Interested in a Community College Career? Dr. Shawna Brandle Talks about Her Experiences at Kingsborough Community College

Shawna M. Brandle is an Associate Professor at Kingsborough Community College.  She holds a PhD in Political Science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

What’s a typical week like at Kingsborough Community College? 

There are 2 kinds of typical weeks for me at KCC- during the semester and during break.  During the semester, I teach three or four days, with one or two days left for research, writing, class preparations, and meetings off campus.  KCC is part of the City University of New York, so there’s plenty to get involved in around CUNY and at other institutions in the city.  This year, I’m a fellow at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center, so I go to seminar meetings on Wednesday, and teach Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  I’m also very involved in the Open Educational Resources (OER) project on my campus and in CUNY, so I spend a fair amount of time working on that.  It’s hard to squeeze research and writing into the semester, but I try to keep momentum going when possible.  I get a long winter break because I don’t teach during our extra long winter term, so I can get ahead on research during the winter while the weather is bad and my “small associates” are at school.  I have two young kids and like to produce independent feature films, so making time for my family and making time for creative pursuits are both really important to me, during the semester and during breaks.

Plug into as many networks as you can- conference funding and time are often hard to come by, so I look for opportunities to participate and connect virtually- Twitter has been really useful to me.

What did you study in graduate school? Can you say a little bit about your research?

At the CUNY Graduate Center, I studied mostly IR- international law, human rights, humanitarian law.  Through a consortium the Graduate Center participates in, I was able to take a media and politics course at Columbia University with Professor Brigitte Nacos, which really sent me down the path of doing media research on international relations issues.  My dissertation, which I later expanded into my first book, looked at television news coverage of human rights in the US and UK, and my current book project is about media coverage of refugees.  I am also extremely interested in OER and OER in political science, so I have a few research projects on that at the moment- looking at content, student opinions, and faculty adoptions.  Doing OER research has led me to thinking about equity, access, and the cost of college, which links back up to political science again, so it’s really fun.

Why and when did you choose to pursue a career in a community college?

I chose a career in community college because Kingsborough hired me.  I started hitting the job market in 2011, and it was rough.  I knew we wanted to stay in the New York area, so I applied anywhere within commutable distance, and this was the first offer I received.  It was actually an off-season hire, with a March start, so I finished and defended my dissertation in April after I had started teaching.  Although I didn’t intend to be a community college professor when I started my PhD, it’s actually a perfect fit for me- I love teaching, and we do a lot of it at the community college level.  I have stayed at Kingsborough because I get to teach the best students ever, and I have autonomy- I get to choose the way I teach and what I research.

In what ways did your PhD training help you in your career? 

The Graduate Center was great, but the best part of the training was the people- I would not have survived graduate school, or the tenure track, without the friendship, support, and brilliance of my cohort, especially Dr. Patricia Stapleton, Dr. Janet Reilly, and Dr. Jennifer Corby.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have forged such close bonds and to still have them today – Dr. Corby is also a professor at Kingsborough now, Dr. Reilly and I are co-authoring a book on media coverage of refugees, and Dr. Stapleton is somehow simultaneously the most ruthless editor and the kindest conference roommate that has ever existed.

Doing OER research has led me to thinking about equity, access, and the cost of college, which links back up to political science again, so it’s really fun.

Do you have any advice for PhD students considering a career in a community college?

Plug into as many networks as you can- conference funding and time are often hard to come by, so I look for opportunities to participate and connect virtually- Twitter has been really useful to me.  Also, not all community colleges are created equal- different systems have different requirements for research or tenure, or don’t have tenure at all.  Do some research on the college itself, the same as you would with any other job application.  More generally, teaching at a community college is awesome, if you’re up for it.  If you don’t like teaching, or are prone to complain about students a lot, then it’s not the job for you- you’ll be miserable and so will your students.   On the other hand, if you love teaching, then it is really the best job in the world.  Every semester, I get to meet new students and be a part of their educational journey; I get to watch their evolution as they realize they can actually analyze, understand, and participate in the political world, even if they never saw themselves in that way before.

Dr. Brandle’s research areas include human rights, media coverage of human rights and refugee issues, and Open Educational Resources in higher education. She is the author of Television News and Human Rights in the US & UK: The Violations Will Not Be Televised (Routledge 2015) and the Faculty Leader for OERs at Kingsborough.  She spends her spare time making art with her family.  She can be found far too frequently at @ProfBrandle on Twitter.


APSA’s Career Paths series explores the wide range of career trajectories that political science PhDs can take and provides specific career advice for graduate students entering the job market, as well as other political scientists at all career levels who are looking for new career opportunities. Individuals interested in contributing to the series should email Dr. Tanya Schwarz, APSA’s Director of Teaching & Learning, tschwarz@apsanet.org.