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I finished my PhD a few years ago, and since then have been hopping from temporary job to temporary job every year. They've all been research-and-teaching jobs, which has been exactly what I wanted. I applied to a whole host of jobs this year, and got one. It's a secure, open-ended job, in a location I think I could be happy living in for a long time. I'm incredibly relieved about this.

The one downside is that it's a teaching-only job.

Now, I honestly enjoy teaching, but it alone is not enough to keep me in this career in the long run. This job seems like a poisoned chalice for my research career: not only does it mean less research time, it also means I'm less likely to be able to attend seminars, I'll have minimal free time during other mathematicians' work hours to liaise with them, I'll receive no funding to attend conferences, I won't be able to swap out duties with other people to give talks, and so on. I won't even be housed in the same building as the research mathematicians, so even interacting with them over lunch is going to be difficult. I'm basically excluded from all of the things that are involved in being an active member of the community!

How do I avoid being funnelled into a permanent teaching-only career? How do I make the most of the time I have during this job? Am I going to find it more difficult to be taken seriously as a researcher after a few years in this job?


Edited to clarify: my department is not the mathematics department. It is part of the university, but it is a "learning and teaching"-style department: the vast majority of staff there are teaching-only. I don't know whether this makes a concrete difference, but it might well impact funding, internal policy regarding grants, the priorities of my line managers, etc. I have no idea. Anecdotes and experiences related to this might also be useful.

  • What's the teaching load like to leave no time for research? Some US colleges do four courses a semester. – Shuheng Zheng Jul 10 at 1:20
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    I won't know for sure until October. But I'm concerned less about the workload, and more about flexibility / timing. In my current job, I can legitimately ask for my teaching duties to be moved around so as not to clash with seminars, conferences, etc. because these are part of my job too. I'm concerned that a teaching-only job will be less flexible; indeed, I've heard stories of managers deliberately keeping teaching staff away from research communities. – MacIntyre Jul 10 at 2:14
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm I don't think you're really engaging with my concerns in good faith. I didn't mislead anyone; I wasn't asked to swear undying fealty to this job. I do enjoy teaching, I just don't want to give up research forever, and sadly that's how academia usually works once you've been out of research for a few years. I didn't drive a hard bargain because I'm in no position to; I've been rejected for far less, and I need a job. As for "It is actually beneficial to them for you to [do research]" - again, I'd love to see a full answer here, because I'm not sure I see why this is true. – MacIntyre Jul 10 at 3:40
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm "Or cancel a some classes once or twice a year to attend a conference? People I know at teaching schools do it all the time." It would really help if you did not assume the UK environment that the OP describes works like environments that use similar words in your own setting (North American), and tried looking up how life in a UK teaching institution might actually work. Workload and autonomy and "lecturer's discretion" can really, really differ (seem my comment above) – Yemon Choi Jul 11 at 4:47
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm I appreciate that you're trying to help. I've given two examples of throwaway comments you've made above that I'd love to see expanded into full answers, if you're still interested in helping. – MacIntyre Jul 11 at 18:03
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First, I’ll describe what happens at my department (engineering, high ranking, UK). It might be useful to understand the mindset.

We were recently hiring for teaching only position at my school (teaching fellow). The idea behind it was to get someone to teach in a specific area. The job is open-ended, the same salary as other faculty (Lecturer/assist prof), and has excellent career progression (to full professor on a teaching track). We wanted someone that loves to do that, teaching. If we wanted someone to do both, then we would open a position for someone to do both.

As a panel, we tried to understand if the candidate really wanted to do research and was only using the position as a transition or as a way into the department. Then, we removed those candidates. Afterwards, there is a probation period of one year during which, if the person seems that is not interested in teaching (which was the job description), the school can decide to let them go.

The school only “allows” the teaching-only colleagues to research if it’s related to teaching. For instance, new teaching methods, methodologies, etc. With “allows”, I mean would shift timetable, include in workload, and pay for conferences. If the teaching staff wants to do anything not related to teaching, they need to do it at their own time and expense. PhD co-supervision is not possible.

To your questions

The more you stay in a teaching position, the more you’ll get trapped. Your peers in research or combined post will be encouraged and have more time to write grants and publish papers. Since these are the main characteristics looked for in research-track hiring and progression, you will gradually become unattractive for research-focused or combined positions.

Transitioning within the same department is indeed possible (but rare). We have a colleague that transitioned from a teaching to a combined position after three years. He is now transitioning back to a teaching post. He found that three years without publishing and without the skills that other research-track colleagues honed over the same three years (grant writing, networking, panels, etc.) it was impossible to attract funding (which is a requirement in our school to keep your position).

Edit based on OP comments

Our university offers two progression tracks. The research track has 80% research excellence, contribution to the field, and funding criteria and 20% teaching. The teaching track is the other way around.

