The Prepared Professor
Professors for the Future aptly prepared Wade Zeno in realizing his dream
Wade Zeno, Ph.D. ’16 always knew he wanted to be a professor — to have his own research lab and to teach. Ever since he was a child, Zeno has enjoyed the classroom setting and as an undergraduate student, he often worked as a tutor, which only solidified his desire to pursue a career in academia.
But then, as he progressed his academic career toward obtaining a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, Zeno began to realize something was missing from his academic career.
“To be a professor, you actually don’t need any formal education in teaching. You do research and then they stick you in front of a class and say, ‘Okay, teach,’” he said. “A common complaint you can hear from students, especially in science and engineering classes, is ‘this professor obviously knows how to do research, but they have no idea how to teach.’ I’ve always kept that criticism in the back of my mind. I don’t want to be that person.”
Zeno started seeking out options to receive training and heard about Professors for the Future — a competitive fellowship that provides doctoral and postdoctoral scholars with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in their future careers in academia.
“I figured that this program would be very helpful toward achieving those goals and it was,” he said. “I learned a lot.”
Zeno said he appreciated how the fellowship exposed him to guest faculty speakers who shared information about the intricacies of daily life as a professor, including how to secure grant funding for your research. He also appreciated the PTFT seminars, especially those focused on how to teach college courses of varying sizes.
“Because of Professors for the Future I felt like I was a lot more prepared than a lot of my peers who were starting their careers at the same time as me because I had exposure to this kind of stuff, rather than just being thrown to the wolves,” he said.
Prepared for a competitive job market
Being more prepared for a career in academia not only fulfilled a personal need, it also was essential when Zeno hit the academic job market.
“Pursuing a career in academia is really competitive. UC Davis is using everything they have in their power to make sure their students are as competitive as possible in that market,” he said. “This program alone, in and of itself existing, is a testimony to the mission statement of UC Davis. To foster these collaborative interactions to make everyone more prepared and ready to go into this competitive world.”
Zeno is now an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California. He is building his own lab at USC and conducting research in collaboration with a local biotech company that is working on a therapy for Parkinson’s disease. He says he enjoys the intellectual freedom to pursue scholarly questions and is ready to begin teaching in the 2021-2022 academic year.
“I feel confident to go in there and teach a class. I don’t feel lost or that I have a shortage of tools,” he said. “Professors for the Future gave me the preparedness that I needed to come into this field and job market.”