Career Profile: Kaatje van der Hoeven Kraft
Department of Sciences, Whatcom Community College
Whatcom Community College is a two-year college.
Click on a topic to read Kaatje's answer to an individual question, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Educational background and career path * Early teaching challenges * Research transition * Institutional fit * Balancing responsibilities * Advice for new faculty
Briefly describe your educational background and career path.
My educational background and career path are not the most linear. I received my B.A. in geology from Colby College (Waterville, ME) and then worked at an environmental school for a year, and then moved to Arizona State University to obtain my M.S. in geology. As I was completing my degree, I was sought out to teach adjunct at the local community college. After one year of teaching, a full time position became available for which I applied and was offered the position. I loved teaching at a two year college and taught at Mesa Community College (MCC in Mesa, AZ) for 14 more years. Throughout my years at MCC, I had dabbled in education research, but it wasn't until my sabbatical, that I had an opportunity to take some education classes where I discovered a whole new world of research and research questions that directly related to my classroom practices. Upon return from my sabbatical, I started my PhD program in the education college at ASU. By the time I completed my PhD, I was ready for a change of scenery (and climate!) and I moved to my current position teaching geology at Whatcom Community College.
What were some of the challenges you faced in your early years of full-time teaching? Could you briefly describe how you overcame one of those challenges?
Some of the challenges I had to overcome (and some I still struggle with) are the time it took to prepare for classes, the lack of access to ideas and approaches to teaching new content (I started before SERC resources existed in the form they do now), knowing how to teach most effectively, and lastly, feeling like an imposter in my department. The way I overcame my feelings of imposter syndrome were by finding people with whom I could collaborate who were outside of my department (and even my school); it felt safer to admit my challenges and was comforted to know that they had similar challenges. This fellow group of collaborators and commiserators became important sources of support both professionally and personally through the years and have led to many professional opportunities I would not have sought on my own.
How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?
I am fortunate in that my research is based on data from my own classroom (as well as data from a national project that directly related to and informed the practices in my own classroom). Because my research directly applies to my teaching practices and they inform each other so well, it continues to drive me to do research. This is a challenge at a two-year college since it is not the primary (or even secondary) function of my job description. I must do research on my "own" time. In addition, because my research is more in education than in a geoscience discipline, it is difficult to find ways to include students in my research process. So while there wasn't much of a needed transition, it is one that continues to be a challenge, that sometimes leads to creative approaches and or unexpected opportunities.
An essential component of achieving tenure is finding or making an alignment of your teaching/research goals with the goals of your institution.... How do your goals fit with those of your institution? Did you adjust your goals to achieve that fit? If so, how?
Early in my career, it was clear that my passion for student learning and success was why I was so happy teaching at a two-year college. My goals align perfectly with that of a two-year college. After completing my PhD, I struggled with whether I was ready to change to a four-year institution rather than stay at a two-year institution. But ultimately, I realized that I am committed to the two-year college model of supporting student success first and foremost, particularly those who may be on the fringe of society. Because my research reflects how we can best support student success with two-year college students both during and after they transfer, it fits well with the mission of the college. Of course, just because my research goals align with the mission of the college, doesn't mean I have more time to do that research, so time continues to be a challenge.
Many of the new faculty members in these workshops are interested in maintaining a modicum of balance while getting their careers off to a strong start. Please share a strategy or strategies that have helped you to balance teaching, research, and your other work responsibilities, OR balance work responsibilities with finding time for your personal life.
I believe this is one of the challenges that faculty work on most of their career. There is no one perfect formula, and at different times in your life, what works will change. I try to live by the same mantra I tell my students, "It's never done, it's just due." In addition, I think letting your students see you as a person allows them to understand you can't always be there for them in all capacities. Lastly, I recommend practicing saying, "no." It's never easy, but 1) it's better to say no than not be able to do the task to the quality you would like it to be and 2) try saying no but provide 2 names of alternates who you think could fit the bill (you may want to let them know and/or check with them first).
What advice do you have for faculty beginning academic careers in geoscience? What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career in academia?
I have become a much better instructor once I was able to practice what I preached to my students. I try to be a very reflective instructor. As I do an activity in class, I try to jot down notes in the moment of what's working, what's not. When time allows, I like to sit down and reflect on how classes went/are going and think more holistically about what I need to refine/reform for the next time I teach a particular topic. This becomes a critically valuable piece of information when I go to teach the class the next time. Lastly, I try (some weeks I'm better than others) to take one day a week (for me it has mostly been Friday afternoons) to quietly reflect on how things are going as a whole—how are classes going? What are upcoming projects I need to work on outside of teaching and what are some challenges I anticipate? What do I feel good about what worked and what didn't in the past week? What are some goals to set for myself? All of this becomes valuable when I'm putting together Tenure & Promotion information as it's a documentation of sorts that allows me to monitor my own progress and areas for improvement and success.