The teaching-track research is on education in the area. One of the best journals for us as an example is IEEE Transactions on Education. Admittedly, most of the research is translational. That is, bringing modern educational concepts and ideas into the engineering teaching environment.

Other criteria involve participation to accreditation process, designing/updating teaching programs, achieving Fellow status at HEA, outreach activities at schools, etc.

  • Thanks for your response, this is exactly what I wanted. I hope you don't mind if I ask some follow-up questions. (1) You talk about career progression: what are the usual sorts of promotion criteria in these jobs? If it involves writing research papers, attending conferences, winning grants, etc. in the field of education, then I worry that I'm starting off on the back foot, as someone in their 30s with zero experience of this. – MacIntyre Jul 13 at 3:33
  • (2) Unlike your colleague, I am intending to continue publishing, writing grant applications, etc. and anything that can be done at home, on evenings and weekends. Where I'm scared of losing out is in networking and outreach opportunities: the sorts of things that require travel funding or time out of my 9-5 job. How much does this affect my chances? Or maybe more precisely: to what extent do interview panels (for jobs, grants...) look sympathetically on this sort of "making the best of a bad situation"? Am I a promising young researcher, or a failed old researcher? (Hope that makes sense...) – MacIntyre Jul 13 at 3:57
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    @MacIntyre As for what panels see, it depends on the area. The fact that you lose the networking means you have to compensate with better track record. So, it goes again to being realistic. Can you build a much better track record compared to someone doing a postdoc at a large group and 2-3 PhDs working with him/her and no teaching obligations? – electrique Jul 13 at 9:28
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    @MacIntyre In principle, the panels should take that into account, but in practice it is rare that the applied "discount" is adequate to bridge the gap. That is partly because the panels (who are made of research-oriented position holders) cannot figure out exactly how hard it is to do research in a teaching-oriented position, and because of ample supply of candidates with proven research record, making disadvantaged candidates with less established research record a much riskier choice. – Boris Bukh Jul 13 at 11:18
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    @MacIntyre I agree with Bukh. In principle, yes. However, last recruitment round we had 52 applicants for an assistant professor position. We shortlisted 5 for interview and hired 1. So, people with extensive research and funding experience were lower risk and ended up higher on the list. The only separate rule are candidates with career break for family (e.g., women that had career break for children) or health/disability reasons. They always go top of the list and there is an HR representative overseeing the process. – electrique Jul 13 at 12:32
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It sounds like the research mathematicians are at the same campus. If so, even if not in the same building, you can cultivate collegiate relationships:

  • Go to the seminars held by the research group
  • Be a co-supervisor for PhD students in the research group

If you spend some time finding out peoples' interests, then you could potentially write a grant application during the summer teaching break with one of the research mathematicians, and that grant could include buyout time for you. Find out the buyout policy for your department.

Do the research mathematicians also teach? That is, would you be able to apply for jobs with the research group where your teaching experience is relevant? If so, becoming familiar with the group would also be an advantage in any application for a position.

  • Hi Jen, thanks for your response. Yes, I'll certainly try to go to seminars / offer my services however possible, depending on my teaching timetable. I strongly get the impression that we're not expected to be applying for research grants at all: our whole department's teaching-only! (The mathematics department is separate.) But I'll ask about grants. The research mathematicians do teach, so I'll be applying for those jobs, and any others that come up. – MacIntyre Jul 10 at 2:35
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The obvious answer is to shirk teaching and divert time to research. Do it in a stealthy manner of course (just be perceived as efficient, not blowing things off). Use your massive Ph.D. brain to figure out how to do that. (limit graded homework, use established texts and curricula versus trying new ones, etc. etc. use your noggin.)

But really, you are already pretty far off the beaten track ("job to job" along with taking a teaching only post, versus finding another one with partial research). At this point, you really need to re-evaluate your goals and see if pursuing hard core academia research is in the cards for you. It is a tournament system (like being a rock star...lots of aspiring musicians, few headliners). Consider if you will be happy being a postdoc in your 40s. Or an adjunct forever. Or if you even might want to look at alternate fields (more applied, BUT don't take more school) or going to work for government or the like.

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    Phrases like "being a postdoc in your 40s" and "or an adjunct forever" and "use established texts and curricula" make me wonder if you have experience of study or work in the UK system or in mathematics – Yemon Choi Jul 12 at 23:21
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    Thanks for your response, but I'm inclined to agree with @YemonChoi. One thing you're absolutely right about is that there are lots aspiring but few headlining, but academic departments in the UK do not consist entirely of "headliners" - they consist mostly of people well below the professorial pay grade, but still in secure research and teaching jobs. (And yes, I'd be very happy with that.) But the landscape is shifting very rapidly: many of those people would not get their jobs if they applied for them today. "Job to job" very much is the beaten track for young UK academics right now. – MacIntyre Jul 13 at 3:26

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