What is the average teaching load for a math postdoc position in the US? And can someone please explain this in reference to the trimester or quarter system, which I'm not too familiar with.

According to most job ads I've read, it seems for universities on trimesters, it's 3 courses per year, and for universities on quarters it's 4 courses a year.

However, is it the case that the summer term (in either system), is different from the other terms and that teaching usually doesn't occur in summer? So it's 2/1 courses per term under a trimester system and 2/1/1 courses per term under a quarter system?

Usually how many weeks are there in a term under each system? And usually, how many hours per week is there in a normal course?

Obviously, I know these answers will vary from university to university, I'm just looking for a ballpark answer.

  • I agree with you that this is a typical research postdoc load in mathematics at a non-elite R1. However, beware that some positions are called postdocs but are actually teaching positions. Jan 19, 2020 at 21:20

1 Answer 1


The general answer isn't really a number. I expect that in most cases a teaching load is similar to that of a regular faculty member, though that isn't necessarily the case.

The semester, trimester, quarter system defines how many regular terms there are per year, with trimester and quarter often being synonymous. It is the number of terms that most students attend in a given year. Two semesters make a year on the semester system, etc.

A post doc is more likely at a research institution than a liberal arts college and the teaching load differs. In some R1 universities the teaching load is one course per term. At Dartmouth (quarter system, "Dartmouth System"), the load was four courses per year, or one per "quarter", though you didn't need to spread them out over the four quarters. I don't know if the system has changed and my knowledge is very old. The summer term was just like any other and students were expected to do something academic, but perhaps academic related travel.

At some State universities, the load is two courses per term, so four in a year on the semester or six (shorter courses) per year on a trimester system. Again, it might not be necessary to spread them out evenly and it might be possible to "buy" yourself out of a course or two using grant funds. The load might be lighter than that at some places, but not likely heavier at an R1.

At most R1 sorts of places if you have more than one course to teach in a term it is more likely to be two sections of the same course than two different courses, but not guaranteed. At some places the tenured faculty (and probably post docs) teach in their specialty in advanced course, but, again, not necessarily.

At a liberal arts college the load might be four or even five courses per term. But there are few post docs at such places.

A post doc might possibly not have teaching duties at all if the are paid out of grant monies. It would be uncommon, I think, to have a higher load than the regular faculty. In some situations you might actually have to beg to get teaching duties at all.

  • How many weeks are there in a semester/trimester/quarter system?
    – LCE
    Jan 19, 2020 at 12:31
  • A normal semester is about 15 weeks. A quarter might be 10 or so. A trimester might be like a quarter or a bit longer. Note that three quarters is about the same as two semesters. Most students in the US are in classes about 30 weeks a year, give or take a bit. The divisions are for various reasons, pedagogical as well as administrative. One of the admin details considered is how the university is "used" in the summertime. Is it considered a vacation or an academic period. Some places have a shorter "summer term".
    – Buffy
    Jan 19, 2020 at 12:38
  • Thanks. Pretty much all of the general postdoc ads I've seen include teaching, unless the postdoc is tied to a specific research grant. Just to clarify the point regarding the summer term, are you saying it's normal for a postdoc or an academic to be teaching in all terms, including summer?
    – LCE
    Jan 20, 2020 at 9:31
  • Not on the semester system. And even at Dartmouth people "normally" teach four courses in three terms (or even two), but summer might be one of them. But teaching throughout the year would be unusual. The load is defined annually, but the distribution can have some flexibility. On the semester system, those who teach in the summer usually get an extra stipend, provided they have fulfilled their normal obligations already. And note that the spread of courses over the year is a negotiation with the department. Courses need coverage if the system is to work properly.
    – Buffy
    Jan 20, 2020 at 12:36

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