Being a Millennial Professor

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What makes me a Millennial

According to the Pew Research Center Millennial Quiz (How Millennial are you?) from 2010, I am very millennial. Scoring a 94 out of a 100, my passion for my cell phone and video games, lack of watching TV or reading the newspaper and preference for social media, my liberal views, lack of body modifications (e.g. piercings, tattoos), and my age have set me in the heavily discussed social group of 'Millennial."

 Results of my Pew Research Quiz on "How Millennial are you?" 

Results of my Pew Research Quiz on "How Millennial are you?" 

Let me be honest, for years I really fought against that label. I felt it was a connotation for those born in the 90's and not in the 80's. I felt that I was at odds with the trends that media like to propagate as being core millennial material, but lo-and-behold, I finally accepted what I am. This epiphany and release of my self-denial is due in part to conversations with my peers, my friends, and the immense amount of research being reported in the media about my generation.

Let's recap the data that the Pew Research Center has released these past few years:

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The media has also not been to kind to the Millennial generation, blaming us for ruining the economy, and  being lazy self-entitled narcissists. Some say we are victims of helicopter parenting (or my new favorite 'Lawn-Mowing parenting), and are suffering from the recession that a previous generation caused. Others say that by stereotyping the millennial's, employers and businesses are making mistakes on how to treat their new generation of workers.

Nonetheless, looking at the data and the conceptions of what a Millennial is, I cannot disagree that I fall into many of the areas identified. I am 29, graduated high school in 2004, love technology (hell I blog about my Apple Watch) and social media (my idea of a fun evening is participating on a Tweet Chat) and play video games still (and if I can't I watch others play video games on Twitch to live vicariously through others), and have been accused of having 'hipster' tendencies, and have liberal beliefs.

Conversely, I am married and living in our own apartment with a home on the horizon, have a professional degree (Pharmacy) and work steadily as an Assistant Professor at a University, a child of a stable mixed-marriage (mother is a refugee from South East Asia). So, in many respects I fit the Millennial Generation based on my interests and eccentricities but differ in my current social status compared to my peers. 

In many ways, this has led to my current career path in academia to be rather interesting overall, and something that I have mused about greatly.

What it's Like to be a Millennial Professor

Some will quickly point out how odd is for me to have my current position at my age, especially in regards to the general academic environment. For those not familiar with the academics in pharmacy let me clarify some items. Currently, pharmacy schools are in a booming market, with 40 schools opening across the country in the past decade. The need for pharmacy academics has outpaced what is currently available, and as such based on training requirements (e.g. residency/fellowship) the market has been very kind to those pharmacists looking to enter academics in their late 20's and early 30's like myself (who also fall into the Millennial gap). 

What compounds my position a bit further is the nature of the program I teach in, which is a three-year accelerated pharmacy college that runs year long. Most of our students have 'past-lives' including a bachelor degree and a few years of work, prior to coming back to pharmacy school. The average age of our students runs in the mid-to-late 20's, and as such I have taught and precepted students my age, and older (some in their 30's and 40's). So in many ways, my age has made my professional life as an academic rather interesting at times.

Singling myself out as a Millennial in Academia

Several events have stood out to me in my short academic career thus far. In meetings with other colleges on teaching mechanisms to reach their students, I often hear my professional colleagues bemoan the millennial generation and their consternation on teaching them. For me, this has at several times put me in an odd place, recognizing my age, and that in one sense I am being spoken about as well. This has lead to some great discussions however, and I enjoy being able to use my age to a benefit to agree or disagree with my colleagues based on these perceptions. 

One example that stands out to me was at a national meeting where the topic of social media and professionalism was being discussed. The presenters were tackling an issue that was of high interest, and the room was packed by many pharmacy academics. At the conclusion of the talk the panelists opened up to questions, and several comments from the audience caught my attention. Several comments were about millennials themselves, and the pervasiveness of social media. I decided to participate, and introduced myself as a 'millennial' and gave my own thoughts to the matter, which was rather humorous I feel. Afterwards, I was quickly approached by other faculty members asking me questions, and even sharing stories about their children they wanted me to possibly answer. 

This has come up with other colleagues, especially in relation to those with children that are around my age. For many of them, they look at the student body as similar to their children, but for me, they are my peers in a sense. Often times, I have been asked by others my thoughts or shared experiences, and to be honest at times I can tell that generational divide can come across in my mannerisms and thoughts. In some ways, I think this offers value for the program to have me, and in other ways can be a detriment.

