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Let me start with the following remark (which surely I am not the first person to bring up). When things work as it should, to get a job one usually needs to prove that one is competent in doing that job. For instance, for teaching at any level between primary school to high school, you need to have been trained as a teacher (for the appropriate age group and subject). This suddenly breaks down at university: courses at university, particularly the advanced courses, are mostly taught by professors, who in order to get hired need to prove that they are competent enough... no, wrong guess: not in teaching at university, but in doing research. I will never completely understand what the reasons for this are, and where the assumption that good researchers also teach well comes from (evidence to the contrary abounds). Mostly historical reasons, I guess. Nevertheless, I do not want to discuss the reasons for the status quo any further here, and I am not claiming that it is necessarily always problematic. Rather, in this question, my aim is to find out whether there are any universities, and particularly pure mathematics departments, that do things differently.

Here is the background information: I am a PhD student in pure mathematics in continental Europe and I really enjoy teaching at university level. I would even like to do this as a full-time job. But I am not sure that I want (or could) go on to do research as a post-doc in pure mathematics until eventually becoming a professor.

Some clarification: I know of the existence of some rare full-time teaching positions at some mathematics departments, but they are usually either non-permanent, or relegated to teaching courses for prospective high school teachers or basic courses that need to be taught to really many students (also from other scientific subjects). Nothing against these positions, but it is not the kind of positions that I am asking about here.

Now the question:

Is anybody aware of any university that has permanent, teaching-only (or mostly-teaching) positions in pure maths (including advanced courses)?

In other words: Is there any place where one can make a living out of teaching at a university? Or does one really need not be a full-time researcher who by contract is obliged to do some teaching as well?

Answers about universities all over the world are welcome, as I believe that different countries have very different traditions in this respect. But I am mostly interested in universities in Europe (including UK, about whose criteria/system I don't know much about).

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  • 3
    This is super common in the US. The vast majority of university professors are teaching-focused (though many would like that you can occasionally engage undergraduate students in research projects as well). May 19 at 15:02
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    I disagree with "suddenly breaks down at university." I had several incompetent teachers before getting to the university. ( i no't deny that I also had some incompetent teachers at the university.) May 19 at 20:45
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    @Teepeemm There are 4000 degree-granting colleges and universities in the US. I can say with confidence that the majority of them don't have their tenured faculty doing research. I think you maybe have some misunderstandings about position titles and what they mean. May 20 at 5:14
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    @JochenGlueck With "advanced" I mean roughly: not only basic analysis and linear algebra courses, but also "standard" advanced courses like algebra, topology, complex analysis or even differential geometry, commutative algebra, algebraic topology, algebraic geometry etc. Depending on the level of the courses, I agree that some experience in that research area would be required / appropriate. But for "standard/introductory" courses on advanced topics good didactic materials abound, and in many cases a PhD degree in the relevant area would probably be enough, imho
    – 57Jimmy
    May 20 at 7:35
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    While this is not an answer you're looking for, I'd like to offer an observation on the research/teaching dissonance you observe. I have seen many bad lectures and courses presented by excellent researchers. But I have mostly observed these shabby lectures at Uni's which try to "standardise" their programmes and "push" their academics to deliver something they are not really invested in and often have no agency over. Real research-led teaching benefits from the unique skills of lecturers actively working with the teaching material - who then feel motivated to improve their teaching skills.
    – penelope
    May 20 at 9:56
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In the UK, what you're looking for is called the "teaching and scholarship career pathway" (distinguishing it from the "teaching and research career pathway"). A jobs.ac.uk search for the word "scholarship" reveals quite a few vacancies on the teaching and scholarship career pathway.

