Dr. Allen

For her senior spring term project, Tianyi Shen interviewed women administrators at Govs. Here is her interview with Dr. Emily Allen, chair of the science department.

Tianyi Shen, Editor

Q1. How did you decide to enter the education field? What inspired you and were there role models along the way?

I didn’t know that I wanted to go into education at first. I went to a big public high school in Western New York, and I liked my teachers and the subjects I was learning, but the idea of going into education never crossed my mind.

When I went to college at Trinity I had some really cool experiences in Quantum physics. My advisor was a woman, my first physics professor was a woman, the chair of the department was a woman. The students that were majoring in physics were very diverse, and so it never really stood out to me to think about being a woman in that space. But when I went to Yale for a Ph.D. program in Applied Physics, that changed very abruptly. All of my professors were men. The majority of my classmates were men. I liked the classes and what I was learning, but the day-to-day experience made me realize I didn’t want to do this for the rest of my life. 

So I made a list of everything would rather be doing than school. And then I stopped and read it and what I realized was that I loved learning and the opportunities to teach. So I took a year off, went back to school for education and came to an educator’s position unexpectedly. 

Q2. What does your day-to-day job include as a teacher and department head? 

Yeah. I’m laughing because it’s a weird job. I love it. On the teacher side of things, I have two classes. I’m an advisor, a coach in the spring, and that’s all very scheduled. These jobs include thinking about what classes I have in the day, what work I’m grading, what I’m prepping for, and meeting with students for extra help. It’s not always predictable but it is very planned. 

Being department chair is kind of the opposite. You have things that you’re planning for, department meetings, student placements, presentations. On top of that, there are new challenges and questions that pop up every day. As department chair, I’ve begun to learn about myself as a leader and how to build a space where members of my department feel they can come to me for anything.

What do you find particularly enjoyable?

It’s definitely a mix of being both a teacher and a department head. As I mentioned, one of the things that I really love about my job is the department. Working with amazing colleagues inspires me and I want to find ways to continue to support them and give them what they need to do all of these amazing things. 

At the same time, I’m also a teacher and I will always be a teacher. Every day in a classroom I come out smiling because I love working with students. Being able to have very real conversations, whether it’s in science or in a totally different way on the field, it’s all very fulfilling.

Q3. How has your experience as a female faculty and administrator been at Govs? Is it different from when you were in academia?

Yes, it is different and it is different in the best possible way. Being able to be an administrator, a community member, but also a woman in both of those groups is rewarding. Govs is a very supportive community and it is one that sees you as a person as opposed to a title. 

Before I came to Govs, I was a teaching faculty at BU coordinating with experts from different fields for the core-curriculum program. I had a lot of support but when it came to the sciences, it was still a male-dominated space, particularly in the tenure track, and so my work was hard at times and I felt that it didn’t really allow time for growth. 

Do you think there are things that Govs is doing well in ensuring that it’s a safe space and what is some room for improvement?

I think the room for growth and knowing we have room for growth is what we’re doing well. A lot of places either don’t want to talk about shortcomings or think they’re doing it right. The fact that we have conversations, and pushback is heard [is important]. 

It’s hard sometimes because we don’t always see what is happening in response to the pushback. Change takes time— and I hesitate in saying this because it sounds like a cop-out— but what I mean is things are happening and making sure that it happens and happens on a large scale takes effort. 

Q4. What changes do you envision for the education field in the future? 

One of the hardest questions in education is how to prepare students for the future when we only have knowledge from today and the past. As educators, we are constantly working from our own experiences, either from us as students, us in our careers, or how we’ve seen others do it in professional development, but being able to project that effectively for growing students is a creative challenging question. 

Another change I wish to see is professionalizing the profession. To come up with any creative solutions takes time, and an education career often doesn’t guarantee you a lot of time to think and collaborate. Being an educator is busy and it’s a job that’s becoming exceedingly difficult to get new professionals into. I hope that the field will be more people-centered in the future, including providing better financial support and pay for teachers on a national level.