Millennial Professor meets Millennial Students

There have been many instances, especially amongst newer students in their first year, that have come up to me or said things within ear shot of questionable nature. My favorite instance was talking with a group of students, when another group came up to discuss a recent test. They immediately lambasted the professor (a colleague in another program) and went on a rant, with some rather creative word choices to describe the test questions. The group I was with immediately grew silent, and were watching my response. The other group looked at me, and then saw my badge which labeled me as faculty. Obviously, there was then an awkward pause.

I treat these situations as a learning experience for my students, because, I can understand where they are coming from, but I also know that I need to be a model or at least exude the professionalism expected of me for my position. Most of the time I talk with the students on why they feel that way, or why they express themselves in that manner. In many ways, it's similar to listening to my own personal friends complain about their day, and I recognize that. I do my best to have the students recognize the situation and hopefully guide them in terms of how to deal with stress of school, and life in general at this point. 

However, doing so I feel has singled me out at times with students. The student body has at times designated me as the youngest professor on campus, and in some ways has made me more approachable. I have struggled with this to a certain degree. Many students want to be 'friends' with me and will come up to discuss games, and other topics I truly have a similar interest in. They approach me with personal issues and questions related to other topics in life. I enjoy this, but have had the difficulty in recognizing I need to draw a line continuously with them. That is probably one of the largest issues of my age in this position. 

To overcome this, I find myself at times having to adopt a position or thought process that really puts at odds with my own personality. These are the times I feel I am in the most conflict with my millennialism. I can understand where students are coming from when they said they did bad on a test, or answered inappropriately to a question. But I have to put that aside as I do my job to teach them and guide them. It amazes me some days, and when students tell me I act very mature for my age, I really just have to laugh. I think thats the only thing you can do.

In many ways, teaching and working with students have become the most favorite part of my job. I love working with people my age, and helping to teach them, the fact they are close to my age allows me to put things in perspective or use analogies that are similar to what they know. In some ways, being around the same point in our lives and having gone through similar things in our lives is a benefit I feel, and one that I like to leverage in the classroom.

 Interview with Pharmacy Times on Digital Health

Interview with Pharmacy Times on Digital Health

Millennial Style Scholarship

As I've stated previously, I am quite passionate about technology. I fully believe that technology will drastically disrupt the current healthcare environment. Digital and Mobile Health are huge topics to me, and I spend most of my time reading and writing about the topic. I publish alot on mobile technology and its impact on pharmacy and the practice of medicine. My favorite though is when I talk on the subject.

There has been a few instances when I have given a presentation at a national meeting and get some odd looks. It's a mixture of 'this guy is young,' and 'who the hell is this person?' I've even been told, while getting ready to give a talk and setting up my materials, that I should get off the stage for the speaker. The look on the face of the individual when I told them I was the speaker was quite interesting, but hey, they still attended the session and had some great comments. 

When I get on the phone and speak with others, for scholarship or greetings, I have been told I sound older than they thought (based on my picture) or I sounded young. I take it in stride. I think my age really helps me push my topics, as in some minds it makes sense that someone younger would be passionate about the subject matter (which is relatively new). 

Some days though, I fear I am putting myself in a trap, or writing myself into a corner. Will I only be thought of as the 'tech guy?' Even on campus, I am approached by many for just tech related items it feels. I fear that when I go for promotion, depending on whose on the committee, could look at my work and just think it's not important. I feel it is, and think someone needs to do it. This is one of the things that I love about my job, I can combine my nerdy passions and interests into my scholarship and work. I just have to see where it leads me.

Overall Thoughts

In many ways, I am very grateful for where I am at in life. I think being a millennial academician has its benefits and negatives. In some ways though I think it has really put me at odds with my social peers and colleagues. I have a harder time with conversations and making friends at times with people around my age, as I catch myself realizing I can be a bit more laid back versus when I am on campus when in front of others my age. I think thats been the hardest part of the job, which is learning to be one way with one group and another when in a different social environment. I've been able to play off my age for my work and scholarship, and while it hasn't been a limiting factor, I just have to be able to walk that line for social requirements. In many ways, I am still learning on who I am and who I want to be, and that may just be the millennial in me.