14

Context

I am graduating from a Bachelor's degree (Computer Science) at the end of the year from a fairly large Australian university (top50 world). I am keen for a lecturing role (only teaching) at the university I am graduating from, specifically in the introductory computing subject (equivalent of Computing 101).

I am aiming for a lecturer (employment position), not lectureship (academic position, e.g. associate professor/professor). I assume that it will most likely be on a casual basis.

I have a great deal of previous teaching experience in computing areas. I have two years of experience as a course tutor for the same subject I plan to lecture for. This involves two hours of lecturing to a class of 20 students, plus four hours of lab assistance a week.

Things I am aware of

  • Lecturers normally get picked from the researchers. I imagine this is to save the costs of hiring a dedicated lecturer (correct me if I am wrong).
  • Lecturers normally are PhDs. My faculty has had several exceptions, notably in the COMP101 subject and the Programming Competitions subject. (bachelor's lecturer and undergrad lecturer respectively).
  • Even if I am successful, my job security will be nonexistent. I am okay with this.
  • My faculty is on a fairly tight budget.

Things I am doing

  • Trying to get a recommendation from existing lecturers I know. This may be difficult, because they are risking their reputation on a somewhat dodgy applicant.
  • Asking existing non-researcher lecturers how they got hired
  • Actively undertaking volunteer work in educational groups

Questions I am often asked

  • Why don't you teach for high school instead? Because I would be teaching on a much smaller scale (i.e. class of ~10 people) and making little impact. Because Australia's technology curriculum is miserable.
  • Why don't you do a PhD? I wish to avoid research. I believe I can be a good lecturer, and that I can make the course more interesting, and I think I can do that without a PhD. Sorry if I offended anyone.
  • Aren't you unqualified for the job? Are my academic qualifications substandard? Yes. Am I unlikely to get the job? Yes. Would I be a worse lecturer? Absolutely not. For an introductory subject, enthusiasm, empathy and communication are far more important than a postgraduate qualification.

So, my concluding question is:

What can I do to improve my chances of being hired?

_

Thanks to your great answers, I am considering:

  • Focusing on a casual instructor-type lecturer rather than a full-time academic position
  • Getting more industry experience (I have had only two previous software jobs).
  • Master's in CS or Education (preferably overseas)
  • Working (possibly for free) for an education company (coursera, openlearning, etc.)
  • Education startup
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    My faculty has had several exceptions ... and ... bachelor's lecturer and undergrad lecturer respectively.... Have you asked them the question: How did they get hired? – scaaahu Feb 19 '15 at 7:28
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    What training have you done in education? Enthusiasm, empathy and communication are all well and good, but learning how to teach well is valuable. Having even a dual major in education shows that you're serious about it, and should help you succeed once you get there. – Telastyn Feb 19 '15 at 14:35
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    Can you clarify what the position of "lecturer" entails in Australia? In the US, that title usually applies to a job whose only duties are teaching. In the UK, I believe it's a step on the way to Professor and involves research. – Nate Eldredge Feb 19 '15 at 14:45
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    "Even if I am successful, my job security will be nonexistent. I am okay with this." You may be now, but I am sure you won't be so in the future. That means that, among other things, from your low salary (per the tight budget), you would have to put aside a large chunk, just in case. And if you get fired, you would find yourself outdated in industry, competing with freshly graduates or with industry seasoned applicants. – Davidmh Feb 19 '15 at 16:09
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    Oh, and you said "Lecturers normally get picked from the researchers. I imagine this is to save the costs of hiring a dedicated lecturer (correct me if I am wrong)." I believe you are wrong, because, as I said, research is actually considered to be an important part of the job of a lecturer (in Australia, New Zealand and the UK). – Tara B Feb 19 '15 at 16:28
20

Gain specific professional experience in the subject you want to teach.

In my (engineering) department, all of the teaching staff who do not hold PhDs (or are not current PhD students) have industry experience in the subject they are teaching.

