How PFF Helped Me with My Career Choices

By Steffen Kaupp, Ph.D.
Graduate Student Affairs Administrative Intern, The Graduate School


Steffen Kaupp receiving the 2016 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

When I was encouraged to apply for Duke’s Preparing Future Faculty program, I initially hesitated. I arrogantly and naively believed that I already knew what life as a faculty member would look like. After all, I have been around faculty in higher education for more than 10 years now. I am glad that I took the advice of my mentor Ann Marie Rasmussen and applied for PFF. Working with my PFF mentor, Dr. Scott Windham, Associate Professor of German at Elon University, has been one of the most formative experiences during my time in graduate school. My time as a PFF fellow has allowed me to gain insights about the day-to-day life as a professor: insights I would never have been able to make at my own institution; insights that prepared me well for making my own career choices. I’d hardly consider myself an expert career advisor—after all, I will have have been “in school” for some 25 years by the time I graduate in May—but hear me out as to why I think you should seriously consider applying to PFF. (P.S.: All opinions in this piece are my own. I was not paid by PFF to write this post).

1. Career Soul Searching
One of PFF’s biggest strengths is the fact that the partner institutions, at which fellows can choose a mentor, are in many ways very different from Duke. As a graduate student at a private, research-intensive institution, it is easy to lose track of the broader landscape of higher education. The PFF partner institutions expose Duke graduate students to different academic environments, and this experience, at least in my case, is crucial to make informed career decisions. After working with Dr. Windham at Elon, a selective liberal arts college, I knew that the focus on teaching and student mentoring was something that I would look for in a position myself after graduation. The conversations with my PFF mentor, however, also showed me the flipside of such a position: during the academic year it is almost impossible to get much research and writing done due to the high teaching and advising load. I realized, though, that I was totally fine with these limitations on the research side, and thus focused my job search on institutions similar to Elon.

2. Adjusting Expectations
Yes, every faculty position, even at similar types of institutions, is different. However, I believe that PFF is a great opportunity to get more realistic expectations about both the workload and the day-to-day routine as a faculty member. In order to maximize this experience, my recommendation to future PFF fellows would be to “shadow” their PFF mentors for a whole day, multiple days a semester, including teaching, office hours, faculty meetings, committee meetings, etc. Doing so helped me to understand that the faculty life is quite a bit different than life as a graduate student. I now feel more prepared for this fall when I start my own faculty position as teaching professor in the Department of German and Russian at the University of Notre Dame.

3. Broadening Your Professional Network
Besides the relationship with my mentor, PFF also introduced me to a much broader professional network of teachers, scholars, and administrators I would not have had access to otherwise. For one, I learned a lot from the other PFF fellows. Above all, it was more than refreshing to talk to colleagues from other disciplines about teaching, sharing experiences, pedagogical insights, and practical advice. I was also able to actively engage with Dr. Windham’s colleagues at Elon. I joined the department’s scholarship of learning and teaching research group, which helped me to broaden my own expertise in pedagogical scholarship.

I could go on and on about how much I appreciated my time as a PFF fellow, but for the sake of not upsetting the blog editor (myself) with an uber-long post, you will just have to take my word for how outstanding the PFF program is. Make sure to sign up for the PFF info panel on May 2 to find out more about the program.

— Originally posted on The Graduate School’s Professional Development Blog