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I am asking this question because I simply do not know.

The story is that some department (northern continental Europe for what is worth) is (unofficially for the moment) negotiating an Assistant Professor position. The offered teaching/research load is 50-50 which sounds OK in theory.

In reality though, this translates to a minimum of 3 and an average of 4 full courses per year (38+ class hours on classes of about 100-120 students) plus supervision of bachelor's and master's candidates as well as administrative tasks. I can't possibly imagine how this is 50%.

On the other side of the spectrum, they do not offer any starting package whatsoever: no PhD students, not even basic equipment like laptop or traveling allowance, only a relatively good (for EU standards) salary with no additional benefits (married/child, whatever). They said that I should (imperative hint) apply for external funding (i.e., more work).

Thus my questions:

  1. Is this considered a true 50-50 research/teaching? I do not see how is this possible. It seems that for research would be only a modest 30% of the time and mostly during summer which is absurd for younger people (more ideas for new research). Even taking out research, this proposal is at least 60% teaching to me.

  2. Is this considered a normal offer? I would like to see other people's opinions/experiences.

The argument for the offer is basically: take any position that comes in the way, given that the academic job market can be brutal. But I am really afraid this would mean the end of my research at least in its current form, given also that I won't be able to even have any PhD student at least in the next 3 or so years at least, if I ever have them.

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    In my country, Italy, there's no starting package, whatever the position. You have to "bootstrap" yourself. – Massimo Ortolano Oct 4 '17 at 12:05
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    In Italy, PhD students are funded by the university (with money which arrives mostly from the government). Each PhD school has a number of positions available (for instance, we have 8 new positions each year): a professor who needs a PhD student writes a research proposal and if an admitted student likes it, they can accept it. However, if a professor is new to the department, it might take a few years before they can get one. And one usually doesn't get more than one PhD student per year. – Massimo Ortolano Oct 4 '17 at 12:17
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    How about a hint of what field we are talking about? Perhaps no startup package for Assistant Professor in Philosophy is normal, but in Engineering is not normal? – GEdgar Oct 4 '17 at 21:48
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    @GEdgar cs/applied maths – PsySp Oct 4 '17 at 22:02
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    What country are we talking about? I'm curious partly for personal reasons... – darij grinberg Oct 4 '17 at 22:09
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I am a fairly fresh tenure-track Assistant Professor in Sweden. Before that I have worked in Switzerland and Austria, and I also know the state of affairs in Germany fairly well.

The official teaching/research load is 50-50 which sounds OK. This translates to 3 courses (minimum) per year + bachelor + master student supervision + some administrative tasks.

In my current university, 50-50 is indeed normal, but only for tenured faculty. For tenure-trackers, a reduced teaching load of 20% or 25% seems more normal, but it depends on the position and, presumably, on the negotiation skill of the candidate. Note that 50-50 should indeed be understood as 50% teaching, 50% everything else.

Note that it is likely possible to buy out of teaching with grants - that is, if you bring in sufficient grants, it can be possible to fund yourself to a certain degree and consequently reduce your teaching percentage. You can ask about this during negotiations, but keep in mind that it is a risky business, as there is no guarantee of winning certain grants at the right time.

On the other side of the spectrum, they do not offer any starting package: no PhD students, not even equipment, only a relatively good (for EU standards) salary with no additional benefits (married/child, whatever).

This is again the standard also in my university - ok, you get some equipment and an informal travel allowance, but no PhD students and no real start-up package. In some cases you may be able to negotiate, but how successful this can be is limited.

Is this considered a normal offer?

Assuming we are talking about a junior professorship, and not a chaired W2/W3 professorship in Germany, then yes, this sounds fairly normal. Not great, mind you, but also not exceptionally bad. The only thing that sounds fairly high to me is the 50% teaching load.

That said, in my experience your fear of this being the end of your research career may be unwarranted. In my institution, people still regularly build up good research careers, by winning one or two grants and working intensely with a small but strong group of PhD students.

One good way to estimate this is by looking at senior assistant professors and freshly-tenured associate professors. How many students do they have? What have the published recently? If none publishes actively or was able to win significant grants, assume that they get side-tracked too much to get strong research done. If they do, assume that you will also be able to make it work.