In other words, if you are a professional penetration tester, you may be hired to teach computer security. If you work for a major telecom, you may be hired to teach computer networks. Kickstart a successful electronics startup, and you may be hired to teach circuits. You get the idea.

The point is to have some domain-specific expertise you can bring to the table (because university professors are supposed to be subject matter experts, or at least be able to pretend to be). If it's not from research, professional experience can also work.

  • That's awesome! I didn't think of that. I'm not sure what industry experience is relevant to introductory computing, but I'll try to come up with something. – icedtrees Feb 19 '15 at 8:59
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    @icedtrees the point is to become an expert in the field, to be able to bring a good direction and insight to the introductory courses. For introduction to Programming, you would want to become a successful industry programmer, that knows what things are the essential foundation of a good, large project. – Davidmh Feb 19 '15 at 14:21
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    @icedtrees I wish they were all like that, but some of them were definitely, and it was a pleasure. From my perspective, already in first year, I could see a big difference between the professors that just knew enough of the particular topic, and the ones that had a deep understanding. Also, currently you can only teach a very small subset of the courses. This is not so good for the university, as they cannot adapt to a change in teaching load. – Davidmh Feb 19 '15 at 16:03
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    @Davidmh a good point about the flexibility in teaching load. This suggests getting an industry specialisation to expand expertise range is a good idea. – icedtrees Feb 19 '15 at 16:15
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    Don't worry so much about that. It won't take you long to have more than enough industry experience to get in somewhere as an introductory co-sci lecturer. Especially in schools that are not teaching traditional computer science but have a need for teaching computer programming like design/architecture/linguistics programs. Once you get started if you're helpful and can help develop new and better curriculum you can keep going from there. This won't get you in at Stanford, but might get you in somewhere like SCAD. – Dave Kanter Feb 19 '15 at 20:41
10

Part of the problem with academia right now is that supply (the number of unemployed or underemployed PhDs) greatly outnumbers the number of positions available. One of my colleagues told me he got 400 applications for just one t-t position, this isn't unusual.

Thus, universities don't have to lower their selection criteria in order to find willing and able candidates for even the worst of academic jobs -- the per-course, per-semester adjunct lecturer.1

Unless you are a relatively Famous Person®, it'll be very difficult to get past even the initial screening for a lectureship without a PhD at a university.

You may have much better luck at community-colleges, technical colleges, online colleges, and polytechnics -- but even there, the economics of oversupply have meant jobs are tight for all.

Fn1: There is so much competition in the USA that some adjuncts are paid less than $1500 per course-semester -- that means that even if they taught a 5:5 schedule (10 courses a year), they would still meet the US federal poverty guidelines for food stamps.

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    @icedtrees: Are the non-PhD lecturers recent hires? They may have started a time when the job market was very different. And qualifications to be a course tutor are really not at all related to those for a lecturer. – Nate Eldredge Feb 19 '15 at 15:44
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    Undergrads are even cheaper than adjuncts (especially if they are work-study indentured laborers).... – RoboKaren Feb 19 '15 at 15:47
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    If you think you can have quality while teaching a 5:5 load, I have a bridge in Kansas to sell you. See my link to the adjunct project (the actual range is between $1000-4000 or so): adjunct.chronicle.com – RoboKaren Feb 19 '15 at 15:54
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    I would only note this is rather field specific on the academic market - a PhD in an Accounting, for instance, is considered still so rare that my chats with faculty in the business department indicate they can't even get enough applicants to have a hope of hiring one, even though the offered salary is nearly twice that of other faculty. In English even it differs by sub-field, as for instance if you are a Dicken's scholar you'd better be famous, yet if you are in business/technical communication... And in computing for three years running my institution had 3 open slots they could not fill. – BrianH Feb 19 '15 at 16:14
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    True that. Again, check the Adjunct Project's data to get a sense of the disparity between fields, between schools, and between geographic locales. Your mileage will certainly vary. – RoboKaren Feb 19 '15 at 16:20
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My answer might be a little unpleasant. Please do not take any of it personally, because I do not know you and I really wish you the best. However, there are certain things that must be told.

