This week at TNP we’re talking about jobs and how to get them – specifically teaching oriented academic jobs. To make the most of this topic we enlisted the help of four wonderful guest contributors to give us a variety of perspectives and insights on the application process.
Our contributors are…
Kameko Halfmann (@KamekoMae): Kameko is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Wisconsin – Plattville. She runs the UW- Plattville Emotion & Decision-Making Lab (PEDL), where they investigate factors that influence our decision-making processes. She teaches a variety of psychology courses, including courses on behavioral research, physiological psychology, and developmental psychology.
Kathryn Narciso (jake_steele): Kathryn is a Lecturer of Psychological Science at the University of North Georgia. While teaching at UNG, she is also finishing her doctorate at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she has a focus on Industrial/Organizational psychology.
Jennifer Talarico (@j_talarico): Jennifer is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Lafayette College. She is a cognitive psychologist with research that focuses on memory and emotion. She teaches classes on cognitive psychology and research methods, as well as a first-year seminar on the science of learning.
Jake Kurczek (@EngagedBrain): Jake is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Loras College. His research investigates the interaction of neural and cognitive systems in higher cognition. He teaches both neuroscience and psychology courses, covering topics like traumatic brain injury, physiological psychology, and cognitive psychology.
Before diving into the Q&A, we wanted to highlight some great resources related to applying for academic positions. One of our contributors, Kameko, has a wonderful blog post about applying for teaching focused positions. The Ohio State University has a webpage on creating a teaching portfolio, and Dr. Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In has a ton of great resources on her website. If you know of other useful websites, please tell us about them in the comments below!
Today’s post revolves around selecting where to apply. There is a variety of positions out there, but picking the ones that are the right fit for you can be difficult. Below are questions we asked our contributors about the different positions available to people interested in teaching-oriented academic positions.
1. What are the pro's and con's to the different teaching positions out there?
Kameko Halfmann: I’ve taught at 4-year liberal arts colleges and am currently at a small-ish public undergraduate focused university. What I love about both is the opportunity to get to know your students and develop personal relationships. Teaching is definitely the focus at both of these types of institutions. In my experience, there have been regular professional development workshops or opportunities to help develop and build teaching and mentoring skills. These are great opportunities both to improve your teaching and also get to know others on campus! Other pros of working at a smaller institution are working with a closer-knit group of colleagues. I have had the fortune to work in departments that get along really well and support each other, which makes going to work enjoyable. I also have very little pressure to publish or earn grants. I am still encouraged to do research and to publish, but the goal is more to use research as a teaching tool rather than producing high impact research. I personally really appreciate this, plus I get to be more hands on with my research rather than creeping up into a more managerial position in a large research lab. Hands down, for me, the number one advantage is the personal connections I make with students and the reward of feeling like I am actually making a difference in some of my students’ lives.
The challenge of teaching at a smaller liberal arts school or primarily undergraduate university are that there are very high demands on teaching (I teach 4 courses per semester), advising (I have ~22 advisees in my 2nd year), and mentoring (students actually come to my office hours to chat, which I love but it’s time consuming), AND there are still some expectations to do service (serve on committees) and conduct research (with undergraduates). It can be challenging to conduct quality research and learn how to view research as a teaching tool. I was fortunate to have attended a small liberal arts institution as an undergraduate and had several amazing mentors who I now look back on as examples for how to run a lab with limited time and resources. I secretly feel like this is a pro, too, because although I’m expected to do research, there are very low expectations for publication so I can do my research well, slowly, and involve undergrads in the process, which I love.
Kathryn Narciso: Larger universities, especially ones that have graduate programs, are more likely to have Teaching Assistants available.
Jennifer Talarico: I don’t think of it so much as pro’s and con’s since that will vary from person to person. Instead, here are some helpful dimensions to consider as one weighs their own preferences, values, etc.
