I spent all of yesterday in a workshop called “Launching an academic career” wherein four tenured faculty members laid things out bare (or so they claimed) about how to position oneself in a Ph.D. and postdoc to land an interview, how the interview and selection process works, and the first 3-5 years leading up to tenure.
Now, I try not to be too cynical, but the take home message (and not just my interpretation of the message) was that it’s all about the research. The argument is that an excellent publication record as a PhD and postdoc will land you the job, and then your own grad students publishing excellent papers will land you the grants to hire students to publish papers to land grants … you get the idea.
During the last small-group discussion about the tenure process (the one phase of the workshop with which none of the participants had any experience, being all grad students and postdocs ourselves), I asked point blank: how much does teaching contribute to the tenure and promotion (T&P) process? The answer: basically not at all. In what (I hope) our facilitator thought was an anecdote to assuage fears of a room of 8 early-career researchers with little to no teaching experience, he explained that <5% of faculty up for tenure don’t make the grade, and the reason is always publications. In what is almost a direct quote, he said that someone could be terrible in front of a class of undergraduates, but a good researcher, and that beats an excellent teacher and mediocre researcher any day.
Jaw, meet floor.
Now, before I come off as being entirely naïve, I have known for some time that research was always valued more than teaching (and service), but I had thought that it mattered at all (heck, even in proportion to the time allocated to each). Now, perhaps this is a particular shortcoming of my university, so I’m keen to hear others’ experiences either in the comments below, or by e-mail (email@example.com).
I enjoy teaching, and I also enjoy research. They’re different activities, and I get different things out of them, which is why I don’t really see myself at a teaching-only institution, but equally not at a research institute. I like the regular interaction with undergraduate students, but I also like working with other grad students and researchers (for those interested, check out Small Pond Science for some excellent posts about working at a primarily-teaching university).
But perhaps this attitude is changing in some areas. Universities in Ontario are looking at having teaching-only faculty and research-only faculty (not something that appeals to me). What I would like to see is the valuing of good teaching, but not to the detriment of the teacher.
Perhaps I come at this from a minority viewpoint. I did my undergrad at Mount Allison University, a primarily undergraduate university in eastern Canada where enrolment was capped at 2200 students when I attended. But there was a small graduate program (no more than 10 students in Biology, for example, and few more in Chemistry).
As Tory (and short-lived) Prime Minister Kim Campbell said during the 1993 election, “The election is not a time to discuss serious issues”. And perhaps she was right. Maybe, just maybe, (some) universities are not for teaching undergraduates.
Edit: as Terry pointed out in the comments, there is research at primarily teaching universities (which was the whole point of Small Pond Science).
Terry McGlynn said:
I guess faculty from primarily undergraduate institutions weren’t on that workshop, huh?
Alex, I’m loving the blog.
and here’s my tiny little gripe about this post. Maybe it’s just semantic, I’m not sure. I’m at a “teaching university” but it’s definitely not a “teaching-only” place. That’s kind of the mission of my site, to explain that at these teaching schools with undergrads there actually *is* a lot of research that happens. So, you’re just making me feel better about my reason for starting the blog!
I distinctly remember when I had the same moment as this, when I was near finishing grad school. I was in a bunch of students vaguely involved in a search for a new faculty member. We had some questions about teaching and the relative role of this in the hiring and tenure process. It was shocking at the time. (That did reinforce my decision to work somewhere that undergraduates actually mattered.)
Alex Bond said:
Thanks Terry – that’s an excellent point. While I went to what would be broadly called a “teaching university”, there was research involving undergraduates, collaborators, and the few graduate students.
All of the faculty were from our university, a research-intensive, med-school institution (and one, I might add, that’s cutting $45 million in the next 3 years, but that’s another story).
But unlike the US, there aren’t that many “liberal arts colleges” (or otherwise primarily teaching-centric post-secondary institutions) up here – maybe 6-8? So 95%+ of job adverts are for research/”teaching” positions. Still, I’ve applied for a couple of primarily teaching positions (one of which was a cancelled search, unfortunately, as I thought I had a decent chance of at least an interview).