"I wish to avoid research". I believe I can be a good lecturer" ..."and I think I can do that without a PhD".

This is wrong. Part of teaching in a university should be dedicated on helping students (even undergraduates) how to do research. How can you teach something you know nothing of? Lecturers should be able to supervise theses and guide those students with potential to really flourish. How can you guide a student like that, when (and this is the really bad part) you do not even WANT to do research?

Also, as ff524 has already posted in her excellent answer, you have no industrial experience and therefore you only know CS from what you learnt in the university. In case your students want to enter industry, they should learn how to do that by an expert. Again, with no industry experience, how can you tell them of good software practises, facilitate those techniques in your class, teach them to write software reports, do debugging, when you have not actually practised it on a large scale outside the university?

Wanting to teach is a noble cause. But people should start small. You cannot simply teach in a high-ranked university with no real-world working experience and without a PHD degree. A PHD is not only learning to do research but TAing, supervising theses and get a grasp of how the university "works". If teaching is really your call, you should start from private facilities towards certifications (e.g., Oracle) although even then people will ask you first to succeed in those certifications yourself, before teaching them. Still, those classes are smaller and therefore you can learn the ropes in a more fail-safe environment. Then after a few years of experience and multiple teaching hours under your belt, you might realize that a) teaching is not really that fun or b) It is fun for YOU and this is really what you want to do. Then you must start striving towards your goal to teach at a university.

In a nutshell, wanting to be a lecturer at university in a Western World country, without a PHD and without industrial experience and straight out of your BSc is highly unrealistic. Gain some experience (teaching and industry as ff524 suggested) and then come back in a few years.

  • 9
    This is a bit of a philosophical question, but I am convinced that there are indeed plenty of introductory (and, to a lesser extend, other) courses in a CS curriculum that definitely don't require a or profit from a teacher with an advanced degree. – xLeitix Feb 19 '15 at 13:14
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    @xLeitix, that may be true, but how many universities, in Australia, are large enough to have enough introductory CS courses to hire non-PhDed lecturers to teach them? I think Alexandros is right that the odds of this are very, very small. It's unlikely that there are enough courses to maintain even one full-time, non-research lecturer. If teaching at a university is OPs dream, then they'd be better served by getting started on grad school applications than applying fruitlessly to lecturer positions that they cannot get. – Bill Barth Feb 19 '15 at 13:21
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    The university I work with lecturers do have to supervise theses and dissertations. And "more interestingly and clearer way" is definitely not good enough for an University to employ you over someone with PhD, unless as others suggested, you have outstanding experience elsewhere. To be frank university do not care teaching as much as we all wish to believe, and if you are certainly not interested in research, community college would be a better choice for you. – ceoec Feb 19 '15 at 15:22
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    @icedtrees, that's good you know the sad truth already. And yes, don't put that's as an objective or you might annoy someone in the department teaching the course. Good luck with your application! – ceoec Feb 19 '15 at 15:31
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    I applaud your note that research CAN be a part of what is taught in a class, but this is a rather research-centric view of the world and you didn't note any qualification to such a statement. Liberal arts education as a philosophy doesn't require - or sometimes even include - research, and professional courses often don't either. An educational program that is designed to prepare students for industry might have no special interest or use in research at all - many existing programs pay only the barest lip-service to research, especially at teaching/4-year US institutions. – BrianH Feb 19 '15 at 16:21
8

I am going to try to focus on your specific question: ways to increase the chance of getting hired. I'll try to avoid digressing into a discussion of the pros and cons of such a career, but I'd recommend you explore those further - my impression from your questions and comments is that you don't yet have a clear sense of what such a job is like. Also, my answer will be based on the situation in academia in general, based on my knowledge of it: it is always possible that your university is a significant outlier.

Since there is a lot of confusion over job titles across countries, in this post I'll use the word instructor to refer to a person who teaches in a university, and has full responsibility for the classes they teach. It should be distinguished from a teaching assistant whose teaching is done under the supervision of an instructor. In general, the basic qualifications to be hired as an instructor are content expertise and a record of successful university teaching.

