August 3, 2018
By: Jeff Terrell

New Job! Professor of the Practice @ UNC-CS

I'm starting a new job this month (August, 2018). I'm the new Professor of the Practice in the Computer Science Department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Being a professor has been a dream of mine for years, and I'm super excited to get started! Here's a little bit about the job and my transition to it.

Most of the kinds of professors you see quoted in newspapers are research professors. These people might teach classes, but typically their passion is their research. Some have labs full of "research assistant" grad students and even post-doctoral researchers ("postdocs") and might co-author dozens of academic papers a year. On the other end of the spectrum, some research professors might not employ any students or work with anybody else. Most fall somewhere in between and are either tenure-track or tenured.

I decided when I was first looking for a professorship that this wasn't the kind of professor I wanted to be. The day-to-day work mostly consists of looking for and applying for grants to support the research, supervising the work done by their grad students and postdocs, and reading and writing papers. These kinds of activities don't generally excite me, and I generally don't want to be in a "publish or perish" situation, working long hours at the expense of my family to publish enough papers to achieve tenure.

Another kind of professor is a teaching professor. I really enjoy teaching. I've given some one-off lectures on various web and computer-related topics, and I taught the programming languages course in the CS department when I was a grad student there. But I've never looked too hard at those opportunities. Candidly, I can make lots more money as a software engineer. But even if money weren't a factor, I think I wouldn't have much time for programming if I were a teaching professor—and I think I'd really miss that.

It turns out that a so-called "professor of the practice", sometimes called a "clinical professor", feels just right for me. I get to teach some, but I also get to stay current with my programming. My focus will be on web and mobile applications, which is also just right: I have lots of experience, particularly on the web side.

Besides that, part of the mandate for this particular professorship is to start and run a "software makerspace" where students (including non CS majors) can come and learn how to build such apps in a more hands-on way. This appeals to the entrepreneurial spirit I developed during my time at Altometrics.

Lastly, I get to work with the same professors I enjoyed at UNC-CS while I was a grad student there. They're a great group, and I consider myself fortunate to be counted now among them.

So, suffice it to say, I'm excited by this opportunity and hoping to make the most of it. Stay tuned.

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