Careers: Types of academic positions

| | Comments (0)

In graduate school, I was vaguely aware that there were various types of colleges and universities that would hire you, but I didn't give much thought to what the actual differences between them were. Nonetheless, the type of job that you choose after graduate school has direct impact on your future career.

Even within state university systems, teaching load can vary greatly depending on whether you're teaching at the central premier research university (University of California - Berkeley) or one of the second-tier state universities (Cal State U. - Long Beach). In fact, the teaching load in the lower state university systems is often so onerous (4:4:3 on a quarter system) that it is impossible to do your own research during the school year.

*Note: The shorthand people use to talk about course load (2:2 or 4:4:3) means two-courses-a-semester, two semester a year (2:2) or four-courses-for-two-quarters-then-one-quarter-with-only-three-courses. Adding this up, the first example is 4 courses a year the second one is 11 courses a year or almost three times as much work.

Tier Examples TL RvT
Private Research University Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. 2:2 90:10
Public Research University UC Berkeley; UMich; U-Iowa; etc. 2:2 80:20
State University System Cal State Long Beach; Michigan State Univ; etc. 4:4:4 5:95
Tier I Private Liberal Arts College Bowdoin; Middlebury; Reed; etc. 2:2 50:50
Tier II Private Liberal Arts College Macalester, Grinnell, etc. 3:2 30:70
Key: TL = Teaching Load (by semester/quarter); and RvT = Research vs. Teaching Ratio.

These are my own category labels, the very rough AAUP category equivalents would be Private Research University = Tier I Doctoral Institution; Public Research University = Tier I and II Doctoral Institutions; State University Systems = Master's Institutions; and liberal arts colleges would be Baccalaureate Institutions. But the equivalency is rough. This is not intended to be a definitive classificatory system but rather a shorthand.

Research vs. Teaching and Getting Tenured: At schools where the emphasis is on research, the tenure bar is often set very high. One of my friends at an elite state research university has to produce at least two articles a year and have two published books by tenure time. Her teaching load is 2:2 or two courses per semester so it's doable, but still she has to constantly produce. She has to teach adequately well, but barring gross lapses in the classroom her teaching performance is not a significant factor in getting tenure -- only the length of her C.V. is.

Small liberal arts colleges where the teaching load is 2:2 that pay lip service to "equal attention to research and teaching" can be thought of as either the best of both worlds or the worst. Often, you have to have an excellent publication record rivaling that of your research university peers as well as stellar teaching reviews. Some people like this balance, others think it is insane.

At Macalester College, my teaching load was 3:2 which was moderately high and the balance between research and teaching was about 30:70. I expected that if I had produced one or two more peer-reviewed journal articles, finished my book, and kept up high enrollment in my classes, that I would have gotten tenure since my student course reviews were positive.

At lower tier state university systems where the emphasis is on teaching is very high (with a workload of 4 courses a semester or quarter 4:4 or 4:4:3), the expectations for continuing scholarship are minimal. Often just a few papers, a conference or two, and perhaps a book manuscript are all you need for tenure. Morale is often very low among the faculty body at these institutions, judging from what I can tell from my friends who landed up in thee types of places. They do not expect to ever be able to leave.

Postdocs: Post-doctoral fellowships are usually term-limited to one or two years. Some post-docs require the full-teaching load (2:2 or 3:2) while others have a greatly lessened teaching requirement (1:0 or 1:1). The intent for post-docs is to bring new blood and cutting edge research to campuses, while not encumbering the institution with the necessity of a permanent position. I have heard stories of post-docs at liberal arts colleges turning into real positions, but like many things in academic life, never believe anything until you have it in writing from the provost. Post-docs are great places to focus on your publishing -- especially getting your book done.

Summary: You should always ask what the course load is and what the tenure expectations are when job interviewing.* If you accept a job at a place with a very high teaching load, it may be very difficult for you to switch to a job at a research university unless you manage to do so within the first couple of years. Basically, your teaching load will be so heavy that you will not be able to publish enough to be marketable to a research university. On the other hand, as long as you're a good teacher, you're guaranteed to get tenure. It's a tradeoff of risk vs. benefit or was that teaching workload vs. stress? One of those....

*Note: Yale and Harvard are unique in telling the junior faculty that there are no tenure expectations because junior faculty are not expected to get tenure. More on that in a separate entry.

Leave a comment

New!: You can sign in using your Facebook, Google, OpenID, mixi, Yahoo, MovableType, or other third-party authentication system.

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Monthly Archives

Sponsored Links

Powered by Movable Type 5.11

Sponsored by



Sponsored Links

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on May 28, 2005 10:03 AM.

Equipment: Canon EOS digital image storage problem was the previous entry in this blog.

Film: Two documentary films is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

August 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30