Content Expertise

One of the features that most strongly distinguishes university education from high school is that teaching is done by content experts - people whose knowledge of their content area goes well beyond the introductory level. Have you ever had a teacher who you felt was learning their material one chapter ahead of the students? At a university, the goal is to get as far from that situation as possible. The most basic way to demonstrate a level of expertise is to earn a postgraduate degree. At many universities, a masters degree is an absolute minimum requirement for any instructor, and a doctorate is usually preferred.

I think it is easy for people to underestimate the importance of this. After all, if you learned calculus your first year of college, why should you need to take 5-8 years of more advanced classes (many not involving calculus in any obvious way) before you can teach it? But in my personal experience, I think that having deeper experience in mathematics (a doctorate and research) really has helped me understand calculus - what it can be used for, different ways to interpret its results, how it relates to other parts of mathematics - at a much deeper level than I could as a college freshman, or even as a college graduate. And it benefits my teaching: I can help students make connections, discover alternate approaches, etc, in a way that I couldn't do otherwise.

(In particular, it is not likely to be helpful to take the point of view that you don't need a postgraduate degree because it won't help you teach. For one thing, the people hiring you are the university faculty - they will almost all have postgraduate degrees, and won't take kindly to someone suggesting they are of little value.)

It's quite unusual for someone with only a bachelor's degree to be a university instructor, and it would be extremely unusual for someone without a bachelor's degree. I'm rather startled to hear you mention that your university has such people working as instructors. (Is it possible they are actually teaching assistants?) If it's really the case, this may not be a good sign - it may suggest that your university is operating below international academic standards.

Research experience beyond the PhD is viewed as an even stronger sign of content expertise. If you aren't interested in research, then you should know that this is going to work to your detriment when you compete with people who have been active in research.

In some cases, there can be alternative ways to demonstrate an appropriate level of expertise. In some fields, industry or clinical experience can serve as a sign of expertise, even if you don't have a postgraduate degree. But it usually has to be pretty significant - the institution wants to be convinced that your work in the field has been extensive enough to fill in any gaps in your formal education. And part of the benefit of hiring someone with industry experience is that their teaching can be oriented toward techniques, tools, approaches, etc, that are actually widely used in industry - so they will want to be convinced that your experience is broad enough that your sense of industry standards is accurate. (For instance, if you only worked at one company that had some oddball approach, you might have a skewed view that this was common in the industry - if you train your students only in the oddball approach, they won't be well prepared for other industry jobs.) So I'd say they'd want you to have pretty extensive industry experience - maybe 10 years or more. If you are thinking of going into industry as a back door into academia, realize that you are playing a very long game, with no guarantee of success.

In any case, you should expect that you will be competing against other applicants who have masters and doctoral degrees, and that, all other things equal, those candidates will likely get preference.

A Record of Successful Teaching Experience

For an instructor-level teaching position, most employers would expect that you have experience teaching at the university level. You don't have to have had experience as an instructor - it can suffice to have worked as a teaching assistant. But they definitely want to see that you have taught university-level content to university students, preferably for several semesters, and that it went well. Often, they want to see evidence of your success, in the form of letters of recommendation from faculty who supervised your teaching, student evaluations, or similar data. Enthusiasm and idealism ("I love the thought of teaching," "I have great ideas to revolutionize teaching," etc.) will not substitute for actual experience.

The most common way for people to start gaining this experience is, again, graduate school. Most graduate programs have the option for students to work as teaching assistants, often as a requirement of funding. You may not have full responsibility for your classes, but at least you are working in a university classroom and learning to address the challenges of teaching.
Your experience as a "course tutor" sounds like sort of a light version of this - a good start, but far less than a successful applicant would be expected to have.

In some cases, teaching assistants get greater autonomy, and have the ability to essentially run their own class with minimal interference from supervisors - such experience is a plus. Also, many applicants for a university instructorship will have already had experience as an instructor at other institutions; in some cases several years. So you should expect to be competing against people with such backgrounds.

