Published on Nov. 1, 2023
If you’ve been in college for any time at all, then you likely have mixed feelings about the question, “What do you want to do when you graduate?” While there may be a blessed few who have their futures mapped out, the best answer most young people can give to this question is a disheartened shrug.
Doug Valentine, an assistant teaching professor of sociology at Mizzou, was no different while he pursued his own education. Constantly bouncing back and forth in his mind between choices, Valentine would often find himself in “a crisis of what am I doing.” But instead of sprinting to the finish line of his career, Valentine took a step back and waited. And his patience was rewarded.
Born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, Valentine was the first in his family’s history to attend college. After graduating high school, Valentine enrolled in his local community college, Illinois Central College. But this presented some challenges for him, as he lacked the mentors needed to guide him on his path through higher education.
“Part of [my struggling] was just being a first-generation college student,” said Valentine. “The concept of being a college professor, I had no idea what that was. The idea of getting a Ph.D. was … it was odd enough that I was going to college.”
After some time in community college, Valentine transferred a local college in Peoria called Bradley University, where he began majoring in psychology and religious studies, with minors in philosophy and sociology. While enrolled at Bradley, Valentine was intrigued by what he saw from his professors.
“I knew I liked what my professors were doing,” said Valentine. “But I had no idea how to get there, and I think the path towards a high school teacher was much more clear. So, I spent a few years jumping back and forth between what I was going to do.”
Valentine’s time in the classroom helped him inch closer to finding out what his true passions really were. Over time, sociology became more than just a topic for Valentine to write papers about.
“I think what makes me passionate [about sociology] is that I just can’t envision another way of the world making sense,” said Valentine. “And I think that’s coupled with the fact that I don’t see that in a lot of incoming college students by default, but it’s there.”
After graduating college, Valentine took a few years to work, took some language courses, and decided on his future. By 2010, he eventually made his way back into the classroom, this time pursing a master’s degree in religious studies at Mizzou. This was also Valentine’s first brush with teaching undergraduate students.
The daunting time commitment and sacrifices required of someone pursuing a Ph.D. gave Valentine some pause, causing him to ultimately delay the start of his Ph.D. in favor of becoming an academic advisor at Central Methodist University. In this role, Valentine was able to pursue his passion of teaching and continue his search for long-term career fulfillment while filling in for professors who were out.
Years would pass, but Valentine finally began his Ph.D. pursuit in sociology 2014 and would complete the program in 2020 enroute to an assistant professor position at Truman State University, in Kirksville, Missouri. Through connections he had made during his time at Mizzou, Valentine was eventually hired on at Mizzou as an honors faculty member.
While it came at a cost, Valentine attributes his success in large part to one simple trick: taking time off.
“I like to really highlight that I started at junior college, did the five-year undergrad plan, took two years off, did the master’s, took two years off, did the Ph.D. There was nothing guaranteed about it,” said Valentine. “I really needed those breaks to ultimately reconvince myself that (teaching undergraduates) is the thing I want to do.”
Today, Valentine teaches a variety of Honors courses at Mizzou, including an interdisciplinary course on personal identity, a class on body modification called “Marked Bodies,” and an Honors Tutorial on conspiracy culture and conspiracy theories.
Valentine is also the co-director of the Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA) and has been teaching at MSA since 2012. The Missouri Scholars Academy selects more than 300 rising high school juniors from across Missouri to stay in Columbia for three weeks of exciting activities and classes at Mizzou. While serving as co-director of MSA, Valentine has still been able to get into the classroom and teach students, including courses on sociology.
“What I hope (students) take from my classes is that a year from now, two years from now, three years from now, something happens in the world, and you then have a toolkit to analyze the world,” said Valentine. “Just something to have to be a well-rounded consumer of information in the world.”