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“Just Be Yourself”: Junior Faculty Edition

Posted by Melissa on February 26, 2009

Scientiae this month is asking folks to write about people who have been role models and mentors, and those who have provided inspiration on the path to a scientific career. The timing of the question is interesting because I’ve finally given up trying to find exactly one person who will be an ideal mentor/role model for me. That person doesn’t exist. That’s not to say I haven’t found plenty of people who have been wonderfully helpful to me, and I have developed a network of a few particular individuals to whom I go for advice on different aspects of my professional life. But, I’ve been thinking more and more about the advice “just be yourself”, particularly as a junior faculty member.

I started considering this idea in January when Maryellen Weimer at the Teaching Professor wrote about developing a teaching persona. In particular, she argued that the advice to new faculty to “just be yourself” when teaching isn’t great advice:

“The ‘be yourself’ advice is right in the sense that you don’t want to be someone you aren’t. But it’s wrong because who you are in the classroom is something that must be created. It should be formed out of bits and pieces of your true identity…
The wisest advice I think for creating this teaching persona is to remember that although it’s about you, it really isn’t about you. The teaching persona you want to create is that one that connects with students—that motivates, inspires, guides, and helps them to learn.”

While the post contains a number of good points, I don’t like the idea of teaching as a performance art. I do spend time thinking about how to structure my classes to promote student learning and how to create a classroom climate that encourages all students to achieve to the best of their abilities. However, I don’t spend time consciously thinking about my classroom persona because I can’t teach or act in a way that doesn’t suit my personality. I try to just be myself in the classroom.

If I modify the excerpt above by replacing the concept of a teaching persona with the concept of a professional persona, the statement sounds more familiar to me:

The ‘be yourself’ advice is right in the sense that you don’t want to be someone you aren’t. But it’s wrong because who you are professionally is something that must be created. It should be formed out of bits and pieces of your true identity.
The wisest advice I think for creating this professional persona is to remember that although it’s about you, it really isn’t about you. The professional persona you want to create is that one that connects with students, colleagues, and other professionals.

Although I don’t try to be someone I’m not, in the broader professional context I don’t always feel that I can just be myself. So when do you think “just be yourself” is good advice? And when is it not?

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One Response to ““Just Be Yourself”: Junior Faculty Edition”

  1. […] “Just Be Yourself”: Junior Faculty Edition […]

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