Monday, May 27, 2013

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone and Into a New Role

I am not a nurse. I will never be a nurse. I was lucky just to have navigated my undergraduate science courses as well as I (somehow) managed. My undergraduate degree was in music with an education minor, and that was the subject material with which I was comfortable.

Fast forward a few years later, after having taught orchestra for 3 years and after attending graduate school, and somehow I landed a job that was instruction heavy (yahoo--that’s right up my alley), but also made me the Nursing Department liaison at a university with a very strong nursing program. Yep. That was definitely out of my comfort zone. Here are a few things that helped me become more comfortable in that role:

In the beginning: Instruction triage
  • Use your colleagues. They have either gone before you in this journey, or they’ve seen the librarian/staff person you replaced conquer the associated tasks. They can be a fantastic resource in helping you understand what the students and/or faculty you are working with already know, what they need to know, and how other’s have helped facilitate student/faculty growth. (And they probably have a few old lesson plans sitting around that you could use or modify to fit your immediate needs.)
  • Be patient. It’s not all going to come to you at once. You won’t just teach one instruction session and BAM! suddenly become an expert in discipline-specific issues and jargon. Luckily, though, you are an expert in searching for, sorting through/assessing, and understanding information and the research process. While discipline-specific subject knowledge is often helpful, that’s not why the students are in your classroom. They are there to learn how to navigate the research process in the context of their coursework, so remember that and be patient with yourself.
  • Ask questions. If possible meet with the professor you’re working with to discuss learning objectives, possible search terms, assignment requirements, etc. That will help you be more comfortable, knowing the types of things the students will be researching.
  • Prepare. Know what resources you have available, what resources are appropriate, and which database bells and whistles will be most helpful to the students, then work to have a plan in place and know it well. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll stick to your plan, but having something in place to at least fall back on always helps me get back on track if I go off on a tangent or need to answer unexpected questions while teaching.

As you go along: Instruction and collection development
  • After that first semester or so you’ll have a better picture of what the program is about and what they might need, both in terms of instruction and collection development.
  • If you are lucky enough to be in the classroom providing instruction a few times per semester, you get a good picture of the different types of assignments that students will be doing. This can definitely help with collection development. If possible, get copies of assignments, jot down topics you hear mentioned a lot, and when you’re working with students struggling to find any information on their topics, take note and see if that can’t be an area of your collection worth growing.
  • Let the students help you. They have some strong background knowledge within their research topics, so if you’re both really stumped, fall back on that. Become a human thesaurus, conduct a thorough reference interview, and help them (help you) think outside the box when searching. I learn so much from students through those reference interviews.
  • I reach out to the faculty when it comes to selecting materials to be added to the collection. I’ll pop them an email, make a quick phone call, send them choice cards, and mozy over to their neck of the woods or have conversations with them before or after activities held around campus. Part of being a department liaison is just putting your friendly face out there and letting folks know you’re there to help. That can be a bit of a stretch if you don’t have an outgoing personality. I have found faking it to be extremely helpful... You know those junior high play auditions you participated in, or maybe that solo your mom made you sing in church? Yep, pull up that kind of courage and step out to build those professional connections around campus.

Still uncomfortable in front of your class/with your liaison area? Try some of the tips I posted earlier about overcoming teaching stage fright.  

What do you do to prepare for a new role or to help you feel more comfortable?


  1. Excellent post. You've done a great job fitting into this role too.

  2. I am a liaison to nursing as well, so I know how you feel! At least I had the advantage of having a bit of science background, but it's still not easy, especially at first.

    I love your advice about letting the students help you. The students & faculty do not expect us to be experts in their subject area. When I teach in nursing & the sciences, I say right up front "I am not a nurse" or "I am not a scientist". I tell students that they are experts in the topic area & I am an expert in research, so together we make a good team. They appreciate that & it helps them feel good when they can explain things to me as we work on their assignments together.

    And I love your thoughts about faking it. I've done that a lot! Now that I don't fake it so much since I've been around the block, I am exploring more ways to reach out. For example, in the fall I'm planning to start providing some reference hours in the nursing department. Just 2-3 hours each week when I hang out in their building & answer questions for students & faculty. They are even talking about getting me an office space there, but even just a table in the hallway with a laptop will work just fine. Even if I don't get any research questions per se, it will be well worth the time to make some connections!