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If I leave, will I be welcomed back?

PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 10:55 pm
by Keith
This forum is an excellent resource, and I think that it is the perfect venue for a question that I have concerning my job search.

I will defend my PhD in Biology this semester, and I have been pursuing postdoctoral employment since September 2004. My goal is to teach and conduct research in a liberal arts setting. To that end, I applied for a fellowhip from a humanities department on campus several years ago. I was awarded the fellowship, and one of my duties as a fellow was to design and teach an undergraduate writing seminar. I enjoyed the experience tremendously and would like to continue to teach writing in some form in the future. In my job search, I have found a couple of announcements for scientists that want to teach writing. The announcements are from the Writing Centers of top-tier schools, and both opportunities are full-time, contract positions. The contract is initially one academic year, with the posibility of renewal up to five years.

If I were to apply for and accept such a position, would I be taking myself out of contention for Biology jobs at liberal arts schools? Would the average college view my decision in the positive light that I am committed to teaching, esp. interdisciplinary teaching? Or in the negative light that I am not committed to a research program and out of the loop?

My feeling is that five years away from research would be too much. What about a year or two?

Thanks!
Keith

If I leave, will I be welcomed back?

PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 4:32 pm
by Bill L.
Hi Keith,

I referenced the book: "How to Get a Tenure Track Position at a Predominantly Undergraduate Institution: Advice for those in the scientific fields", which is published by the Council on Undergraduate Research.

The answer seems to be: Leaving the bench might harm your candidacy, but it will depend on the institution. Some institutions will be concerned about whether you've been away from the bench too long, while others will appreciate your teaching experience.

But there is no general answer, and without knowing more about which liberal arts institutions you are considering applying to, it would be difficult to hazard an informed guess.

Perhaps it would be best to take a little straw poll of a small sample of institutions you'd like to work at one day. Pick five institutions, and
find a sciences faculty member, and ask them how they would view any candidate who left the bench for a year or two to engage in teaching at writing centers. Or, as many institutions list the CVs of faculty online, have a look and see if everybody in the department had a lock-step bench career path. If so, you have your answer, and can decide whether or not it's worth it to you to take on the teaching position.

Good luck,

Bill L. & Naledi S.


If I leave, will I be welcomed back?

PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 5:12 pm
by Keith
Bill and Naledi,

Thank you for the reply and the reference to the CUR publication. Contacting faculty directly is a good strategy.

Thanks again,
Keith


If I leave, will I be welcomed back?

PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 5:58 pm
by Dave Jensen
Hi Keith,

Bill and Naledi's advice is excellent. No matter what important decision I am contemplating, I always check to see what other people's experiences have been.

I'm afraid that you might find out something that I learned a long time ago -- that science is totally unforgiving of breaks of any kind.

While I work primarily in industry, I've noticed that this seems to run across academic disciplines as well. That is, whenever there is a break away from science to do something else, no matter how interesting and important it was, when that person goes back to science he or she is treated like they "fell off the wagon." They have one hell of a hard time getting "back in." It is as if there is some kind of club that researchers are in, and the moment you leave -- even for six months or a year -- you are seen as deserting the ranks. They'll be pleasant enough; it will just be clear that getting back into the club again could be tricky,

Dave Jensen, Moderator

If I leave, will I be welcomed back?

PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 10:22 pm
by Kelly Ann
Granted my situation didn't come after completing a pHD, but I have to disagree with Dave that science is absolutely unforgiving of breaks. Several years ago, I did not have a problem finding a research job (BS level) in industry after taking off almost two years (for personal reasons). In fact, I found a job within a month and all of my interviews took into account my previous work experience (as if there had been no gap). However, I attribute my luck to the very good network I had at the time. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you leave, definately stay in contact with people should you decide to come back. I don't think it would be impossible but I would agree that it would be harder to get start-up funding for research.

If I leave, will I be welcomed back?

PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 10:52 pm
by John Fetzer
My two cents....it depends on the type of college or university. A major research university would be unforgiving. A small liberal arts school, one emphasizing bachelor's programs (even those with research towards masters or doctorates generally view something like this as a plus. In your application material include a statement of your teaching philosophy that highlights your passion for educating. They love that.

John

To Kelly Ann

PostPosted: Wed Jan 26, 2005 12:07 pm
by Dave Jensen
Kelly Ann,

The situation between BS degree people and PhD's is totally different, in almost every way.

BS people can take a "break" and get back into a technician job, for example, because there are too few technicians to go around. A PhD scientist on the other hand has embarked on a particular trail that, once deviated from, is very hard to get back to.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

Leaving, put in context

PostPosted: Thu Jan 27, 2005 3:58 pm
by Doug
Keith,
If your desire is to eventually return to teach and do research at a smaller liberal-arts college, one that values teaching (or at least has teaching as a primary focus), then I'd suggest that anything you do that is directly applicable to developing the teaching aspect of your career would be useful, especially if you use the time to think about new pedagogical methods.
But that's just my opinion, of course.

Leaving, put in context

PostPosted: Fri Jan 28, 2005 2:45 am
by Keith
Thank you to everyone who responded for the helpful feedback!

Keith