I want to mention a special case of your situation - you're thinking of applying at an institution you've attended as a student. To a hiring department, this has pros and cons. Of course, they know you, and they know you are familiar with their institution's system and culture. But on the other hand, there is a benefit in bringing in people with outside experience who can broaden the "gene pool" - if they keep hiring their own people, they may get stuck in a cycle of suboptimal practices which everyone just thinks are normal. On balance, all other things being equal, I think most institutions will prefer not to hire their own students. But if you go elsewhere for a graduate degree, or otherwise get experience of the academic world outside your current institution, that would help.

On the flip side, it's easy as a student to fall in love with your undergraduate institution, think it's the best place ever, and want to work there forever. Honestly, it's probably not prudent until you have seen other places as well - your view is likely to be skewed. Also, if you did get such a job, having your entire education and career at one institution is likely to be a detriment if and when you want to seek another academic job.

Summary

If you want a university teaching job, the most straightforward first step is to earn a masters degree in your content area and work as a teaching assistant. You can then start to test the waters and see what kinds of jobs you might be able to get. But it's entirely possible that you will have a very hard time getting hired without a PhD and/or further university teaching experience.

It would also be a good idea to talk to faculty at your institution who know you well - perhaps academic advisors - and let them know this is a career that interests you. They will be more likely to have advice specifically relevant to your field and the job market in your area.

  • Very nice answer. – Pete L. Clark Feb 19 '15 at 17:46
  • Liked your comments on calculus. And there's a HUGE difference between knowing something and being able to teach it...as I found out my very first day of teaching! – Dave Kanter Feb 19 '15 at 20:44
  • You make some great points! Clarification: undergrads are common as unsupervised instructors, on a small scale (20) people. not on a large scale. Agree that further depth creates additional insight into introductory content, but with diminishing returns. I have 4 semesters unsupervised exp. so masters+more exp. looks like the next step. – icedtrees Feb 19 '15 at 22:59
  • Excellent answer. To add, I teach in Australia, and the positions are highly competitive with an expectation that someone who completes contract or tenured lecturing will also be producing research. Each level of an academic has a particular expectation to take on 2-3 units a year (depending on their teaching/research/admin points) alongside a publication output expectation and grant-money earning expectation. – awsoci Feb 19 '15 at 23:19
6

There's already a lot of good advice here, but I'll risk redundancy and enter the fray ...

@icedtrees, the problem here isn't your motivation - it's your inexperience. It's awesome that you want to teach, but the problem is that, from both an academic and a professional point of view, you don't really have much to offer.

I'll depart a little bit from the question of whether you need a PhD and instead focus on the fact that, from a computer science standpoint, you are woefully underqualified to teach, even at the basic level. I'm not saying this to offend you - I'm simply trying to help you understand why, as an individual without research or practical experience, you're not likely to be considered as a candidate to teach.

I completely understand that you don't want to research. Not everyone is built for research, and it's not the only way to make a contribution to the field. For many, their contribution to computer science is through actually working in the field and becoming an expert in certain practices and applications. That's completely fine. As far as I can tell, most successful developers don't have PhDs in computer science. What they do have, however, is loads of experience. Simply put, you don't.

The only experience you have is your college education, which, as admirable as it is to have completed it, offers you only the beginning of a glimpse into the world of programming. Your knowledge of computer science extends only as far as the curricula you have encountered - and even then, you likely only recall some of it (at best). You've not been pushed to actually apply it in a professional environment, and therefore, you're unprepared to lecture others. Most developers and computer scientists will tell you that the bulk of your learning happens outside the classroom. You'll learn more about the logic, philosophy, and practice of programming in your first year in the job market than you will in four years of undergraduate study.

Ask yourself this - is simply having passed a driver's education course enough to qualify one to teach 'intro to driving'? Sure, you've successfully received your driver's license, but that's only the beginning of your experience with driving.

