Switching university settings

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Switching university settings

Postby Doug » Thu Feb 17, 2005 11:22 am

I have a friend who is currently in a job search, primarily at mid-sized teaching institutions. However, there is some concern that because of the teaching load at these universities, the research will suffer, which in turn will lead to lower quality publications, which will then close the doors to research universities. I'd like some feedback from those on the forum who can comment on transitioning from teaching to research universities, particularly when the first position after a post-doc is at the teaching institution. Anyone?

Switching university settings

Postby Andy » Thu Feb 17, 2005 11:54 am


It would be extremely difficult to go from a small teaching college (I assume that's what we're talking about) or university to a top-tier research university.

Many small colleges advertise positions saying they want people to teach AND do research. This is true. But at most places, teaching is by far the first priority. Yes, research will suffer at a smaller school, primarily because there are usually no graduate students.

If your goal is to land a tenure track faculty position at a powerhouse research university, I would NOT recommend doing a postdoc at a teaching institution.

Has anyone out there gone from a teaching faculty position to a tenure track slot at a research university? What challenges did you face?


Switching university settings

Postby MPB » Thu Feb 17, 2005 12:03 pm

Your friend may be right to be concerned. I know one person who tried to do this. After we graduated from grad school, she took a job at a primarily teaching institution with the thought that she would do some research, get some grant money, and move. They made her a decent offer in terms of teaching load during the first couple of years and even some start-up money. She had a hard time making progress. Even with the "light" load, teaching still took a lot of time, and she found that the quality of the students was not what she was expecting, so it took even more time than she had anticipated. She found that the other research that was being done in her department was not very good quality, and it was hard for her to find people to collaborate with. She ended up travelling back to our old school at her own expense to work with people there to try to get some publications. This was very time-consuming. After 2 or 3 years she tried to get a job at a more research-oriented school but could not compete with the research output of the other applicants. After the first couple of years her teaching load picked up, and it became basically impossible for her to compete in terms of research. Now she has been there 15 years and was very bitter and disgruntled the last time we spoke, and has not published anything in the last 4 or 5 years.

Anyway, N=1 and all that.

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Switching university settings

Postby Emil Chuck » Thu Feb 17, 2005 1:17 pm

First, there are teaching colleges that really want a boost in their research program, but you have to recognize that teaching colleges aren't going to make the list of top NIH-funded institutions. You also won't get as many graduate students because... well, that's not the focus for these institutions.

That said, there is a dedicated separate pool of money for scientist-educators in teaching institutions. It's not that the grants are any easier to get, but doing your research at (I'm using an example) Oberlin is going to be different than at Cincinnati. You can still publish in pretty decent journals, and you may also publish in good educational journals (how to teach science).

If you accept the challenge of being employed at a teaching institution, then you have to show that you can teach. Have a teaching philosophy. Make a video of your teaching. Have a couple of course syllabi with documented evaluations and improvements/innovations. Believe me (based on talking to people who know), if your goal is to jump into a high-tiered research institution, they can sniff that out fast.

That's not to say that you cannot ever go from a teaching institution to a research institution, but you will need to find and maintain collaborations that will facilitate that transition so you could get the quality of students that you want. But if you are employed at a teaching college, your tenure is determined by your teaching and service, not your research.

If you wanted to transition back to a research institution (or wind up wanting to leave a teaching position), then your best entry back would be through a postdoc at a high-tier research institution. Who knows... you may actually get a few more offers because you have some teaching background... provided you have a good record of success there.
Emil Chuck
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