Chuck Oates


Norman, Oklahoma, USA

How to Become a Medication-Math Instructor without Really Trying (To)

There are those who are goal-driven with highly focused goals who say things like, "I'm going to be a neurosurgeon by age 30."  There are also those with more broadly focused goals who, like World War II P-51 pilots, arm themselves with all the fuel and ammunition they can find and then go out to shoot at targets of opportunity.  Here's a step-by-step road map for those of you who prefer highly focused goals and whose fervent wish and life goal is to teach Math for Health Careers. 

o  Obtain a bachelor's degree in an engineering field.  Industrial or manufacturing engineering works well.

o  Spend "the seven lean years" fresh out of college working for the US Air Force automating the testing of everything from jet engines to get engine fuel injectors (fuel controls) to large materials handling systems.

o  While you're at it, piece together a master's degree in computing science or some other math- or engineering-related area while you're working full time.

o  Take a year off and work full-time on a Ph. D. while you teach half-time as a GA (graduate teaching "assistant"--but you don't assist anyone, you teach the assembly language programming courses by yourself).  See if you can get your spouse to work full-time while you do this, since your whole GA salary won't quite make your house payment.  This step is not required, but it will definitely make you appreciate your previous job. 

o  Oh, be sure to come down with appendicitis just before school starts, stay in the hospital for three weeks, and come close to dying because of incompetent surgery and post-op treatment.  That'll make it more interesting.

o  Finish the year.  Return to sanity--or what passes for it in software engineering--and full-time engineering employment for another 25 years or so.

o  Wake up one fine morning (July 9, 2002) to a call that your birth mom, who broke her hip a month ago, has unexpectedly and suddenly died at an Amarillo, TX hospital.  Shed some tears, get yourself together enough to drive to Amarillo, decide to stop by your office on the way for an  "important plant-wide 9:00 a.m. meeting."  Listen to the announcement that your new company, who has bought out your old company, is closing the plant in OKC and moving all operations to St. Louis, MO.  Leave the meeting, try to find your office, sit in amazement as company officials come in and offer you a substantial raise, moving expenses, etc., etc. to move to St. Louis.  Eventually, decide, along with all the other engineers, to stay in OKC and hope for the best.  Sit in further amazement as, unprompted, the company issues an even bigger raise and promises a hefty retention bonus (a.k.a.: golden handcuffs) if you'll stay on board until six months after the plant closes.  Accept the offer and stay until you're there to take the company signs down and turn the keys to the plant over to the Airport Authority.

o  Look for jobs, business opportunities, teaching opportunities.

o  Apply for full-time engineering professor job at OCCC and get turned down flat.  Look at a business in small metro area suburb/exurb that's closing.  Consider buying the business and moving it to Norman.  Interview for several jobs around town, be even further amazed that there are some jobs and a few employers are interested in hiring 55 year old software engineers.

o  Sit in big lounge chair in your den.  Evaluate opportunities.  Look up to see your daughter, who's helping clean out the garage, approach with two-inch stack of letters.  Listen as daughter asks, "Is this the 'Susan' that you dated in college, who looks like me?"  Observe familiar scrawl of long-ago girlfriend--she of the long blonde hair, curvy figure, and Einsteinian intellect--on a couple of dozen letters postmarked 1966 and 1967.  "Yep, sure is.  Wonder how these survived multiple moves and thirty-some years?"  Remember trips to Palo Duro Canyon.  On a whim, open a letter and read.  Open a second, third, and fourth.  Observe the critical role of physics, chemistry, calculus, and English teachers in your then-17 year old girlfriend's life.  Notice how the good done by the excellent teachers is very nearly undone by one teacher with bull-in-the-china-shop syndrome.  

o  Startle back from long-ago-in-galaxy-far-away into present when $%*# telephone rings.  Listen for a few moments. Tell caller, "er, uh, yeah ...  I'd guess I'd be interested in teaching engineering courses as an adjunct faculty member."  Schedule interview.  Hang up.  Continue to read letters.  Teachers, teachers, and more teachers.  Get the uneasy feeling you're being set up.  Look at the den wall.  Verify that no handwriting is spontaneously appearing on it.  Go outside briefly.  Inspect front and back yard for burning bushes, strange bright lights in the sky, and/or winged apparitions with herald trumpets.  (None observed.  No one out there whispering, "If you build it, they will come," either.)

o  Go to interview and talk.  Find that you really like engineering faculty and division dean.  They offer job.  Tell 'em you'll get back to them.  Consider alternatives.  Hate the oil field:  pay is good, jobs--even software jobs--often terrible, marathon working hours, boom then bust.  Small businesses:  very risky, make a bundle or lose your shirt, much more often the latter.  Teaching adjunct::  pays nuthin', but you always wanted to do that; intro. engineering course tough to teach, very important to start students' engineering study well.  Can you do it? 

o  Can't put down those #$%^ letters! 

o Throw caution, secure retirement, and sanity to the wind and accept teaching job.  Teach two Intro. to Engineering classes.  You're hooked.  Most students are very interested.  Some are both interested and hard-working.  A few are surprisingly advanced.  Two can actually program rings around you(!).  Next semester, teach the two Intro. courses again, but also accept assignment teaching Math for Health Careers, also known as Medication Math or Med-Math.   "You'll like it, engineers think it's fun to teach, and we're having trouble finding someone."  Okay, okay.

o The Med-Math folks are a different set of students.  They're mostly nursing wannabes.  They're often bright, hardworking, driven to do whatever it takes to get into nursing, but math--even arithmetic--often isn't their thing.  Some are outright mathophobes.  A few turn pale and shake visibly as they sit down to take tests, but even these are often so driven that they make solid "B"s and occasionally "A"s in the course, despite the difficulties.  Now you ARE hooked.  If people are willing to put forth this sort of effort, do whatever it takes to give them a hand. 

o  The engineering course goes away. It's no longer required in senior college curriculum, and all other engineering courses are being taught by full-time faculty.  What the heck, take on a couple more Med-Math sections.  Go sign up for next semester.  You'll never enjoy a job more or be compensated less--monetarily, anyway--for doing it.  

And that is how you, too, through careful planning and narrowly focused goal-directed behavior, can achieve your life-long goal of teaching Med-Math.

Sure.  This is exactly what I planned to be doing in semi-retirement.   :^)