launching an academic teaching career

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launching an academic teaching career

Postby Ian M. » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:54 pm

Hello all:

I am a Ph.D. student in a molecular biology program at a major academic research institution in the US and expect to graduate in the Fall of 2013. Thus far, I am in reasonably good standing with both advisor and committee members.

After 5.5 years of graduate school, I have finally concluded that I enjoy teaching more than lab bench research. Thus, I am strongly considering teaching at a small liberal arts college (SLAC). A teaching position at a smaller college has the benefits of smaller class sizes that are more conducive to personalized instruction and tend to provide better work/life balance than research professor. I also went to a SLAC as an undergrad and found it very rewarding.

In terms of teaching experience, I served as a TA for 2 undergraduate microbiology labs and supervised the research endeavors of several undergraduates in my advisor's laboratory. I am aware that academic teaching jobs require dense teaching experience that involves managing full lecture courses. To overcome this, I would have to do adjunct work or find a postdoc opportunity that would allow me to teach lecture courses on the side (I am not allowed to teach a lecture as a graduate student). However, I would prefer not to do a postdoc unless the PERFECT opportunity arose, and I'm not sure many PIs would allow postdocs to "sneak away" and do teaching.

Thus, my question is: Should I try to gain additional experience by becoming an adjunct or visiting assistant professor immediately after graduation or would it be better to find an integrated teaching/research postdoctoral position?
Many thanks.
Ian M.
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Joined: Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:00 pm

Re: launching an academic teaching career

Postby Chris » Fri Nov 30, 2012 2:40 pm

Why is it either/or? Why not apply for permanent positions, visiting positions and postdoc positions? I have several friends who went this route, most did do postdocs but a couple went straight into either visiting or permanent positions. When I graduated, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to teach at a SLAC or an R1 university, so I considered both teaching postdocs and regular postdocs. I ended up doing a regular postdoc at a top medical school, and my advisor had no problem with me working as a lecturer at a local state university to get some teaching experience. That experience was invaluable, even though I ended up at an R1 with a fairly light teaching load.
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Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:29 pm

Re: launching an academic teaching career

Postby MSR » Fri Nov 30, 2012 5:32 pm

Either route works (VAP/adjunct or postdoc), but you should keep in mind that more and more jobs at SLACs are requiring postdoc experience. However, you don't need the 5 years that is standard for an R1 job. You need a 2-3 year postdoc and teaching experience. You can skip the postdoc, but be aware that it will limit your marketability and that you will likely be primarily focused on lower tier institutions (which usually come with heavier teaching loads). You should check the Chronicle ads for jobs at SLACs that you would be interested in to see whether they ask for a postdoc or not.
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