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  • Thanks, that's helpful, I thought that I had heard something similar at some point. How is it that this "duality" is common in the UK but almost inexistent in continental Europe (from what I could see so far)?
    – 57Jimmy
    May 19 at 15:02
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    @57Jimmy Well... in the UK, it's relatively new, and quite unpopular with academics, largely because of a fear that university administrators will force (or perhaps already are forcing) people who are happy on the teaching and research pathway to switch to the teaching and scholarship pathway for financial reasons. May 19 at 15:20
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    @YemonChoi The REF reasons are financial (distribution of QR money). May 19 at 15:24
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    @57Jimmy No, the salaries are usually (but not quite always) the same on both pathways. The chain of causation is: 1. University administrators believe (probably with much more confidence than the evidence justifies) that a particular academic's REF submission will be relatively weak (say mostly 3* and 2* papers). 2. University administrators believe (probably incorrectly) that including an academic whose submission is "weak" in that sense in REF will lead to the university receiving less QR money than excluding that academic from REF... May 20 at 13:04
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    ... 3. In order to be able to exclude the academic from REF, the administrators transfer the academic from the T&R pathway to the T&S pathway. May 20 at 13:04
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University rankings are usually based on the expertise of their faculty. The way faculty show such expertise is by being recognized experts (recognized for their research) in certain topics. Therefore, top universities prioritize hiring faculty who are productive researchers. Most universities want to know that the faculty they hire are ready to teach also, but since faculty are hired for their expertise, having extensive teaching skills does not replace having research skills.

There are many "teaching-oriented" schools where faculty often teach a 3/3 course load but are not expected to do research. There are also non-tenure-track "teaching professor" positions at top universities for departments who need professors to cover required classes but do not have enough TT faculty lines. Both of these types of positions typically come with lower pay, and teaching-oriented schools usually do not have the competitive rankings of research schools. I don't know how common these positions are in Europe, but both are common in the US.

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  • Thanks for your answer, and I do see your point. Still: possibly having a few teaching positions could take some of the teaching burden off of the researchers and allow a higher research output from their side, while at the same time making the professorships more attractive to researchers that do not want to teach? Both the university ranking and the employees could gain from this.
    – 57Jimmy
    May 20 at 7:44
  • This is true, but one of the benefits to the student of attending top-ranked institutions is being taught by the experts. If students are taught by teaching-only faculty, that benefit becomes less true. Anyways, many schools do hire some teaching-only faculty.
    – Elodin
    May 20 at 15:00
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Finland

Though the horrible tenure track system is gaining ground, maybe you can also find some positions as yliopistonopettaja or yliopistonlehtori (university teacher or university lecturer). Knowledge of Finnish (or maybe Swedish at the west coast) might be required.

There are also so-called universities of applied sciences, that is, professional higher education facilities which give out mostly bachelor degrees. There is engineer studies there. Knowledge of Finnish (or maybe Swedish) is almost certainly required.

Norway

There is a researcher career path, postdoktor-førsteamanuensis-professor, and a teaching path, lektor-førstelektor-dosent (but note that the equivalent of "dosent" means a very different thing in Sweden and Finland). I have a førsteamanuensis position at one of the newer, more profession-oriented, universities, and there are lots of people on the teaching path here. There are also professional higher education institutues, høgskoler, here, which employ same kinds of people as universities do. Lots of teacher education at these institutes. Knowledge of a Scandinavic language is very useful for getting these jobs.

The way I got here is that I had a PhD in mathematics and teacher education elsewhere, moved to take postdocs in Scandinavic lands and picked up the language(s), without which I would not have gotten this job.

In general

I would recommend figuring out if there is the equivalent of bachelor-level education that employs mathematicians (maybe engineering, finance or teacher education) and also take a look at relevant faculties in the less prestigious universities. I do also recommend seeking for postdocs as a back-up plan; they will allow you to move around while employed and get familiar with academic culture, organization, and the language of the country you move to. It is hard to get teaching jobs without knowing the language and hard to even know if and where they exist without knowing the culture.

Getting some explicit teaching education would not hurt, either, or even studying didactics or pedagogy.

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