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I got accepted into my dream program at one of the best universities in the US, and I'll be working under an excellent, very well known advisor whose interests align very well with mine. However, since I will likely be getting a multi-year fellowship, and due to how this specific program is structured, it seems that I won't be getting much TA experience, if any at all.

I love teaching and enjoy it very much, and I already have 2 years of TA experience as an undergrad. How much would it affect my future TT applications if I have a (hopefully) solid research record but not that much TA experience? I don't want to turn down this opportunity but might have to if it turns out I won't get the TA experience I want/need.

EDIT: My field is applied physics/electrical engineering/materials science (very interdisciplinary research area so in theory I could be hired by any of these departments). I hope to work at an R1 school.

  • What is your academic discipline and what type of school do you hope to teach at (e.g., R1 research school versus liberal arts university)? I've known people with no teaching experience getting hired for tenure track faculty positions. Also, look at the placement of your advisors students and as well as your program. Don't be afraid to ask your advisor where her or his students end up. – Richard Erickson Jan 30 '17 at 23:46
  • @RichardErickson thank you, I have clarified the question. I will be visiting the university soon before I make my final decision and will certainly discuss that with my prospective advisor, thanks for the tip. – Ash Jan 30 '17 at 23:52
  • Just as an aside, I do not think your undergrad TA experience will count for anything at all by the time you get to faculty applications. – Nate Eldredge Jan 31 '17 at 5:05
  • Thanks for clarifying! Given that you're in an applied field, and specifically engineering, I would not worry about the teaching experience as much as a someone in a "pure" science or other discipline. The faculty market for engineering PhDs is better than many other fields because the non-academic jobs tend to be more plentiful and better paying. – Richard Erickson Jan 31 '17 at 14:28
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Two years is probably enough, especially since your two years' of TAing went so well. You may want to concentrate on demonstrating yourself as a researcher now. However, if you have time to spare, I'm sure you could offer your services to the person in your department who coordinates TAs. As I probably don't need to tell you, you'd want to keep your advisor in the loop.

Consider that a fellow or research assistant is sometimes pressed into service to lecture in place of the advisor in case s/he has to miss one or more classes.

When you feel ready, you could expand on that idea, and ask someone (probably your advisor, but it could be someone else too) if you could be a guest lecturer for a particular topic in a particular class.

  • Thank you for the answer. I just wanted to clarify that these two years were early in my undergraduate career (late Freshman to early Junior year), and my recitations weren't as rigorous as those normally taught by a graduate TA. It has been around 3 semesters since I last taught (graduating senior now). The problem is that it seems likely I won't be able to land a TA position with this program (it's an interdepartmental program, not its own department). It's more focused on research and doesn't have many TA positions available. I likely wouldn't get one since I already have other funding. – Ash Jan 30 '17 at 23:55
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    I can't imagine any department turning down someone who wants to teach for free. Try a department with a lot of undergrads. Also, if you discover a need, for example if students are dropping Calc III like flies, and that's a personal area of strength for you, you could offer group tutoring sessions as a volunteer, of your own initiative. See Point 4 of academia.stackexchange.com/a/79893/32436. Once you've identified a need, all you have to do is plan your sessions, reserve a room, put up notices on bulletin boards, and make an electronic announcement. – aparente001 Jan 31 '17 at 0:06
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    I can readily imagine that. Labor laws are likely to forbid having anyone teach for free, as are union contracts where applicable. – Nate Eldredge Jan 31 '17 at 5:02
  • @Nate: Some departments are chronically short of TAs, and are happy to pay grad students an extra supplement for teaching in addition to the RA. They get an extra TA at a ridiculously cheap price (since they won't be double paying tuition, and they won't be doubling the stipend). – Peter Shor Jan 31 '17 at 11:28
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If you love teaching, you should volunteer for one or two terms of it in your graduate career. I think most grad schools will let you TA if you want to, even if you don't have to in order to earn your stipend. You may even be able to negotiate a small amount of extra money in addition to your fellowship in terms when you're teaching.

There are many colleges that consider teaching a priority, and these will be much more reluctant to hire you if you didn't teach in graduate school (some of these colleges have extremely good undergraduates). Two terms of TA-ing with good ratings should be enough for these colleges to decide how good a teacher you are. You'll still have most of your terms free of teaching duties, so it won't interfere with your research much, and you'll keep your career options open.

Students who don't like teaching should ignore this advice. You might rather go into industry than get a job at a college that considers teaching a priority and expects you to do it well.

  • Edit says the want to work at an R1. I guess they don't love teaching. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 31 '17 at 4:24
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    Of course they want to work at an R1. So do a lot of other people in academia. But isn't it a good idea to have backup plans in case your first choice of career doesn't work out? There are way more graduating PhDs from good schools than there are tenure-track positions at R1s. Not to mention that a few of the R1 universities are actually looking for good teachers in their hires. – Peter Shor Jan 31 '17 at 4:50
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    @AnonymousPhysicist: "I love teaching and enjoy it very much" --OP – Nate Eldredge Jan 31 '17 at 5:05
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I do not know of many schools that will overlook a candidate with a strong research record because she/he has not done "enough" (whatever that means) TA.

Teaching experience is something you easily acquire with time. Research abilities are not something you acquire so easily with the years.

TA duties take on many forms and, if possible, consider marking or leading tutorials for upper level courses. Not only are such duties challenging, they also allow you to productively brush up on some topics while being paid.

  • I think there are tons of schools where a good teaching record will help get you hired. These aren't all top-ranked research universities, but not everybody can get a job at top-ranked research university. And you seem to assume that everybody graduating from an R1 research school has a strong research record. That's just not true. – Peter Shor Jan 31 '17 at 2:08
  • I also think the advice to "consider marking" is just wrong ... that doesn't demonstrate your teaching abilities to anybody, and if you don't have to do it I don't see any reason why you should. – Peter Shor Jan 31 '17 at 2:08
  • "Teaching experience is something you easily acquire with time." Not true, demand is low. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 31 '17 at 4:22
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If you wish to be a Professor of Physics at an "R1" research-focused school, TAing experience will be only weakly considered. You will be judged on your publications, awards, and reputation. Teaching competence is better demonstrated by teaching as instructor of record.

In short, giving up TAing and producing more research results with that time is a wise strategy for your goals.

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    On the other hand, it puts all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. If you don't get an R1 tenure-track job, and relatively few do, a lack of teaching experience will be a serious hindrance in getting a job at a less research-active institution. – Nate Eldredge Jan 31 '17 at 5:00
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    I think this is too strongly put. Teaching can be valued at R1 schools, and the cynical advice to "give up TAing" when it is something a student loves is a little too much. Yes, you will be primarily judged by your research. Yes, you should not let TAing harm your productivity. But loving teaching should not be a bar to an R1 position, and eliminating those things you love from a job make you much less likely to do well at it. – AJK Jan 31 '17 at 5:40

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