From Student to Professor, Then Back Again: Dr. Iris Saltiel’s Unusual Journey

Dr. Iris Saltiel is a dynamic woman who has been teaching online since 1998 at Troy University and Columbus State University.  But the switch from professor to student provided a surprising, yet welcome, challenge in the fall of 2014 when she began taking courses online in UGA's Graduate Certificate in Interdisciplinary Qualitative Studies online program. Dr. Saltiel realized early on that she had to completely readjust her mindset from that of a professor to a student’s.

Saltiel, originally from Highland Park, New Jersey, completed all of her education in the northeast before moving to Columbus, GA in 1997 with her husband and two children. She started teaching at Troy State University in 1998, working with adult graduate students who were earning their master’s and specialist degrees in educational leadership. In September 2010, Dr. Saltiel left Troy for Columbus State University, to serve as the director of the faculty center for enhancement of teaching and learning. Currently, she works with graduate and doctoral students in education.

She engages in a lot of qualitative research in her work at CSU and consequently contacted the University of Georgia’s Interdisciplinary Qualitative Studies program to ask if there were plans to offer the program online. When the certificate was later introduced as an online program, one of the faculty reached out to her and said, “We’re going to be doing this program online, are you interested?” She was excited to have been contacted and was able to get started in the program right away. 

Initially, it was really difficult, Dr. Saltiel said, because, “I work with graduate and doctoral students, balancing my workload as a student and my responsibilities as a faculty and fitting in some research in there.” Dr. Saltiel’s daughter, a doctoral student, noticed some of the habits that were making Dr. Saltiel have a harder time in her program and said, “Mom, you think like a professor, and you really need to think as a student.” At that point, Dr. Saltiel had to pull out the student mindset that she’d buried down under decades of being a professor.

One of the many great benefits that Dr. Saltiel has finds with being a student of expert international researchers is that she has access to their attention in a way that she normally wouldn’t have. As her colleague, these researchers couldn’t review every single piece of work that she produced, but as their student, she experienced a level of attention that was absolutely useful to her in her development as a qualitative researcher. “Students view things with a different perspective than faculty, so this has really informed my own teaching and helped me,” says Dr. Saltiel. “I’m really enjoying and learning.”