It sounds like you could probably do well for yourself by setting out a five year plan. Why not complete a 2-year master's degree in computer science, and then seek out employment for at least three years? After five years, you'll not only be much more attractive on paper, but you'll have the confidence and experience to help instruct those who are just entering into the field. This would allow you to get your foot in the door without completing a large research project.

  • That is similar to my thoughts. I initially just wasn't sure whether industry exp would actually be all that valuable. – icedtrees Feb 19 '15 at 22:49
3

As the question is about computing and IT, there is another way in. In some UK universities there are “instructors” these are people that teach but don’t do research, instead they run the universities IT systems.

In the first year programming courses there is a great demand for lab supervisors to help the students with their programmer labs, as well as interview the students to check that they have written the program themselves.

If you can get to work at the university in IT, you can then see if you can become a lab supervisor for a few hours a week. Then once you have proved yourself, you MAY get the option to do more teaching.

  • Sorry, this is not clear in the question. I have been doing this for 2 years, and I hope this will help springboard my application to become a lecturer. – icedtrees Feb 19 '15 at 16:03
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    @icedtrees, I think it is more like you get called a instructors or lecturer after you have been doing this for many years and also lectured for many years without the job description. – Ian Feb 19 '15 at 16:09
2

As a level-A lecturer in Australia, I can add the more specific expectations you'll have to meet should you wish to lecture in a university setting and the difficulty in getting a position in Australia.

Full time lecturers (either on contracts or tenured) have to meet a set of expectations that exceed teaching duties. The level of these expectations are also determined by your level (A-E). A level A position is rarely given for teaching (you see it much more often as a researcher position), and when it does occur, it is often an internal hire of a finishing postgraduate who has either just completed their PhD/MA or is close to doing so in that same department/school. Generally, this postgraduate will already have experience in teaching, lecturing and coordinating units as a sessional contract. Getting sessional contracts are generally word-of-mouth (I know so-and-so) or offered by your thesis supervisor if you are studying at the university. It is very (and I mean VERY) rare that they are advertised, and if they are, only internally.

Level A (for lecturing) are generally not advertised on job boards, you'll often see Level B-C as advertised positions, and levels D-E sometimes advertised or done through word-of-mouth. The expectations that you'll have to meet, apart from your teaching duties include:

  1. Publishing a set amount of publications, where a % of those publications are in quality/high impact journals as determined by the university/faculty
  2. Attracting a set amount of grant money
  3. Supervising postgraduate students and meeting a % for successful completion for said students
  4. Associated administrative work, such as coordinating honours degrees for your discipline, setting up/running seminars or conferences, etc
  5. Joining research committees and being part of professional organisations

These will be based on set targets, either yearly, or every 3 years and so on. Some universities, such as the one I teach at, do not have set expectations for a Level A, but it is expected that you attempt to reach Level B targets (which will also help with academic promotion).

Most Australian universities want lecturers who can be on the cutting edge of research, and use that knowledge to teach their courses. It is also very, very competitive out there in Australia, there are plenty of PhDs with publications, research experience and so on who can't even get their foot into the door. They also want international scholars to beef up their reputations.

It's fantastic that you want to teach, but if you don't want to do any research, your options are very limited for university lecturing. The more post-grads that complete their degrees (many of which will have teaching experience), the harder it is going to be for you to get your foot in the door when competing against others for jobs. Australia also does not have the abundance of universities and technical colleges available that a place like the US has, so this limits your options even further. Australia has approx 43 universities, 18 TAFE/polytechnic colleges and 19 private colleges. The US has approx 2,618 (not verified) accredited institutions (which I think includes both colleges/universities).

This is by no means discouragement! It's just outlining the reality of teaching in Australia, and thinking about what you need to do to get there. You might have better success at teaching at TAFE/Colleges than in university if you don't want to do research, since it's all about skill, industry experience and practical learning.

  • Huge amount of useful information! This seems to suggest multiple alternatives: casual instructorship, moving to a less competitive country, TAFE. It seems like using research as a gateway to lecturing is not an option, since I would have to continue my research duties forever. – icedtrees Feb 20 '15 at 3:39

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