Misalignments: Challenges in cultivating science faculty with education specialties across the US
Science Faculty with Education Specialties (SFES) are being hired at colleges and universities at an increasing rate across the US. Many ecology faculty are leading the way in this phenomenon. Yet the motivations for hiring SFES and their potential and actual impacts is not clear. Through a national survey, we examined perceptions of US SFES about these issues and discovered unexpected misalignments. In this research study of SFES across the United States, over 425 individuals completed the online survey, and 289 met study inclusion criteria. In this survey, we probed SFES on their perceptions of the following four questions often posed about the SFES phenomenon: (1) Why are science departments hiring SFES? (2) What professional contributions could SFES make? (3) What professional contributions do SFES actually make to their science department? (4) What advice do SFES have for both current and aspiring SFES? The responses to these four questions were investigated using grounded theory as an inductive methodology that leads to the emergence of ideas from patterns in the data.
Our findings reveal SFES perspectives on motivations for hiring, provide insights on potential versus actual SFES professional contributions, and offer advice for current and aspiring SFES. SFES perceptions about reasons for hiring these faculty were not aligned with their reported perceptions about the potential and actual contributions they make. Common reasons offered for SFES hiring included preparing future teachers and supporting departmental teaching needs. However, potential and actual contributions of SFES emphasized their value of being pedagogical resources to other faculty and contributing to curriculum reform. In addition, the variety of advice offered to new SFES yields insights into challenges associated with SFES positions, and further the variety of SFES positions and roles across the US. Misalignments between SFES perceptions about SFES hiring motivations and perceptions of most valuable contributions present challenges for those interested in maximizing the impacts of SFES.