Jake Kurczek: I can only speak to my experience at a small liberal arts college. I love my job for a few reasons:
2. While I want to apply to as many places as possible, I also want to be strategic with my time. Should I apply to positions that are outside my area of research or department? If applying to a position that is "outside my wheelhouse", what recommendations do you have for how to make my application more competitive? Should I reach out to the department or hiring committee beforehand? How liberal should I be when expressing my research or teaching interests?
Kameko: I would apply if there is some other reason why you are interested in that position (location, institution, or other), otherwise I would probably put my resources into positions that are a closer fit to your area. Although job ads are not always perfect descriptions of what the hiring committee is looking for, they typically are not far off. As a slight caveat, I earned my degree in Neuroscience and there are very few small schools with neuroscience departments so I was almost exclusively applying to psychology departments. I focused on applying for cognitive/biological psych positions, which most closely aligned with my research. I also felt comfortable applying for developmental positions because my research was in the area of aging and I had taught development courses a few times as an adjunct at nearby colleges during graduate school.
If you are applying somewhere that is rural/non-urban, talk about why you want to be in that location in your cover letter. Search committees are often worried that people will not actually want to live in the region, if it is more rural, so demonstrating that you know you want to live there (even though it isn’t related to academics) actually can provide a level of comfort to the search committee.
I would be honest in expressing what you would feel comfortable teaching. Make sure that you specifically address any courses that are in the job ad. For example, most positions will want you to contribute to the general education or core requirements, like general psychology, statistics, and research methods. Anything you can do to prepare for these types of courses and show you’re interested in contributing to them will be beneficial. As for expressing research interests, do your research. What is available and feasible at the institution? Sometimes we see applicants who are clearly trained in R1 high impact research, and it is a major concern whether they actually would be interested or able to conduct research at a smaller institution with fewer resources and less emphasis on research. Your cover letter and other statements should clearly address how you will perform research in a small liberal arts environment or a primarily undergrad environment. Search committees put considerable time into their searches and so we are often hesitant to extend an offer to a stellar candidate if we don’t think they will also choose us. In other words, we don’t want a failed search so you need to show you’re truly interested in the position.
Kathryn: I would think about where your expertise is and where you might fit in. Applying to jobs outside your department could work if you fit the profile of who they are looking for. Applying to jobs that are outside your area of expertise (looking for clinical background except you have a social background) may not work as the department is likely trying to fill a specific need. Even if you’re liberal with your expression of interests, you should make sure it ties in to the experiences you do have.
Jennifer: It depends on your long-term goals. Smaller institutions will value a willingness to reach outside your narrow dissertation area; If you are comfortable doing so – great! If not, it’s likely not worth applying to jobs that will expect that of you. That being said, define your area of research and/or department as broadly as you *honestly* can. Personally, I’m a cognitive psychologist who focuses on memory with an interest in emotion. I could be an autobiographical memory expert with a specialty in flashbulb memory (more narrow) or an experimental psychologist (more broad).
If there’s something unclear about the job ad, you can reach out to the Chair of the search committee/department. Otherwise, try to make your ‘pitch’ as to fit in your cover letter.
Be as liberal as you aspire to be when expressing research interests, but also be specific. Generally, I expect candidates to be willing to teach Intro and/or Stats/Methods as well as Intro to Your Subdisipline (e.g., Intro to Cognitive Psyc) and Seminar in Specialty (e.g., Memory). Research breadth depends more on subdiscipline, there, I’m more interested in whether it seems feasible given the context in which they’ll be expected to conduct that research (e.g., can it incorporate undergrads easily?, if it requires expensive equipment or expendables, do they have a plan for how to pay for it?, etc.)
3. Job postings sometimes list "FTE" or full-time equivalency. These are usually listed with percentages, such as 100% FTE or 40% FTE. What does this mean?
Kameko: My understanding of this is a 100% FTE is a full time position whereas a 40% FTE would be part time. So if a university has a 4 course per semester teaching load, plus advising responsibilities, etc.. that would add up to a 100% FTE whereas 40% might be just 2 courses. I am not sure how this translates to insurance/benefits, though. Anything less than 100% is not a full time position, though. I would ask about insurance/benefits.
