Dream Job: Marsha McCartney, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow

Meet Marsha

Displaying McCartney profile pic.jpg

Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow

Marsha, like a true Maximizer strength, pointed out her talent within her own interview – how lucky for me! A Maximizer talent gets a thrill from transforming something that is already great into something even greater. They see little value in working towards being well-rounded and instead, prefer to reach excellence. A Maximizer can be recognized through their ability to learn quickly, or through ability to acquire skills without formal training.

From the outside looking in, Marsha navigates her environment with much ease. She knows her workload and herself well enough that she is able to transition through many roles all while encouraging others and fueling her curiosity along the way. She is quick to laugh, a tantalizing conversationalist, and is great for a sprinkle of knowledge whenever you are in need.

If you feel like you are struggling to navigate your career/life, you aren’t alone — check out the thoughtful, first hand experience Marsha offers:

What’s your title? What do you do? How long have you done this?

I am a postdoctoral teaching fellow for the psychology department at the University of Kansas.  Officially, my job is to redesign courses with high enrollments so that they incorporate more active learning, in the hopes this academic success will promote student retention.  In actuality, I have a lot of meetings!  I lead workshops on teaching to different groups of faculty and graduate students, I meet with faculty to discuss course objectives, I spend time aligning course materials with departmental/University/APA/etc. goals, I brainstorm activities, large and small, I consult with anyone and everyone about teaching, I teach classes, I think up ways to assess the changes we’re making, I write manuscripts about my research that I hope someone will publish, seriously, this could be a very long list……!

What jobs or past experiences have led you to the current thing that pays you money (your job)?

Going to college.  I was 18, a first-generation college student, at a university that had almost as many students as the town I grew up in.  I was an undeclared major, who was assigned an advisor who knew nothing about how to help me find a major—I think I met with her once, for about 10 minutes.  All of my friends had majors declared, and when I asked them how they got their majors, they replied that they had always known this is what they wanted to do—not super helpful.  Everyone else seemed to just “get” how to do college, and I spent the first couple years confused and struggling.  Because of this experience, I want to help students who were like me—first generation, or undeclared majors, or struggling, or just plain confused!  I think that encompasses most of the college population, at some time or another.  I believe that providing a supportive, successful academic experience can go a long way to accomplishing this goal.

What occupation did you imagine having when you were 5? What about at 25?

When I was 5 I wanted to be a medical doctor.  I had this great toy medical kit, and I loved treating all my sick dollies.  In the 4th grade we were discussing blood, what blood cells were made of, what the properties of blood were, and my teacher halted the discussion because I turned so very pale.  And my journey into career exploration began…!

At 25, I really had no idea!  I had just graduated with my undergraduate degree (college was hard/too fun, I took some time off in the middle!) but really, I was just so happy to have finished that I didn’t even think about a career or what type of job I wanted.  I learned later that planning to finish a degree (as opposed to planning for a career) is fairly typical for first-generation college students (which I am), and leads to less post-college planning.  I had thoughts of going to graduate school for something, but I didn’t know what.  My undergrad was in English, which I loved, but wasn’t sure I wanted to continue with it for graduate work.

Marsha, in a parallel universe

The Best: Tell us, what’s the best part of your job?

There are a lot of Bests about my job…first and foremost, it has a very significant purpose:  everything I do is helping undergraduates learn more, persist in college, and have a better academic experience.  This will create better-informed citizens who will make significant, positive contributions to society.  I also get to work with graduate students and professors that want to improve their teaching (if you’re familiar with StrengthsQuest, you know this is a fantastic fit with my Maximizer strength!).  I get to think about the broad goals of the university and the department, and then decide how those translate more concretely, for instance in a class activity or assignment, creating a consistent flow within courses, as well as a flow between courses.

marsha laughing
“Flow, the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” – Wikipedia

The Stink: Tell us, what’s part of the job that you really wish were different? 

I hate to sound like Pollyanna, but there really is no stink with my job.  I only wish there were more hours in the day (or that I needed less sleep) because there is a LOT to do, and I can’t half-ass anything.  But for the most part, I enjoy all of the activities that go along with my work.

Outside of your job, how do you spend your time?  

What is this “outside of job” time you speak of???  ☺  I get together with friends and we enjoy all the delicious restaurants in Lawrence.  I like to bake things. One of my favorite things to make is a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and peanut-butter-chocolate ganache. I’ve recently started volunteering at Just Food, the local food bank. I teach cooking classes for those that use the food bank services.  The goal is to create meals that are different, easy, and that anyone can cook. Because of all these food-related activities, I make time to work out as often as possible!marsha big books

What is your advice to people who are interested in a similar career?

To be honest, my advice is, DON’T.  For anyone who wants to get a PhD so that they can be a university professor, be absolutely sure there are absolutely no other careers that they could do.  The market is oversaturated with PhDs, and state funding is being cut, making obtaining any type of professor position is difficult.  You need to have a real p
assion for research and teaching, and be GREAT at both, in order to succeed.

Any other passing words of advice or anything neat you have going on that you would like to share with us?
If you are struggling in college, if you know someone who is struggling in college, they are not alone!  There are others on campus that are also struggling—seek them out, help each other!  For those of us that have taken a winding path to get to our dream jobs, we need to talk about that process so that students know there are many ways to end up in a job that can lead to happiness and fulfillment.  


marsha looking out

Marsha is a great example of what you can do when you understand your goals, and practice sharpening your talents.

Thanks Marsha for sharing your brain!


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