Thursday, April 28, 2011

How important is Teaching Experience on the job market (guest post)

( Annoucements: New York Theory day May 13 and UMCP Theory Postdoc opening. )

This is an anon guest blogger. Even we don't know who this is! He or she emailed us about the topic and we invited him or her to do a guest blog on it. I have added my comments on it as well.

I'm a PhD from a Tier-I research university (about to start a postdoc at an institution of similar caliber). Outside of begin a TA (i.e., grading), I have never taught a course, and I have received conflicting advice about the importance of teaching experience on the academic job market. From some people I have heard that having plenty of teaching experience is a plus on the job market. From others I have heard that teaching can only take away from time better spent doing research. I have even heard that teaching more than a couple of courses on one's own is potentially harmful to a CV. The job market being what it is, I am planning on applying to jobs at universities and colleges all across the spectrum. Would your readers be kind enough to share their thoughts on this issue?

How much teaching experience should one have when applying for: TT jobs at Tier-I research universities; TT jobs at Tier-II research universities (please interpret "Tiers" liberally; I don't mean for this question to spark any debates about specific places); teaching posts at research universities; teaching posts at liberal arts colleges. (For instance, does someone with an excellent research background, but no teaching experience not stand a chance of getting a job at a liberal arts college? Thoughts?

Here are Bill's comments:
  1. I find the notion that having lots of teaching on your CV as a negative to be absurd. When looking at your research they will look at How many papers have you published? (and conferences, etc.) For a job at a research university there are four possibilities that collapse to two possibilities (This is an exaggeration, see next point.)
    1. If you teach a lot and do not have a lot of papers they will say Not enough papers, without caring why.
    2. If you teach a lot and have lots of papers they will say Enough papers, without caring why.
    3. If you teach very little do not have enough papers they will say Not Enough papers, without caring why.
    4. If you teach very little and have lots of papers they will say Enough papers, without caring why.
  2. If there is evidence that you are a good teacher this will be seen positively. How much they care will may vary tremendously, not just from school to school, but even within a school, from person to person. But to get a job at a research university you have to have done lots of research. Other things- teaching, service, patents, blogs, willingness to give faculty who can't drive rides home, are all secondary. Still, they can be important as tie breakers.
  3. Liberal arts colleges I am less familiar with so I welcome comments on this. You raise a good hypothetical question- if a BRILLIANT researcher who was a TERRIBLE teacher (there are such people!) were to apply to liberals arts college, would they get a job?
Those are just my opinions. What do you think?


  1. If you are justifiably proud of your teaching experience (or anything else), put it on your CV. If that costs you a job somewhere, you didn't want to work there anyway.

    But list your papers first.

  2. I got my TT job at a Tier II R1 university with no teaching experience at all. Like Bill, I have a hard time imagining an applicant being rejected for having too much teaching experience.

    I don't know about the liberal arts college hiring process, but my advice would be to not bother applying unless you love teaching. Otherwise I don't think you'll be very happy, and your students probably won't be happy either.

  3. I don't think you can get an interview at a (good) liberal arts college without teaching experience. It might be possible if you wrote a really good cover letter that explained that yes, you are actually interested in teaching and do know what you're getting yourself into because of other relevant experiences.

  4. My reading of the tea leaves from experiences this year has been as follows. There is a divide, most schools above some threshold just care that you have potential to be a good teacher. That is, if you give a coherent job talk, they will believe you can teach. Most schools below that threshold will want some teaching experience and on an interview will ask you questions that will be difficult to answer without that experience.

    That threshold is hard to define, but my guess is its around top 60-some schools are in the first category. And there are always exceptions.

    For liberal arts schools where your job is more teaching, and research is mainly a secondary thing, then I think you will have a hard time getting an interview without having at least a significant bullet on your resume about teaching. What that bullet is can vary, but its part of the job description, so you should have some reason for them to consider you out of a pile of applications.

  5. Based on questions that I and others were asked on job interviews, I think that the following can be true at research universities (maybe only tier-II). If you have bad research, you won't get an interview at all. However, once you make it to the interview and they are trying to decide between candidates, your ability and willingness to teach certain courses might help. In particular, at one department, it seems the chair had persistent trouble finding faculty willing/able to teach some courses that I could easily teach.

    They were *not* particularly concerned with how much teaching experience I had or how well I taught (as long as it was above a certain minimum standard of quality). It was more that I had the ability and willingness to fill a gap in their teaching needs, which would help them decide between me and other candidates. When candidates are from different fields and are difficult to compare, it seems that non-research qualities can help a committee decide whom to pick. So I don't buy this notion of "leave everything but research off of the CV".

  6. I agree with most of the previous comments (especially Jeffe's). I work in a top-something research school and we generally view teaching experience as a plus. It's at least partly selfish: having lots of good teachers around makes my own life easier because students come better prepared for my classes.

