I have some questions on the prospects to get a tt Assistant Professor position in math at a smaller university or liberal arts college in the US as a foreigner.

I am from a european country and on the job market, primarily looking for tt Assistant Professor positions in pure math at research universities. Since the job market is very tough in pure math, I am considering to apply more broadly, e.g. to some reputed liberal art colleges or some lesser known universities which might not offer a PhD program in math. There are many job announcements from such places on mathjobs or other sources.

I am wondering about the prospects of such applications.

  1. What about paperwork? I would require an H1B or a Green Card in order to work in the US. I guess it is unlikely that smaller universities would sponsor an H1B or have some immigration specialists to take care of such an application. Does this mean that they are unlikely to consider applications from foreigners based on such reasons?

  2. What about academic fit? While I have completed a Postdoc with teaching duties (in particular undergraduate Calculus) at a well-known university in the US and know the system, I am less familiar with it than people who studied in the US. They could also think that they are only 2nd choice for me.

  3. Is there any particular advice that you could give if I decide to apply nonetheless? One lesson that I learned from this page seems to be that cover letters should be much more detailed than the usual perfunctory cover letter that is used for research universities.

All in all, I am wondering whether it is reasonable to try my luck, especially considering that many of these institutions do not use mathjobs for applications, and applications therefore take much more time.

  • Since professors with foreign backgrounds can be found at many liberal arts colleges, this seems to be doable. While the college may not have visa specialists on staff, that does not mean they don't know where to find them. The rest is how well the application stacks up versus others.
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 2 '21 at 14:22

Yes, it is reasonable to explore the possibility, but be aware that life is very different than at a research university. I live in a small place with a small university (around 6000 students, I think, which is probably near the upper end of "small"). My neighbor is a faculty member there and is on the tenure-promotion committee at the moment. She told me yesterday that the expected distribution of efforts (teaching, research, service) is 60, 20, 20. Faculty are expected primarily to involve themselves with student learning.

On the other hand, any research that you manage to do, given the heavy teaching schedule, is highly valued, especially successful grant writing. And more especially, grants that involve students.

The visa issue may be a problem or not. That same small university is part of a very large state university system so there are probably resources available to help. It might well be different at a small, stand alone, liberal arts college. But, you can ask even there.

I assume language isn't an issue and that you are fluent in English. In some places additional fluency in Spanish is also helpful.

Expect that the hiring process will be fairly personal. You will meet with a few people (Zoom, perhaps) and they will be looking at a lot of things. Research amenable to student participation is good, but a guess as to how you fit in the classroom, and as a colleague, are probably more important. Personality and openness will be considered.

If you think of this as a second choice it is likely to come through in an interview. If this teaching/student centered life isn't really appealing to you then it might be a mistake to start on that path as it can be hard to come back to a more research focused position - unless the academic economy changes, which it does occasionally, if slowly.

At such universities and colleges expect to teach several courses simultaneously. Class sizes will probably be small, but not necessarily for the introductory classes (Calculus...). Expect to do your own grading. Expect to have a minimum number of hours per week available to students. Expect, many places, to have students with a wide variety of skills and preparation.

But note that the entry level faculty that they have available to them are not much different from yourself. They are fairly recent doctorates who have been focusing on research for the previous several years. Their teaching experience is probably not extensive. You won't stand out in that regard.

  • More explicit might be better for the intended readers: "Expect to have a minimum [required] number of hours per week [in which you are] available to students." Nov 30 '21 at 18:03
  • @DaveLRenfro, I think I remember about 6 required (and scheduled) office hours per week, but I doubt that is standard. That would be about half of the time spent lecturing. So, half an hour of office for each hour of class time. Ball-park, wide variation.
    – Buffy
    Nov 30 '21 at 18:12
  • My experience in teaching at several such colleges/universities is that one can expect 6 to 10 required office hours per week, the variation usually being between institutions and not between departments in a single institution, although differing departmental requirements probably exist in some institutions. Nov 30 '21 at 18:16
  • Thanks a lot for the helpful answer. Dec 5 '21 at 17:06

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