Post-PhD Careers: Teaching Professor

What’s it like being a professor at a teaching institution?

Professors at teaching institutions do a lot less research than professors at research universities. In the United States, these professors work at community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, and four year colleges that typically lack Ph.D. programs. To pursue this career, you should have tremendous passion for educating. Full-time faculty at community colleges teach about five courses per semester (5/5 load), and at four year teaching institutions you can expect to teach four to five courses per semester, although you may be able to negotiate to only teach three per semester. This is in contrast to the teaching load at research universities in science departments, where you generally teach one to two courses per semester, e.g., a 2/1 load, although three courses isn’t unheard of. Additionally, at research universities you often can use your grant money to “buy out” of teaching some of your courses to reduce your teaching load further, but this generally isn’t an option at teaching institutions.

Other than doing less research, the other duties of teaching faculty are very similar to research faculty, e.g., advising undergraduates and serving on committees. Research isn’t discouraged, but you have to do it on your own time. Additionally, teaching faculty may have much more limited access to resources to conduct research, e.g., graduate students and expensive equipment. Much of your time will be spent preparing for courses. To get tenure, you will need good teaching evaluations.

Getting There

To become a professor at a teaching institution, at a minimum you should be a teaching assistant a few times as a graduate student. The best candidates have already taught one or more courses. In both cases, your teaching evaluations should be good. You can immediately start applying for jobs during the fall semester of the final year of your PhD, whereas with research professorships a postdoc is mandatory in many scientific disciplines. If you don’t have success on the job market, then you should consider acquiring additional teaching experience as a postdoc or as an adjunct professor somewhere.

Before applying in the fall, you should identify at least three recommendation writers, and you should write a teaching statement. A teaching statement is a 1-2 page single-spaced essay that explains the courses you could teach, your teaching strategies. Generally a teaching statement should be individually tailored to each institution you apply to; however, in computer science job seekers often post a generic teaching statement on their personal website.

Industry first?

It is easier to have a career in industry prior to becoming a teaching faculty than it is to transition from industry to a research position. This is primarily because you don’t need nearly as many publications to get interviews as you would with research professorships. Additionally, you could increase your employability at a teaching institution by becoming an adjunct to gain additional teaching experience while still working in industry. The primary impediment to this strategy is that you will take an enormous pay cut when transitioning away from industry. In computer science, your pay would likely be 3-5 times less than the amount you made in industry.

Finding Jobs

The main three places where faculty job listings are found are university websites, discipline specific mailing lists, and academic job listing websites. Academic job listing websites are the easiest way to find a lot of places to apply to quickly. Some of the best well known are given below.

Computer Science

CRA Job Announcements

General Science, Engineering, and Academic Jobs

Nature Jobs

Inside Higher Ed Careers

Academic Jobs Online

The Chronicle of Higher Education Jobs

References & Resources

Jenkins, R. (2012) What graduate students what to know about community colleges, part 2. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Anderson, M. (2001) So you want to be a professor! Tales from an academic job search. Physics Today special issue on Careers and Physicists 54: 50-54.

Advice for Writing Teaching Statements

Advice from Columbia

Rachel Austin’s Advice