Careers: Post-doc or teaching position?

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At the AAA meetings, I participated in the mentoring workshop organized by the National Association of Student Anthropologists (NASA). It was a good opportunity to see what younger scholars were doing and answer some of their questions about jobs, careers, graduate school, etc.

A graduate student who was in the process of finishing her dissertation asked me whether it was better to take a 1 or 2 year post-doctoral research position or to accept a position at a (how can we delicately phrase it...) teaching college with a heavy course load.

Not all faculty positions are better than post-docs. In fact, I would suggest only tenure-track positions at liberal arts and research universities -- or a tenure-track position in a location amenable to you and your family -- is better than a post-doc.

The problem of taking a position at a teaching college (i.e., with a teaching load of more than 5 courses a year) is that the teaching load is so onerous that your research agenda will stop, and it will be difficult to change jobs later on. Some of my friends are teaching 3 or 4 courses a quarter (3:3:3 or 4:4:3) which is 9-11 courses a year! Compare this to the teaching load at liberal arts colleges (2:2 or 2:3) and you can see why you'll quickly fall behind your colleagues who have time to work on research and publications. A post-doc allows you to wait a year or two for a good position to open up as well as give you time to build up your resume with publications. Regardless of what anyone says, I am convinced it is publications more than anything else that opens up doors in the job market.

Note, it is easy to get stuck into a quagmire of adjunct hell -- teaching one class at one college and another at another and a third at a third college. One of my cohort did this for a while, getting paid about $2000 a class for three classes at three colleges. Taking into account office hours, prep time, and time shuttling back and forth, he was making less per hour than he would if he worked at Burger King.

The corollary is visiting-professor hell, where you end up taking one-year position after one-year position, moving each year. This is very hard on families as well as your psyche. More importantly, it's hard to work on your book or other publications while you're looking for a job all the time.

Note: this is my opinion based on my own experience. As with all opinions, it has a bias. You are best getting different opinions from different sources (especially from your dissertation advisor) and deciding yourself which path to take.

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on December 18, 2005 4:37 PM.

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