I also taught remote sites using a distance-learning video system.
In 1997, I began teaching at Illinois Valley Community College in north-central Illinois. In addition to teaching courses, I started working on the Assessment Committee. After a year at the college, I helped develop a center for excellence in teaching, learning, & assessment and headed the center for five years. I developed new courses in Env. Geology and GIS and an outreach course in local geology. I have worked on the college's strategic plan and facilities plan and have been on selection committees to hire faculty, staff and administrators.
In 2002, I started a voter registration drive. In 2003, I ran for and gained a seat on my local school board. From 2005-2006, I ran for State Representative unsuccessfully.
Briefly describe your current job responsibilities, perhaps by describing a typical day, week, or semester.
The actual semester starts with a day-long in-service with administrative updates and short workshops on educational issues. (This year, in response to the admin. updates, I asked to serve on several teams and began developing a course for the revised honors program.) I download my class lists and put the information into spreadsheet grade books. I pull out the materials for the courses I teach (Physical Geology, Historical Geology, Oceanography, & Environmental Science). Physical and Historical each have lecture, seminar, & lab; the seminar and lab require that I pull materials (maps, rocks, photos, etc.) and put them away each week. Oceanography meets in lecture only. Env. Sci. meets face-to-face once a week, but is primarily an on-line course, I must facilitate the on-line discussion daily and update the web site weekly. I had a total starting enrollment (all sections) of appx. 120 students.
Each week, I spend 14 hours in the classroom and three hours in open lab. I have seven scheduled office hours. I am usually at the college from 8:30 to 5:00. This spring, I led a team to develop a written textbook adoption policy, and I was co-leader of a team exploring the adoption of a minimum reading-level requirement. Each team required several hours a week of research and meetings. I attended two workshops (five days off campus) this spring and wrote a proposal for a GSA session. On campus, I coordinated the voter registration drive, spoke in several colleagues' classes, led part of a workshop for high school students, and led a career day activity for jr. high students. Each week, there is something a little different. In addition to time on campus, I spend between 5 and 15 hours/week working at home (grading, on-line, writing class materials, etc.).
The end of the semester, there is a flood of students checking grades, the union picnic (yea!), final exams, student submissions of all sorts, lots of grading, and grade submission (via computer). After grades are turned in, a few more team meetings, planning for summer semester, a trip to the state capitol to lobby for education, and graduation.
What do you like best about your work?
What is the most challenging aspect of your work? What strategies have you developed for tackling that challenge?
I view teaching as a science as well as an art. Each semester, I develop a hypothesis that guides my teachings. I collect data on student achievement, monitor the outcomes and modify the hypothesis continually. For someone trained in the sciences, this is a good way to look at teaching and assessment.
What qualifications do you think made you competitive in your job search(es)?
Many of the graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in these workshops are interested in balancing a family and career, in dual career couple issues, and in how other personal choices affect the search for a fulfilling career. Please share information about your situation, your ideas and experiences.
Making two lives work in harmony comes down to open communication, compromise, and constantly working to find the best course. Each time we moved or changed jobs was a difficult decision, but by talking openly and frequently and looking for opportunities we have always made our new situations work. It seems unlikely that any situation would be perfect for both of us; realizing that, we try to work with each other to get the best possible fit. Communication is crucial, we talk every day about everything, no surprises. Nothing is more important than knowing your partner and making sure they know you.
What advice do you have for graduate students or post-docs preparing for academic careers in geoscience? What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career?
I learned early on that job choices are often temporary. While working in industry, I was laid off twice and left a third job at the end of a contract. While my current position seems to be very secure, I feel that I am more aware of the capriciousness of any work situation. I have made sure to develop a broad set of skills that will help me get work should I choose to move on or be forced to. I also participate in many activities at the college to have some say in my working conditions and to maintain an awareness of potential hurdles.