    In general, it never hurts to look like a grown-up who already has lots of the relevant professor-skills: teaching, organizing stuff, writing for a broad audience, proposal writing, ability to play well with others, etc.

    I do object to Jeff P's notion of a threshold below which schools care about teaching. Schools are not strictly comparable.

    - Even among very good research schools, teaching quality matters some places more than others. (And the notion of what "good" research is varies from department to department quite a bit.. )

    - You could argue that top liberal arts colleges hire "better" people than mediocre research schools ("better" is in quotes since, again, there's no linear ordering). And they are probably much nicer places to work.

  7. While I cannot imagine having lots of teaching on your resume as being bad there IS another point that the poster may have heard that is relevant:

    As a grad student (for that matter, as a professor) where are you best off putting your energy into: Teaching or Research?

    To get hired or to get tenured at a research university, research comes first
    (that why they are called ``research universities''). But YES there is a threshold of teaching that you should be better than, which may vary.

    ALSO- If you spend a lot of time on teaching INITIALLY you may spend LESS TIME later. If you do a good job in the classroom, less students in office hours.
    If you do a good job making up projects, then less time having to tell the class `OH, SKIP PROBLEM 4, ITS WAS NOT WELL THOUGHT OUT'- less confusion.
    So EVEN in the scenario of saving time
    putting time into teaching is a good idea. As well as the warm-fuzzy-feeling your colleagues have about you.

  8. I am an assistant professor at a liberal arts college. If you had no teaching experience, and were applying for a job with us, it would look a little strange. Why would you be applying to this job if you didn't want to teach? People have been (and continue to be) denied tenure for being bad teachers, so it's not something one can blow off. Having taught classes before is a definite plus for us, as it assures us that you understand what you are getting into.

    However, most liberal arts colleges require both a research statement and a teaching statement from candidates. That teaching statement is where you could dispel any doubts about your desire and ability to teach.

  9. I would wager that most professors in my "Research 1" department would think "Why does this person spend so much time on their teaching, they should spend all available time building up their research as much as possible, I hope they learn to focus on research if they come here." I would also wager that very few will SAY that to a candidate, but I know some that will. I know of at least one who I think WOULD express to the candidate that they might be unhappy coming there since they seem to like spending too much time on teaching.

  10. As long as you are willing to spend 60-70% of your time on research, funding, good press, and graduate students and then 20-30% of your time on department, college, and campus committees, they don't care how much of your other time you spend on good teaching and development.

  11. dont be fooled by some advise12:16 AM, April 30, 2011

    ALSO- If you spend a lot of time on teaching INITIALLY you may spend LESS TIME later. If you do a good job in the classroom, less students in office hours.

    -- THIS IS B.S. simply because if you do too much of a good job, then as my experience shows, ur students turn so eager and insist on keep coming to ur office hours no matter what.

  12. If you want to reduce office hours, make the class easy. If the class is challenging and you are not at an elite undergraduate school with real standards then it doesn't matter how good your materials and projects are, you will have many students coming in for help. If you appear to care about education then even more will come and more often.

  13. Office hours are not the reason
    that being a good teacher SAVES time
    (and the comments on this blog saying otherwise are fair).

    However, being a good teacher saves you time in MANY ways- if you are well organized and fair you spend less time undoing stuff you messed up.
    If you put time into your HW and Projects so they are clear you don't have to backtrack. If you grade fairly and have good exams less student complains.

    Also, if you have a fair first exam
    before the drop date, then students who should drop will
    (example from real life: There was a midterm with a relatively flat curve. Of the 170 students 40 got over 90, 30 got under 60, and lost in between. Those that got under 60 mostly dropped and could not say
    `well... everyone did badly')
    Thats 30 less students to grade for the next midterm, PLUS you are doing them a service.

    There are other ways being a good teacher can SAVE you time.

  14. Isn't being a good teacher simply the right thing to do? If your goal is to land a job as a professor, where one of your primary responsibilities is educating students, then aren't you ethically obligated to be a competent teacher?

    I would hope (similar to Jeffe) that wherever you apply recognizes the value of your convictions. If they don't, they're probably not a good fit for you.

  15. "If your goal is to land a job as a professor, where one of your primary responsibilities is educating students"

    This is an important antecedent in this discussion. If you are at a "Research 1" institution, is educating undergraduates in the classroom one of your primary responsibilities? If you teach one undergraduate course per year and are encouraged to design it once and teach the same thing for the next decade so that you can dedicate more of your time to research and mentoring graduate students and getting funding and presenting at conferences, I don't think the answer is yes.

  16. My wife is a faculty member at a good (top 40ish) liberal arts college. A candidate with zero teaching experience won't even get brought in for an interview in her department.