written by Abhrojit Boral, edited by Sambit K P
This is where it all started. So quite recently I was trying to apply for a membership in a UX/UI community based out of the USA. They liked my work but I was denied membership! And why? Well, because I am an adjunct faculty member who also practices professionally. They said they do not consider teaching as a ‘relevant professional experience’. Yes! and no, this is not a rant and I will not make it into one but this got me thinking about the state of teachers, professors, faculty members and how much they actually mean in the industrial workplace. I had been thinking over it for the last 3 days before I thought of actually sitting down to write. And, yes I am an Asst. Professor and I am quite proud of being a teacher in a University.
As a teacher/professor/faculty I practice and teach UX research, UI design and UX strategy to more than 300 students in a year. In order to do this, we have to go through a lot of training, studying, interacting, researching and working long hours. So this notion that teachers are industry unfits is quite repelling and frankly far from the truth.
Allow me to bust a few myths here.
Teaching experience is not credible or valid or relevant in the industry.
I’ll say this to the ‘industry’- Wait! think about it. The people you are associating with or hiring, including the ‘freshers’ were taught by us. Probably you are a graduate of Hogwarts with dementors as your faculties, but the real world works in a different way. So corporates, step out of your cubicles and put on some glasses because teaching is a hard job and requires immense courage. We teach that age group you want to capitalize on if you have a credible business. We create the users you cater to.
Teachers are talented, strong-willed, dedicated and lastly humane; a rare gift that could make or break a business in the real world. Those days are over when subjects and consequent outcomes were hypothetical. Teachers often take up very difficult projects either alone or alongside students to create outcomes that are fresh and new.
Teachers do not know or understand industry trends.
In fact, we are extremely updated with the latest industry trends on a regular basis. We cater to one of the toughest user segments- young adults who are not just in sync with the latest trends but also have volatile attention spans. So unless we keep ourselves updated and continually evolve ourselves, we will be rendered irrelevant. Besides, we are constantly engaged in multiple projects ranging from baking donuts to more serious topics like creating interfaces for hospitals and doctors to creating ERP for SAAS onboarding and management. Yes, we may not be exposed to details of certain aspects of user testing etc but it is learnable and mind you, we learn quickly!
Mostly it is the industry rejects who teach.
While some examples might be found in every field the reality is quite different, especially for the domain of design. One has to be academically good with communication, interpersonal and management skills to become a design teacher. Most of us are faculty members because we are passionate about knowledge- sharing it, applying it and contributing to its growth and evolution. Most of us choose to teach; as simple as that.
Oh, are you still a part of the grand old ways of working full-time jobs?
No, we are not. How can we still stick to the grand old ways of teaching when the industry has moved on? It is our students who are ultimately driving the industry forward. We know and practice what is going in the world as we engage with a wider design thinking philosophy across the table. We are engaged from e-commerce to interactive platforms and from marketing-specifics to growth-driven platforms. And most of us industry professionals in some way or other as well.
Teachers understand users only hypothetically.
Teachers interact with a lot of people, sometimes more people than any corporate employee will ever do. This gives them a great knack of understanding the demography and psychography of the users; something that can be exploited to the benefit of the industry. We understand the needs, wants, desires and frustrations of not just tier 1 city dwellers but also of people from the full spectrum of economic backgrounds having interacted with students hailing even from remote areas of the country. This allows us to add, change, suggest and create new features and aspects to the ultimate vision of the business. A better understanding of human beings and their quirks is critical for survival and all businesses know that. Hence, recruiting, partnering and onboarding teachers and designers will bring affirmative growth to both the direct and indirect goals of the company. This makes us highly employable by the industry.
Being a teacher is a walk in the park?
HR managers who share this attitude (not trying to generalize but many of them do) are clearly ignorant of how an academic institution works. As faculty members, we are de facto leaders of innovation and constantly researching and advising on projects as we have to work with students from different cultural, social, ethnic and psychographic backgrounds. We are expected to come up with new ideas, paths and directions depending on the students and their aptitude almost every day. We are as many daily problem solvers as is any seasoned industry professional. Also, those days are over when teachers and professors would repeat lessons created years ago with no background research into newer dimensions and pathways. We innovate every day and our understanding of the same is reflected in the lessons and ultimately in the final outcome of the students. As mentioned earlier, most design teachers have successful practices that go parallelly. While, unfortunately, the industry might not recognize parallel practice but one must understand that it is definitely not a ‘walk in the park’ to balance industry projects with academic responsibilities. Such practices should be recognised by the industry as they show determination and immense motivation which would be extremely beneficial in the industry.
Teachers are ill-equipped for M-A-N-A-G-E-M-E-N-T?
In a teacher’s life teaching is just 40% of the job. The rest of the time is devoted to management. We are constantly dealing with students, administration, higher authorities and external authorities who have very different perspectives, demands and expected outcomes. So, in fact, most teachers and professors are great managers who are calm, composed and deliberate in time of need. We know how to deliver when to deliver and who exactly to deliver it in what context. I fully believe that a manager should be hands-on. The person should know the work that his/her team members are doing. Working with an ill-informed manager can be a nightmare, leading to the loss of good talents in the organization. We understand this and that makes us humane managers in an organization.
Having attempted to burst a few myths, I wish to conclude-
The demarcation between the industry and the academic system is quickly blurring and gradually becoming complementary by feeding off of each other in ways that are increasingly more frequent and often unpredictable. It is important for the industry to understand that teachers, faculty members, professors are not industry outcasts and they need to be imbibed into the system if they want. Software skills can be learnt relatively easily. Irrespective of the profession, as such, one needs to be at the top of one’s game with regular updates and changes in the skill dynamics of the digital world. It is important for the industry to include us in their work process because what we will bring to the table is different and may I add unique which would bring fresh growth in the primary objective of the business.