Dr. Nina Gunteman and I first met through her leadership role in edX. A few years ago, Nina and I answered questions and answers about her academic career and the decision to resign and move to edX. So it was great news when Nina told me she was took on a new senior management role, this time as Chegg’s chief research officer. Nina kindly agreed to answer my questions.
Q: Tell us about your new role in Chegg? What will you do, and why did you decide it was time to take that step?
Thanks for inviting me back, Joshua. My new role at Chegg is also new to the organization and I am excited to attend at such an important time for the company, students and senior faculty. As Chief Research Officer, I am responsible for defining and informing Chegg’s content and services pedagogy, and for ensuring that student-faculty engagement with our platform improves learning outcomes. My growing team of learning experience designers, researchers, and faculty members works directly with the teams that create and maintain Chegg’s portfolio of learning services. We also deepen our relationships with external stakeholders, including faculty, university leadership and student services staff, to help improve what we offer and work together to provide students with the support they need 24/7.
I enjoyed working with faculty to transform their classroom learning for online learning, as I have been doing at edX for over six years with an incredible consortium of universities. Last fall, when Cheg approached me, I saw an opportunity to join one of the largest educational platforms and apply my expertise in digital learning to directly impact students. The Chegg platform supports about 30 million unique students a month, which is impressive. But even more appealing to me is the premise of these students. In a 2020 Hall & Partners survey of Chegg users, they found that 29% were first-generation college students, 26% had a family income of less than $ 25,000, and 53% were minority students. As the company grows in the U.S. and around the world, supporting students from diverse backgrounds, many of whom are underserved by the existing education system, has become a very strong attraction to me. I was also excited about what the Chegg team had in mind: to modernize and personalize learning support. Joining this team, forming and implementing this vision was the right next step for me.
Q: As you know, Chega has something like this controversial brand within higher education. In April I did a Questions and Answers from Candice Sooe, head of Chega’s scientific relations department, in which Candice spoke about Chega’s reaction to critics of the company. Criticism What gave you a pause before you took on a new role? And how do you plan to appeal to critics of the company and the online tutoring sector in the role of chief research officer?
The current discourse seems to be driven by the impulse to maintain the status quo at a time when it is so obvious that students need change. Ten years ago, MOOC platforms were seen as threatening to teachers. Ten years earlier, students had been told not to cite Wikipedia. These innovations have evolved through productive interaction. I don’t know what we’ll be discussing in another ten years. But now I welcome a serious discussion of how teaching and learning are changing and what students need to be successful in an increasingly complex digital world. I hope that members of the community of higher education will be open to working with us to support today’s students and their changing needs.
I am also looking for change from within, and for me it means transferring my experience and experience as an educator to edtech. I think a lot more people with educational experience, especially teachers, need to work at edtech. This is especially important in product management, software development and management positions; roles that directly impact technology and services designed for students, faculty, and educational institutions. Also, as you and Eddie Maloney often advocate, companies that claim to have succeeded in teaching students must be willing and able to demonstrate the truth of those claims. When I met Chegg and his leadership, it was clear that the company focused on understanding its impact on students and on how to improve learning outcomes.
I am only about three months old and still familiar with our services, students, external partners and initiatives, but I can say that the company is boldly moving forward and really focused on the positive impact on students. And every day I am motivated by the exciting and important responsibility of defining our learning strategy and measuring our impact.
Q: I’ve always admired how fearless you are. To resign, to take on a role in edX, and now move on to Chega. Can you share any advice with the rest of us trying to navigate alternative academic (alt-ac) careers at this time of huge changes in higher education? What would you say to your graduate students if you could talk?
I often talk to graduate students about the realities of an academic career and are happy to give advice when asked. However, I would like to use this place to offer your audience, which I suspect is more likely to train and supervise graduate students than the doctoral programs themselves, to do more to prepare their graduate students for the path of alternative relocation.
The most painful moments in my conversations with graduate students who have worked in the academic job market for many years are when they say they feel failed because they did not get an R1 position. This recognition of failure usually comes after I am told how many articles in the most popular journals they have published and how many grants and awards for the best articles they have received. It is amazing how successful – according to the standards set by academia and their disciplines – these candidates for teachers can be, and yet how much shame and failure they bear for not winning the incredibly unfavorable chances in the job market with much more more PhDs than open-ended, full-time, possession-track roles.
From what doctoral students tell me, graduate programs can do much more to prepare their students, such as encouraging and celebrating alternative pathways, supporting opportunities to communicate outside of higher education, and incorporating experience into skills-based graduate programs that go beyond academia. By the way, I am hiring and I am more than happy to show you how interesting and useful the alternative path can be!