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Suppose a person spends their PhD at an institute with a high ratio of PhD students to other students, resulting in a very low teaching load for PhD students, resulting in no or almost no teaching/tutoring. Suppose he/she spends years in postdocs, where each postdoc is funded by supervisor grants, and involves no teaching. She/he does great science but does not acquire other skills or experience.

Consider that tenure-track positions always require stellar experience in research, teaching and getting proposals funded — all of the above.

Is it harmful to an academic career if research is great, but all done on other people's grants and with no teaching experience to speak of? If yes, how could one prevent or overcome this?

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    I have learned from this site that the answer to this question is very field-specific: in some parts of the sciences it is not assumed that a beginning tenure-track assistant professor has any prior experience as an instructor of record whatsoever. In some other fields -- in particular, in mathematics -- this would indeed be a concern (how much depending on the institution). Also the phrasing "leeching [off] of other people's grants" seems unnecessarily loaded. – Pete L. Clark Feb 24 '15 at 4:51
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    @PeteL.Clark I removed the leeching phrase, I agree that it is not necessary. – gerrit Feb 24 '15 at 4:55
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    teaching experience/caring about teaching can be demonstrated in other ways than teaching an official course at your college. You can get some outreach experience by teaching a short course for advanced grade school students, or by doing other forms of educational outreach. These things can help an applicant if they have no official teaching experience. – WetlabStudent Feb 24 '15 at 5:24
  • When I applied to several universities for tenure track positions, the calls I received for interviews did ask me for student evaluation records to be presented to them when I visited them for an on-campus interview. This was not a mandatory requirement for the application itself but it (teaching graduate/undergraduate courses) seemed to have a bearing on the final outcome (hire or not to hire). Of course, if you were to apply to a research only university, teaching exp may not count as significantly. I Suppose you would want to target univs/institutes based on their goal/strategic plan? – dearN Feb 24 '15 at 7:26
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    Tenure-track positions do not always require stellar experience in all of those - or only light experience in them, if there is strength elsewhere. Consider, for example, tenure track positions with few to no actual students, which do exist. – Fomite Feb 24 '15 at 19:18
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It depends. At my R1 university where the only thing that counts is research, you would be an ideal candidate for our hiring committees.

At other R1s which balance research against a modicum of teaching, you might face a little bit of an uphill struggle. It might be good if you could at least pick up some teaching experience or certification1 to help you in the job market.

You face the most problems at small liberal arts colleges, where you would face two issues:

  • The concern that you don't know how (or really care) to teach
  • The concern that you would think yourself ultimately destined for R1s and thus leave the SLAC at the first opportunity possible

You would have to counter these two prejudices in your job letter and interviews.


1. Even at my august institution, we're realizing our graduates are having problems on the job market because they have little to no teaching experience. So we have instituted a teaching and learning center where they can take seminars and workshops on pedagogic methods. They get a little annotation (certification) to this effect on their transcripts. Certainly not comparable to the teaching experience that doctoral students receive at public R1s.

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    +1. If you don't have much experience teaching, you need to not also broadcast that you don't want to teach if you're applying to a SLAC. Similarly, if you don't have funded grants and are applying at an R1, you should have a reason beyond "I can't be bothered". – Fomite Feb 24 '15 at 19:19
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    @RoboKaren: What you say is true...but describing your institution as an "R1 university" seems to be modest to the point of potentially misleading. I am also at an R1 insitution....and though we certainly prioritize research over teaching, teaching still counts for something. In fact I recently gave a very strong postdoc who came to visit me the advice that he should teach at least one course even though his prestigious fellowship has no teaching responsibilities whatsoever. This guy is amazing...but there is essentially no one who is only looking for jobs at the very top places. – Pete L. Clark Feb 25 '15 at 3:13
  • @PeteL.Clark - thanks. I keep forgetting that my institution is not the center of the universe. Ptolemaic replaced by a bit more of Copernicus. – RoboKaren Feb 25 '15 at 14:33
  • What field are you in? Would you say that your description applies equally well to all fields at your school? – Ben Crowell Feb 27 '15 at 16:04
  • I'm an anthropologist but all departments at my institution view research as of paramount value. Even an ethnomusicologist in the Music Department was not renewed -- despite being an accomplished musician and teacher. – RoboKaren Feb 27 '15 at 17:51
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The answer depends a lot on the particular institution but even within an institution there are likely to be significant differences between academic departments.

In mathematics, many post-doc positions include some opportunity for the post-doc to teach a bit (e.g. one course per year.) I'd advise anyone in that situation to take advantage of the opportunity to get some teaching experience. Several universities have positions for early career mathematicians that combine a half time teaching load with plenty of institutional support for research- these look really good on a resume. Visiting Assistant Professor (limited term non tenure track teaching only) positions are also quite common in mathematics. These are a great way to get teaching experience, but you'll have a hard time doing any research while in such a position.

In the mathematics department that I work in, teaching experience is a significant issue. However, I've been on search committees in other STEM departments at our institution where most candidates had no teaching experience to speak of and this wasn't an important issue.

With respect to grant funding, it can be quite hard for post-docs to get experience writing grants since they typically aren't allowed to be PI on a grant while in a post-doc. However, any experience in writing proposals (even just helping your advisor to write a proposal) is a big plus in my opinion.

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    I don't know any mathematics postdocs in the US that have a teaching load of one course per year. Could you help me out here? – Pete L. Clark Feb 25 '15 at 3:16
  • Some good examples of combined post-doc/teaching positions in mathematics include the John Wesley Young Instructorships at Dartmouth College (which have a one course per quarter teaching load) and a similar program at the University of Utah. Less formally, it's often possible for a research post-doc to arrange to teach a course and be paid by the department to do so in place of salary from the research grant. I interviewed a candidate last week who had taught one course in this way for each of the last two years while working primarily as a research postdoc. – Brian Borchers Feb 25 '15 at 4:51
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    One course per term is a much more standard load for a postdoc, sure. And, sure, if you don't have any required teaching than you often can (and often should, IMO) arrange to teach a bit here and there. I just took your first sentence as meaning that "one course per year" was a common standard teaching load for a postdoc. I guess I interpreted it too literally: sorry about that. (I am after all a mathematician...) – Pete L. Clark Feb 25 '15 at 5:23
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At many institutions, research is all that matters. If you're at an institute with a light teaching burden for your PhD students, it stands to reason that there may not be all that much teaching for the faculty to do. For example, at my graduate institution, faculty taught at most a class or so a year.

Similarly, if you have clearly thought about grants, have a submission plan, etc., they may overlook not having submitted grants if there was a rational reason for that, like recognizing the need to support a much larger grant effort over funding a smaller postdoctoral-level grant.

Basically, it doesn't need to kill your application, but you should be able to articulate what direction you will go in the future for research, teaching and grant writing.

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