Edit: I will add some more information on what a X% teaching load actually means, at least in my department.

Basically, there is a standard number of yearly work hours that is assumed for a full-time employee. If you take your X% from this total work hours, you end up with the number of hours that you are assumed to spend on bachelor- and master-level teaching. Every supervised bachelor or master's thesis, every capstone project, etc., is valued at a fixed, in our case fairly generous, supervision rate of "work hours".

For courses, one person in the department is managing the distribution, and this person basically attempts to calculate "real", or at least realistic, effort hours per course, which also includes prep time. For already established courses this coordinator will basically talk to the teachers and ask them how much time they really spent in the past, and what they spent it on (we are a fairly tight-knit division, so people tend to not lie too outrageously here, although most people probably "overestimate" a little bit). For new courses, an estimation will be made, also taking into account how much material can be reused and what really needs to be done from scratch.

All of this data goes into a big Excel sheet, with the goal that over multiple years each person should end up somewhere close to their expected number of teaching hours, including course teaching and supervision.

I said above that in practice a 50-50 teaching load means 50% teaching, 50% everything else - this is simply because the teaching hours are realistically the only thing we even attempt to track. Service and research are not really tracked in any meaningful way (large department service roles get a reduced teaching load, though). This also means that, obviously, if you work until deep into the night on your research, you are not suddenly expected to teach more because your total work hours are higher.

  • +1 for the suggestion to look at senior assistant professors and freshly-tenured faculty in the department. You may also be able to get a sense of how much they are teaching if they include courses on their CVs or webpages. – Dawn Oct 4 '17 at 17:53
  • Thanks for the answer! To add some relevant info: they said 50 teaching and 50 research but my interpretation is same as yours (the research has to be reduced to 30%, that's why I said the end of my research in its current form). 2nd, I talk about junior position but they hint that it might be possible a very fast tenure. 3rd, it seems that there are not many PhD students, and the few there are (about 5-7 in a 25 faculty member department) come from people who have grants. The quality is definitely average+ from what I have seen, but nothing exceptional. – PsySp Oct 4 '17 at 20:35
  • Which brings me to my final point: I am in a point of my career that I have a lot of energy and ideas to built up.Thus I do not want to be buried under a load of teaching/mentoring/administrative activities, at least not before I give a shot in securing some good funding (which can take something like 3 years). How negotiable is it? On the other hand, given the scarcity of position, I feel like I shouldn't complain but I am sure people here get my point :) – PsySp Oct 4 '17 at 20:43
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    @PsySp Nobody can tell from the outside how negotiatable your teaching load is. It depends a lot on the needs of the department - if they opened the position largely because they have an acute teaching need, no negotiation skill or candidate CV will convince them to hire somebody who primarily wants to do research. At the end of the day, you need to decide if you are willing to walk away if they remain steady at a 50-50 split. If yes you can play hardball and hope for the best. If not, you need to gauge if and when it is time to give in, hopefully meeting them at least somewhere in the middle. – xLeitix Oct 4 '17 at 21:09
  • If they remain steady for 50-50 in their own interpretation which will leave me with 30% research, probably I won't accept. Although teaching is fun, I do not want to dedicate my "best" years just teaching and there is absolutely no guarantee that i could even teach topics that i like (I am afraid they will say: take this semantic web or whatever and teach it) – PsySp Oct 5 '17 at 4:54
8

Continental Europe is big and diverse. I now work in Germany and teach 12 courses a year, so 3 a year sounds pretty good...

In the Netherlands, where the division of task is measured in percentages, these percentages were not expected to be strictly true. A given amount of courses had to be delivered by the department, and this work was divided over the members. The "percentage" was only used to determine whether you got a larger or smaller part of the work.

In the long run the percentages did play a role: If all members had to teach a lot more than their percentage for a number of years, then this could be used as an argument to try to increase the size of the department, which depending on the financial situation of the university, could be more or less successful.

A division in teaching/research is not that useful, as administrative tasks take a lot of time. My suspicion is that it is a division between teaching/non-teaching.

The need to get external funding is normal. You are right in your assessment that this costs time you cannot spent on research, but I don't think you can get a better deal in this respect anywhere else.

The need for starting packages and their size differs a lot by discipline. In mine I am not surprised that an assistant professor gets no starting package. However, this could differ a lot by country and discipline.

