I am leaving graduate school in May with a Master of Science in Mathematics. For the past few weeks, I have been applying to full-time instructor/lecturer positions (mostly 2-year with a few 4-year). I started with a list of ~40 and after whittling it down, have completed applications for 18.

The past few days I've been reading application blog posts and how-tos and the writers talk about applying to dozens of schools (even hundreds with little success). And these are PhD holders with a lot more experience, which is making me worried.

There's a lot of information for PhD required professor positions so I wanted to ask-just how competitive is the teaching only scene? I know that "applying to more places equals higher probability of getting a job" but I've more or less applied to everywhere I'd like to go. However, I don't want to regret not lowering my standards and being unemployed for an entire year.

  • You should take a look at the qualifications of other instructors at the institution you're applying to. If they've all got PhD's, then it's likely that you won't have much of chance of being hired even if the advertisement says something like "Master's required, PhD preferred." At this point, many 4-year institutions basically only hire PhD's as instructors and some community colleges are also hiring lots of instructors with PhD's. Commented Jan 12, 2020 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


How many is required and how competitive the job market is varies by time and by place. You are competing for many of the positions with people that hold doctorates. So, start with your current list but expand it as necessary. And don't apply to just institutions within a narrow range of perceived quality if you really need a job.

I'd also recommend that you have someone else review your application materials, such as your CV and SoP so that you have some assurance that you present yourself well. Make sure the skills you present in your applications match the needs of the institutions you apply to.

When I finished a doctorate half a century ago, a few hundred were needed. There were many more recent graduates than available positions. That was just academic economics at its worst.

If you are finding it hard to get a job, you can also work to obtain complementary skills, say in CS, that might make you more attractive some places.

Research is very important at a few hundred institutions in the US, out of a few thousand. But a doctorate is required for those in very nearly every case. Research is also needed at other institutions, but teaching may be more highly valued. There are some secondary schools, actually, that are highly regarded and the stress there is almost entirely on teaching.


The sad reality is that even for limited-term appointments there are several 10s of candidates with PhDs willing to apply. PhD holders are now starting to apply for sessional positions, somehow cobbling together these appointments to eke out a living. Finally, a position might be advertised as teaching-only, but the possibility of continuing or participating in research or supervising students is often an unstated expectation.

I’m sorry if this sounds grim, but in the current fiscal climate the ability to teach is secondary to the ability to raise revenues through research grants. I’m sure there are exceptions and niche markets, but overall the odds of getting a stable position with an MSc degree are rather slim.

  • A bit too grim, I think. True enough at R1 and R2 universities, but there are a lot of others where teaching is really valued. In fact some top universities have a special track for teaching. CMU, Duke, Stanford, and others have "professors of the practice" whose duties are quite different from tenure track folks. But those are largely populated with people with doctorates also. Not completely, but the competition is fierce there too.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 1:10
  • @Buffy yes regrettably very fierce... Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 1:45

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