I have a PhD in Computer Science and have been working as a "pure researcher" in an academic setting for the past 10+ years. I have a decent publication record, with a large number of citations to my work. As part of the research role, I have also been a co-supervisor/advisor of several PhD students and done presentations in front of conference audiences. I've done a bunch of "guest lectures" in a few undergraduate classes.

I'd like to transition from the current pure research position to a mixed teaching and research role. My motivations are to have more contact with people (as research can be lonely) and better job security. To than end I've applied for several teaching positions (tenure-track associate professor), but I've been told that the lack of teaching/lecturing experience (undergraduate students) is a problem.

Why would the selection committee see the lack of teaching experience as a deal-breaker?

I do understand that teaching requires a different set of skills than research. However, teaching skills can be learned, so is this a case of demonstrating the capability of learning such skills? If so, what would be some acceptable strategies for obtaining such skills?

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    Keep in mind: what universities consider as "desirable qualities" is highly non-uniform and varies greatly from institution to institution. Top tier universities may value having numerous papers in journals over any teaching experience. Liberal arts colleges may favor a candidate with more teaching experience than research. What kind of institutions are you applying to?
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 18:13
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    Re: obtaining teaching skills, does your university have a Center for Teaching/Learning? Such centers often provide workshops/courses on learning how to teach; participating in such events could help you build teaching skills and also look good when applying for teaching-focused jobs.
    – Aru Ray
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 18:36
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    Why would the selection committee see the lack of teaching experience as a deal-breaker? If you asked them questions like this, that probably didn't help. Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 22:17
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    More seriously, you have to view this from the department's perspective; it's true that they could cut you some slack while you learn to teach, but this is not something they regularly have to do for senior people. When they hire a postdoc or young assistant professor, they're used to the idea that there's some learning curve, and they can argue to administrators (who will be on their case about it) that a few missteps early on can be fixed. It's probably not clear to them that higher-ups will cut them this slack. Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 22:27
  • There are plenty of other people for them to hire, so presumably it's easy to pass over you (or any other candidate in a somewhat unusual situation). Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 22:30

2 Answers 2


It's true that teaching skills can be learned. But some people underestimate the amount of work required to do so, or do not commit to putting it in, or remain tied to ineffective philosophies of teaching, and thus do not become good teachers. Others do, but it takes them some time, and in the meantime they don't do as well.

All other things equal, a search committee would rather hire someone who has already been through this, and will be able to walk in and teach well from day one, rather than needing a potentially long period to adjust (during which they will have to explain to their dean why this new hire's teaching evaluations are so poor). Especially since you are applying at a more senior level (associate professor), your competitors likely have 5 years or more of teaching experience, and evaluations, letters, etc, that show that they are effective teachers. Lacking that, it's understandable that you would be at a significant disadvantage.

It seems to me that the most natural course of action would be to see if you can pick up some teaching at your current institution. Approach your chair and express your interest in teaching a class or two if the opportunity arises. There will likely come a time when the chair just can't get all the classes covered, and would ordinarily consider looking for an adjunct, visitor, or graduate student to teach a class - then she will think of you. If you pull it off with reasonable success, and make it known that you are receptive to continuing to teach, you will likely get more opportunities. Eventually you can build up sufficient experience to be a good candidate for a different job - or maybe you'll find that your existing job, plus occasional teaching, satisfies you after all. (Or maybe you'll find that you don't in fact enjoy teaching, and stick to the job you have.)

I'd think that this sort of gradual phase-in of teaching duties is likely to go better and be less stressful on the whole. Even if you were able to get a full-time teaching job, you'd likely be asked to start teaching 2-3 courses per semester right off the bat - with no prior experience, that can be a pretty severe shock.

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    You might also be able to teach at your current institution in the summer, when it can be harder to find teachers. Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 19:28
  • @NoahSnyder I've been at at least one institution where the opposite was true: there was actually competition for people to teach summer classes since they are shorter, and enabled people to travel during the semester. Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 22:12

Think of it in the reverse direction: Would you hire a person with tons of teaching experience for a research job? I think the same thing goes for someone with tons of research experience applying for a teacher position: It's a mismatch of skills that (like being overqualified for a job) renders you as a potential flight risk from the job. People want to hire candidates who are best fit for the tasks they are to perform; who don't have to struggle to acquire the skills to perform the job well.

You may be trying to reach for something that you're really not ready for yet. However, all hope is not lost. Instead of pursuing a professor position, try being an adjunct (part-time) instructor first. This will enable you to practice teaching and help you to understand if you really want to do this in the first place. If you are able to maintain the position over a period of time, and learn the ins and outs of being an educator, you'll be much more qualified for professor positions in the future.

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    +1 However, having a lot of research but little teaching experience does not make one "overqualified" for a teaching job, rather the contrary.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 18:12
  • As I mentioned in my comment, it really depends on the type of institutions you're applying to and whether they are more research or more teaching focused.
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 18:15
  • @xLeitix: You're right: it kinda makes one underqualified.
    – Paul
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 18:16

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