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    12 courses per year? That sounds unbelievable to me. I currently teach 2 courses per year and I must say that already around half of my time is devoted to these educational activities (not counting thesis supervision/administrative tasks). So, 3 courses, especially since I have to set them up from scratch, sounds more than 50%. Regarding funding: I am not familiar with Germany/Netherlands etc but, for example, in UK I think it is somewhat normal to get saome starting package (but maybe I am misinformed). Discipline = CS. – PsySp Oct 4 '17 at 12:01
  • @PsySp "since I have to set them up from scratch" Is this really a nonnegotiable requirement? I would surely try to convince them that it's a win-win situation if you are allowed to reuse some existing courses (freeing up time for your research and administrative duties). – lighthouse keeper Oct 7 '17 at 9:20
  • @lighthousekeeper It might be possible in general but, from what I have seen, I'd rather set up everything from scratch for the most probable courses that I would (like to) teach. Of course if they give me e.g. Calculus then no reason to set up everything, but for the courses near to my expertise I would like to change the entire curriculum to reflect more modern topics than the ones being taught atm. – PsySp Oct 7 '17 at 9:55
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    @PsySp Sounds fair, but especially when you have 3 courses to give, I'm sure there is wider scope of options than (a) create all 3 courses from scratch, or (b) use the outdated stuff. For example, you can (c) ask external colleagues for reusing their recent course material (possibly while offering your own material in exchange), or (d) use course material that is provided with up-to-date books (authors sometimes use this as a tool to advertise their books, which is fair). – lighthouse keeper Oct 7 '17 at 10:45
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    @PsySp I even forgot (e) co-create the course material with external colleagues who are also interested in your topics. – lighthouse keeper Oct 7 '17 at 10:54
5

In the UK, in a top-50 university, I had no starting package (as a Lecturer), and the promises of even competing for a PhD student were not fulfilled (they were assigned to more senior faculty). However I was able to compete for some internal funding and fought tooth and nail to continue publishing. Teaching load started at 8 hours per week and increased towards 12.

These reasons (and Brexit) prompted me to move. I managed to land as a tenure-track Assistant in a top-15 EU university (!). I was offered a starting package that should enable me to "buy" 2 PhDs. It's too early to tell how heavy the teaching load will be. Given the research intensive focus this university is supposed to have, I hope it won't be too bad.

  • 8-12 hours per week seems very high to me: for each contact hour you need at least one hour (and possibly two) of preparation, not including notes/assignments/solutions, office hours, exam preparation and correction. This goes to 60-70% teaching load, but maybe that's normal for Lecturer? – PsySp Oct 5 '17 at 4:52
  • The more research intensive universities in the UK, the "Russel Group" ones, are in the top-20, the one I was at is in the "post-1992" group and had a more vocational focus. That load was "normal" for lecturers who weren't interested in doing any research. But contractually there was no difference. It was only thanks to some internal funding that I was able to continue to research. Otherwise the only relatively free period was the summer, since lectures ended at the end of March. – TheWanderer Oct 5 '17 at 9:39
  • From what I understand, you talk about a teaching position. Are these positions the norm in UK universities (even outside the Russel group)? Moreover, besides the 2 PhDs, did they give you any other package (eg equipment etc)? I find it peculiar that they did not offer any kind of this, not even a discount, and I would like to know if that's the norm elsewhere. – PsySp Oct 5 '17 at 14:18
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    No at the UK university it was a "proper" lectureship. It wasn't a teaching fellowship. There wasn't a contractual split between teaching and research. In the minds of the admins we were perfectly capable of doing research in a hour here, a couple hours there and so on. Bit the other lecturers were perfectly content of teaching only and going home at 15 or 16. Although they were supposed of doing some research too. The new EU uni where I am now offered €100k. I chose to buy two PhDs because I didn't have any before but I could have used in other ways. Whatever is left after the scholarship wil – TheWanderer Oct 5 '17 at 14:32
  • Sounds like a great deal you have there! I am glad! The uni I am talking about is not among the 15 best, although a very decent one that "tries to keep balance between high quality teaching and research", but not a single EU besides my -decent- salary (not even child/married benefits!!!) – PsySp Oct 5 '17 at 14:37

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