Stephen Long Furman University Alumni

Stephen Long '99

— Associate Professor, University of Richmond

Every career path offers some balance of financial rewards, emotional rewards and intellectual rewards.


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

I had always been a bookish person, so my arrival at Furman was like a dream come true. I was interested in lots of things there, but it was my history and political science courses that fascinated me most.

Over time, I realized that I enjoyed the university atmosphere and the subjects of history and politics so much that becoming a professor would be an ideal career path. I was mentored by Profs. Bressler, Gordon, Nelsen and others.

I took advantage of Furman's internship program in Washington, D.C., study abroad in China, and summer research through Furman Advantage.

There was not a single event at Furman that sparked my career choice, but rather hundreds of small moments in the classroom and office hours when something really made me think, "Ah, of course!" or, "Finally, this makes sense!"
I wanted to continue to live that life and help others experience that joy of learning.

After Furman, I attended UNC-Chapel Hill for my Master of Arts and doctorate in political science, focusing on international relations.

I then became an assistant professor (pre-tenure) at Kansas State University and then at the University of Richmond, where I received tenure and promotion to associate professor of political science and international studies.

I try to repay the generosity and kindness of my faculty mentors at Furman by being the same kind of professor to my own students.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some resources one should consider?

The academic life is a perfect fit for me, but it would not be for everyone. I tell my students that every career path offers some balance of financial rewards, emotional rewards and intellectual rewards.

Financial rewards are obvious, but many people overlook the emotional and intellectual rewards of various professions. If your career feels important to you, makes you feel like you are making a contribution and seems like a life doing mostly that work will be a life well spent, then it is emotionally rewarding.

If the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of the job engage your mind and are interesting to you, if they present puzzles that you enjoy solving, then it is intellectually rewarding.

Virtually no jobs offer high levels of all three types of rewards, so you should choose a career that offers what you value the most. I find university teaching to offer high emotional and intellectual rewards, and am willing to accept lower financial rewards in exchange. But, you must be honest with yourself about what level of each reward type is necessary to make you happy.
For those considering teaching, I would recommend many of Parker Palmer's books, especially "Let Your Life Speak" and "The Courage to Teach."

The academic career path faces many challenges today, but I think the greatest is the trend away from balanced, liberal arts education and toward credentialing.

Education requires learning subjects and skills that may not have immediate, obvious application in the workplace; encountering and engaging with viewpoints different from your own; and developing mentoring relationships with professors who can invest time in your growth.

Credentialing, or the proliferation of certifications, technical competencies, and highly specialized majors and minors, works against liberal arts education. It gives rise to a transactional relationship between students and "content providers," who are increasingly being hired on a temporary basis.

Furman and other liberal arts colleges have largely resisted these pressures, but it is wreaking havoc on public universities, where in many cases the majority of classroom instruction is already being provided by graduate students and adjunct professors, and core liberal arts requirements are being dropped or simplified.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

I am still excited when students tell me they might be interested in an academic career, but I think that it's important for potential graduate students and professors to realize that the proportion of teaching positions that come with the traditional benefits of tenure, research support, a role in university governance, and financial security is getting smaller each year.

More and more academic employment is flexible and market-driven, so that professors may teach on one-year or three-year contracts and many schools over a career without ever having tenure.

Ph.D.-holders are serving as writing center directors, instructional technology consultants, research lab coordinators, library resource staff or some combination thereof.

It is still possible to take the traditional path, but the key is to seek out opportunities in graduate school to build up capabilities beyond traditional research and teaching to maximize your chances.
Furman is definitely taking the right steps to help students interested in academic careers. The availability of summer research fellowships is crucial, as a prolonged, intensive research experience sends a powerful signal of enthusiasm and capability to graduate admissions offices.

Maximizing interaction between students and Ph.D.-holding professors is also a huge strength at Furman. I had small classes with experienced professors from the very beginning there, while some of my fellow students in graduate school had not really had much face-to-face interaction with professors until they were in their third or fourth year of college.

Those interactions are opportunities for mentoring that students should not overlook. My professors at Furman explained the subject material, but also the work-life balance of professors.

I went into graduate school with my eyes open and my end-goal firmly in mind, and was thus better prepared than many to face the challenges of a Ph.D. program.

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

The liberal arts education I received at Furman transformed me as a person. I went from being bookish to being an intellectual. I was extremely well-prepared as a writer, a public speaker, and a critical thinker, and most importantly, I was curious about the world.

That curiosity, not only about politics, has helped me take full advantage of life at a university. Even as I teach my own courses, I have taken advantage of free tuition to learn German and that experience opened up an opportunity to teach for a semester at a German university. My education at Furman was not the end, but the beginning of a lifetime of learning.

I have been surprised by how often my courses outside of my major (political science) have been important in my career. I took several classics courses, for instance, with Dr. Blackwell, and I have used what I learned with him many times in my own teaching.
I still recall particular "aha!" moments about the Reformation provoked by Dr. Fehler, about Faulkner provoked by Dr. Pate, and countless other subjects provoked by the talented faculty at Furman. These have enriched my conversations, my classes, and my life immensely. I might even recycle a few professor jokes now and then!

That's all for advice. Let me end on a note of sincere gratitude to Furman and the wonderful professors who guided me through those powerful, formative four years.

View all spotlights