I'm a math Ph.D student in the US who has just accepted a four year postdoc--NSF postdoc at a US school interrupted by a year in Europe. For better or for worse, I am only slated to teach for two semesters in those four years--likely during the second semester of my 3rd year and 1st semester of my 4th.

I am planning to apply for tenure track positions in the US afterwards and am wondering whether the relative lack of teaching as a postdoc will adversely affect my application.

Should I be looking for volunteer teaching opportunities?

If it matters as a graduate student I had fairly extensive teaching experience, serving as sole instructor for courses in various levels of calculus, multi-variable calculus, and linear algebra for four years in addition to mentoring REU students and grading/TA-ing graduate and advanced undergraduate courses.

  • Huh?? Last time I checked, the whole idea of a postdoc was that you spent a few years with no other responsibilities besides research. No teaching involved. E.g., I did a postdoc at a national lab, nowhere near any university.
    – user1482
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 1:17
  • 6
    @BenCrowell I don't think this is very common. In math, at least, almost all postdocs include a typical faculty teaching load.
    – Jim Belk
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 4:02
  • @JimBelk: Really? Interesting. Either physics is very different from math, or things have changed immensely since the early 90's.
    – user1482
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 1:37
  • 4
    @BenCrowell Math works on a very different model from science fields. In physics (and other sciences), most research seems to be grant-supported, and it's common for postdocs and even professors to not teach a full load. Math, on the other hand, is almost entirely supported internally at most universities (at least in the U.S.), owing to the enormous number of students who need to take calculus. Mathematicians do apply for grants, but mostly the grants just cover summer funding, travel, and computers.
    – Jim Belk
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 2:36
  • 1
    @JimBelk I agree with your first comment and almost all of your second, but I'd add that grants often also include money for students, sometimes for the PI's advisees but also sometimes for REU support. In fact, I once had an NSF grant approved but with a reduced budget, and the NSF allowed me to decide which budget lines to cut, except that I wasn't allowed to cut the REU line. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 21:21

5 Answers 5


Two semesters of teaching in four years sounds almost ideal for a postdoc, so I would not be worried about that -- if you are aspiring to be a mathemagician rather than teaching-focused mathematician.


I won't answer your question because I am in France and not aware of the practice in the US; but a similar question can be asked everywhere, so let me give an answer to the equivalent question in France.

From my experience in a few hiring committees, teaching is secondary to research in the assessment of applicants, if considered at all. More precisely, an excellent research record seems to compensate almost any other consideration, and a very good research record leads hiring committees to barely look at teaching to see if it seems ok. I have seen a candidate be ranked very high (and be recruited elsewhere) without any kind of teaching experience (and a quite limited skill in French). So, for the sake of one's career, I would say that focusing on research is the winning move.

In my opinion, this situation is very unfortunate, and I guess and hope that many other departments consider teaching more seriously. Also, for one's own sake, one should try itself at teaching and get regular practice before applying to jobs that will involve a significant amount of teaching. This need not be intensive though.

  • 2
    The US have a better system of feedback from students than France, but still in most places you don't even need to be able to speak intelligibly. If you go to ratemyprofessor and such website you'll see how little some universities care about the quality of the teaching. However, hopefully, there are places, perhaps smaller, community colleges or liberal arts, where teaching experience and quality is taken into consideration. I have never seen it with own eyes though.
    – PatrickT
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 1:19

Given your level of grad student experience, I wouldn't worry a lot. I think it will hurt you when it comes to jobs at liberal arts schools, but for a research university, it sounds like you already have a reasonable amount of teaching experience. Make sure you save any evaluations you have from grad school, as those could be useful if there's any question about your teaching. Similarly, with your teaching during the postdoc, make sure someone actually comes and observes one of your classes and can write a letter based on it.

As general advice, I would be more worried about starting a TT job as an inexperienced teacher than not getting a job because of it. I personally had a relatively low level of teaching experience when I started my first TT position (one lecture course and 3 semesters of TAing) and I think it would have been beneficial for me to have a bit more, but I don't think it ever hurt me with a hiring committee. I think it doesn't matter a tremendous amount whether you get the teaching experience you do get as a grad student or as a postdoc.

It is worth seeking out volunteer teaching/outreach projects assuming they don't consume too much time. They're often a lot more fun than teaching normal classes and they're helpful for NSF grants, etc.


It depends on the type of job you are going for. If you want a job at a R1, then not having teaching experience hardly matters. If you are applying for regional universities or liberal arts colleges they will place much more importance on teaching (and since these job entail a much heavier teaching load, usually 3-3, but I've seen up to 5-5s compared to say, 2-2 at research Unis). Many of these schools will ask for a teaching portfolio as part of the job application instead of a teaching statement. You will have to submit past teaching evaluations, syllabi, and also the standard statement of your teaching philosophy. If this is what you are going for, you will want to have some of these material ready before you go on the job market.


My understanding is that at R1 US universities, for better or for worse, the reality is that pretty much nobody will even read your teaching statement. Unless your letters explicitly talk about how terrible a teacher you are, you should be fine.

Anecdotal evidence: In my three years of postdoc-ing, I only taught the last semester (and only for fun), so it didn't even make it onto my applications which were due before that. It didn't stop me from getting a tenure track job at a math department.

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