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Science Careers Blog

January 3, 2013

Landing a Job at a Teaching Institution

Most people seeking their first faculty position have spent much of their recent time immersed in research. But, as Messiah College department chair and hiring committee veteran John Fea reminds job seekers at Inside Higher Ed, "the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities ... stress teaching over research." These institutions, which also account for the majority of faculty jobs, include "elite and not-so-elite liberal arts colleges, private comprehensive colleges, and non-flagship state universities," he writes, not to mention community colleges.

Landing a faculty job, therefore, could very likely entail convincing a hiring committee that, whatever your research qualifications, you can also deliver what they need most: high-quality instruction for their students. This means, Fea notes, that your ability as a researcher is not nearly "as important to the search committee at a teaching college as it might be if you were interviewing at a research university." Committee members will probably show interest in your research, but what they really want to know--and on what they will ultimately judge you--Fea writes, is "what you will do for them in the classroom."


Preparing for an interview at a teaching-intensive school requires a whole different kind of research, Fea suggests. Specifically, it requires studying the department's course offerings and figuring out how your own expertise can fit in. "Make it clear that you can plug in where you are needed, but also be ready with something unique you might be able to add," such as a course that gives a new spin to an existing offering or that covers a subject of fairly general interest currently missing from the college's catalog, Fea notes.

His take-home message? If the committee members sense "that you see this job as a stepping stone to a position at a research university, you can probably kiss the job good-bye."

Fea is a historian, but his advice applies to would-be professors in scientific fields, too. My father, for example, was a chemist and the dean of science at a teaching institution, and his attitude toward hiring new faculty members mirrored Fea's. Teaching ability--and interest in same--were the criteria that ultimately determined who got the job. You can read Fea's essay here.
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