Guest Blog: Transitioning from graduate student to faculty

“Cyber-SACNAS” caught up with Assistant Professor Tracie Delgado, a former  UW SACNista, to ask a few questions about entering the  professoriate. If you’re  interested in becoming a professor one day, Dr. Delgado provides some very good advice for you!

1) What did you do during your graduate career to prepare yourself to become a faculty member (publications, research, etc)?

During graduate school I made sure to make the most out of any opportunity I had. To start, I applied to various research fellowships throughout my graduate school career and was able to secure my own funding all five years of graduate school. I was not always awarded the first fellowship I applied for, but with constant dedication I was able to receive five different research fellowships while in graduate school including the GO-MAP fellowship my first year of grad school, the ARCS fellowship my 1st-3rd year of graduate school, the Viral Oncology Training Grant my second year of graduate school, the Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Grant my third through fifth year and the Microbiology Helen Whitely fellowship my last few months of graduate school. That did not include receiving honorable mention for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Ford foundation fellowship. Other than applying for fellowships and learning how to secure my own funding for my research, I also published a paper my fourth year of graduate school, under the guidance of my mentor Dr. Michael Lagunoff, titled “Induction of the Warburg effect by Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus is required for the maintenance of latently infected endothelial cells” in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS) journal. I currently have another first author paper in review for publication titled “Global Metabolic Profiling of Infection by an Oncogenic Virus: KSHV Induces and Requires Lipogenesis for Survival of Latent Infection.” I also made sure to attend and present my data at scientific conferences which included the “International Workshop on KSHV & Related Agents”, “International Herpesvirus Workshop” and SACNAS National Conferences. By presenting in conferences I was able to meet other scientist in my field as well as scientist from similar backgrounds which help increase my connections with the scientific community. Other than research, I was proactive in the area of teaching and science outreach. Specifically for teaching, while in graduate school, I taught two Microbiology lab courses at the University of Washington as well as taught a Microbiology course (lecture and lab) at North Seattle Community College. I also applied and received the Huckabay Teaching Fellowship from the University of Washington where I was able to create and teach a course titled “The Biology of Sexually Transmitted Diseases” at Seattle Central Community College. All these experiences together prepared me for an academic career because I learned to write grants, do research, publish papers, present my data and create and teach college level courses.

2) How did you navigate the tough academic job market?

My main advice for anyone trying to find an academic job is to network as much as possible. During graduate school I contacted and met with various deans of science programs at liberal arts colleges and community colleges in the greater seattle area. The main purpose of my meetings was to let them know who I was, what my academic plans were after graduate school and for them to keep me in mind if any faculty positions arose in the future. Through my networking earlier in graduate school I was invited back to interview to teach a summer Microbiology course at North Seattle Community College. The interview went well and I was hired to teach this course, which allowed me to gain experience teaching a course all by myself. During my networking, I also met Dr. Wendy Rockhill who is the science Dean at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC). Dr. Rockhill mentored me and was my faculty sponsor when I applied for the Huckabay teaching fellowship. When I received the Huckabay teaching fellowship, she allowed me to teach my course at the SCCC campus. This gave me the experience of creating a course from scratch and teaching it. With all this said, by the time graduation was closing in I met with the Dean of Arts and Sciences and Science Faculty Chairman at Northwest University and demonstrated my desire for becoming a faculty member at this institution. At the time there was no openings available, but a few months went by and a position for a tenure track Assistant Professor in Biology position opening up and they called me for an official interview. I was given the job and that has led me to where I am today. Without the power of networking, I don’t think I would have progressed to the point I am today.

3) What are the challenges of being a new faculty member?

Since Northwest University is a liberal arts college whose primary focus is excellent teaching, the biggest challenge has been preparing and teaching courses I have never taught before, all at one time. I strive for excellence for myself and for my students, so I work hard to give my students the best education and learning environment. Another challenge is transitioning from student to faculty member. As a student I had many mentors around campus to help and encourage me in my graduate school career. Now as a faculty member I need to be proactive and seek out new mentors at both my institution and elsewhere. A third challenge is to make sure to have “me” time. It is easy to get caught up in faculty life, so it is necessary to take a breath every so often and spend time with family and friends or just personal alone time to relax.

4) What are the advantages of being a faculty member over a graduate student?

I think one of the biggest advantages is being done with school and now being apart of mentoring the next generation of students. It is very special and rewarding know that students look up to me and I am teaching them skills that are essential for their future careers. Another advantage is not taking exams or attending lectures necessary to finish a degree. Now I can immerse myself and learn things that I find interesting, which allows me to continue to grow in knowledge as a faculty member and an educator.

5) What advice do you have for students who are looking to become faculty members?

I would say the best piece of advice is to work hard, network, make the best out of any opportunity and strive for excellence.

Tracie Delgado is an Assistant Professor at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. She graduated from the University of Washington with her PhD in Microbiology in 2011 and is a past president of the UW SACNAS chapter. Dr. Delgado’s CV is located below.