Jennifer: An FTE is a full-time job (though it may be a 9-month contract). Anything less than that is meant to describe a ‘part-time’ job which will have implications for benefits. Without getting too political, be sure to do your own estimation of whether the job requirements/expectations can reasonably be fulfilled given the estimated time commitment the job is offering.
Jake: FTE will vary from institution to institution depending on how they assign and count faculty load. At my current institution, our FTE teaching load is 7 courses per academic year, so a 40% FTE would likely mean teaching 3 courses at our institution.
4. When looking at Adjunct positions, they list your salary "per Load Hour". What does that mean?
Jennifer: Most institutions offer courses with various credit loads associated with them, and therefore the rate will vary from course to course depending on how often it meets. Most courses are 3- or 4-credit hours. That may increase if there’s a laboratory or recitation section associated with the course. Obviously, the more credit hours, the more work is expected, hence the higher pay rate.
5. What does it mean to be a visiting professor? Is it common for these positions to turn into tenure track offers? As a visiting professor, do you have access to departmental resources?
Kameko: I think this probably varies by institution. In my experience, departments are very up front as to whether or not there is a chance the position could turn into tenure track – so ask. I spent two years in a visiting position and had full access to departmental resources. It was a great position/opportunity for me because I had no advising or service responsibilities so I had the chance to focus on teaching and engaging students in research and professional development. I knew that this position would not turn into a tenure track position. Another position I interviewed for was very clear that their visiting position was going to turn into a tenure track line in a year or two.
Jennifer: A visiting assistant professor (VAP) is a temporary, full-time position. It is typically offered on a year-by-year basis, but some visiting positions can be for 2- or 3-year terms. A VAP can be hired to fill a vacant position, in which case it *may* turn in to a tenure-track job, but even then, there would typically be a separate search for which you would need to apply (i.e., you would be considered the “internal candidate” for a national tenure-track search). VAPs are more commonly hired to replace tenured (or tenure-track) faculty who are on sabbaticals, other types of leaves, and/or who have accepted fixed-term administrative positions. In these latter cases, it is almost impossible for a VAP to turn it to a tenure-track position. It is completely appropriate for you to ask search committee chair whether a specific VAP is filling a vacancy or is a replacement position. VAPs are typically more like tenure-track faculty than they are like adjuncts, but again, this will vary from institution to institution. Ask about the specific resources that are most important to you. Similarly, ask about the specific expectations. Typically, VAP are expected to teach courses, but NOT to serve on committees, to advise students, or to supervise student research. However, these, too, may vary, as can other departmental/institutional supports (e.g., whether you would be eligible for conference travel funding, whether lab space is available, etc.).
6. Some universities advertise for non-tenure track, full-time instructor positions. How are these different from visiting professor positions?
Kathryn: Visiting professors are intended to be there for a short time (usually a year). Non-TT full time instructor positions can have varying contracts (my mentor is ‘up for renewal’ every three years, whereas my position is yearly) with the intention of renewing contracts. Often the promise is there to renew (if you are doing well) but it is subject to department budgets.
Jennifer: Unlike VAPs which are typically short-term, non-tenure track instructor positions typically have longer-term renewable contracts (e.g., 3- or 5-year terms, or 1-year terms but with the expectation of continued renewal). These are typically positions that are exclusively teaching-oriented but in a context that requires both teaching and research of tenure-track faculty. (To be fair, many Instructor positions include administrative work, but I don’t know of any with research expectations.)
Now that we feel more informed about where to apply, go find those job postings! Stay tuned for more tomorrow!
Special thanks to our four Q&A contributors for taking the time to provide thoughtful responses:
Kameko Halfmann (@KamekoMae): Kameko is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Wisconsin – Plattville.
Kathryn Narciso (jake_steele): Kathryn is a Lecturer of Psychological Science at the University of North Georgia.
Jennifer Talarico (@j_talarico): Jennifer is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Lafayette College.
Jake Kurczek (@EngagedBrain): Jake is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Loras College.