I’ll post some other tidbits about the research side (and my problems with them) next week after I simmer down!
Terry McGlynn said:
Great point – that undergrad places with faculty who do research is a creature that’s far more common in the US. The uptick in teaching positions at research universities are a symptom of the decline of the professoriate in general. Campuses realize that they can’t have all of their classes taught by adjuncts, but they’re not going to add tenure-track faculty research positions, so they settle for something inbetween. On the bright side, these jobs result in people who care about teaching in the classroom, one hopes.
Todd Redding said:
To follow the first comment,I would strongly suggest that any grad student who has aspirations of moving on to a faculty position get themselves on a hiring committee. Based on that experience, I learned pretty early in my MSc that a faculty position at a research university was not where I wanted to go but I also didn’t want to teach. Lo-and-behold 14 years later I teach at a community college and love it! The teaching is great, and I do a little bit of research, but don’t have to be chasing grants and funding grad students. In Canada, there is a big push for colleges to develop applied research, but at least at my college, there isn’t much capacity to support applying for $$ or for doing the research. I try and do small projects that are low cost and internally funded and can involve 1st year students. So far it has worked well and I’ve decided not to dedicate large amounts of my time to writing proposals and seeking large grants.
Plus I have time in the summer to hang at the beach with my kids. At a college I think the decision to pursue a serious research program has to be a personal one.
Alex Bond said:
And here’s the link! https://services.accc.ca/careers/search.php?act=dosearch&jobtype_id=all
Todd Redding said:
Cool, I didn’t know about that site. Thanks for finding the link.
Everywhere I’ve been a grad student or faculty member, students were included on hiring committees, so I assumed it was the norm. Regardless, if you get the chance as a student to participate I would highly recommend it.
Alex Bond said:
Great suggestion, Todd, but unfortunately, not every department formally involves its grad students in the hiring process. Is there a centralised job bank for community college positions (i.e., like University Affairs for faculty jobs)?
Pingback: What it takes to get tenure: ambiguity of the teaching criterion | Small Pond Science
Hi Alex, I was at that same workshop, though I think we were in different breakout groups.
I was not at all surprised by that point about teaching being of negligible importance compared to research for a tenure-track position. How many academic scientists – professors, post-docs, adjunct profs cross-appointed from government research centres – would tell you they went through the long, poorly-paid, hard-work process of graduate school in order to teach? How many would say they loved their project (i.e. their research)? In the quiet moments in between during your fieldwork, did you work out lesson plans for some hypothetical class you’ll teach, or did you build Figure 2 of your Manuscript in your head?
Teaching is important. Teaching is enjoyable and rewarding and all sorts of good things. But it’s not the main reason I’m doing my PhD. Teaching is a critical part of the job description of “professor”, so I agree that it’s importance for career-progress decisions (promotions, tenure, etc.) should be non-zero. But it’s not the primary reason to go through all this to get a job that allows unrestricted expression of one’s own curiosity.
Hopefully this comment doesn’t come across as rude or berating or anything like that – not my intent. Thank you for putting these posts together, I’m really enjoying your writing.
Alex Bond said:
I have certainly thought about teaching during field work. I’ve taught about 6 field techs over the years, and I have to think about how to teach various field techniques, survey methods, or concepts related to the species we work with. And that data in Figure 2 could be used in a lecture to illustrate a point. Research and teaching are integrated – it just depends how much of one’s own research one teaches.
Pingback: Percent effort measures are bunch of bunk | Small Pond Science
Hello Alex, I’m posting this comment under the assumption that you get some sort of notification about comments on old archived blog posts.
That workshop is being offered again this year – there was an email waiting for me this morning. Are you thinking of attending again?
Alex Bond said:
Thanks – I heard it was going on (we debated offering our “how to find a postdoc” one at the same time. I’m off to greener pastures, so won’t be there, but hopefully it will be a little less frustrating!
Pingback: Let’s stop mixing up education and social capital | Small Pond Science
Pingback: How can track record matter in double-blind grant reviews? | Small Pond Science
Pingback: Some thoughts on The University | The Lab and Field