3

I'm a PhD student that just finished my first year in graduate school. The University I am at will only fund me if I work as a TA.

There is a community college in the area which I have a long working relationship with. The full time instructors are paid more than I am. They also get 6 credit hours per semester of paid graduate tuition at the university.

I am considering going back to work at the college after I get my masters degree to have some more control over my life while continuing to work on my PhD.

My question is whether anyone on this site knows someone who has done this or has done this themselves? If so what were the worst and best aspects of the situation?

2
  • A major consideration you didn't mention is whether you can count on each possibility (TA / community college instructor) being available to you. Apr 10 '14 at 7:09
  • @MarkMeckes, for the purpose of this discussion they are both a pretty sure thing.
    – Spencer
    Apr 10 '14 at 14:40
9

Teaching at a community college while in grad school is certainly an option and I know people who have done it.

My major concern would be workload. I'd expect a community college job to be drastically more work, greater responsibility and stress, and less likely to accommodate your coursework and research time. It can be very difficult in grad school to balance your time and energy among your responsibilities, and it's easy for the short-term demands of teaching to push the longer-term demands of research to the back burner, ultimately sabotaging your chances of finishing your degree. I certainly wouldn't suggest a full-time community college appointment; even part-time seems like it would be hard to manage. But it sounds like you've actually taught at this college before, and have also TA'ed, so you'll be in the best position to make that judgment.

At the university, you'll probably get to TA a variety of courses, including more advanced courses in your discipline. This can be a great learning experience for you, and fill in gaps in your education that you didn't know you had. It can also be an asset on the job market. At the community college, I presume you'd teach introductory or remedial courses exclusively; that's a learning experience too, but not in the same way.

At the university, you're more likely to find fellow students and faculty mentors with whom you can discuss aspects of teaching, and being a TA can be a great social / bonding / networking experience. If you stay in academia, you'll be able to get letters from well-known professors attesting to your teaching ability. At the community college, you'll probably be more on your own, and a letter from the department head there may not carry so much weight.

Overall, it might be better to plan on teaching community college during occasional summers (when TA'ing may not be available), or perhaps near the end of your PhD (and especially if your departmental funding runs out). It seems overly ambitious to plan to do it throughout.

2

I made the decision to go work at the college part time.

The balance between PhD research and teaching part time has been manageable under the following two conditions. 1) I am not teaching a new course which is unfamiliar to me. 2) I am not taking advanced graduate course. When one of these conditions is not met then the amount of outside work is simply too much to balance with research.

Regarding condition (1). Teaching new classes takes me roughly an hour or two per lecture to prepare. This ends up taking all the free time which was presumed available for research. If at all possible it is preferable to co-teach with a colleague who has taught the course before.

Regarding condition (2). As a physics student I dearly wanted to take Quantum Field Theory even though it wasn't strictly necessary for my research. I found that I had no time to finish the homework assignments. In one week I fell behind on grading exams (which were all free response) and I fell badly behind in the course.

There are some advantages to teaching courses of my own design. As the course instructor I decide what gets graded and how it gets graded. If I give my students exams which can be automatically graded by a computer with a few free response components then I can finish grading exams within 30 minutes to an hour. The danger is to get too ambitious and forget how much grading free response exams takes.

I have found that I have to take advantage of every free moment. When I am proctoring it is advantageous to have something on my laptop which needs to be done for my PhD. This generally should be something that needs supervision, but not my exclusive attention (for instance compiling an application or linking libraries). Also, if I am co-teaching with a colleague I should have something to do which is productive on my laptop.

In short the balance is manageable, but the teaching must be strictly controlled so that it does not overflow past your paid working hours. An inexperienced instructor can easily give themselves too much work to do for a single person within the allotted hours.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.