A crude statistical summary of the teaching experience of recently-hired N. American TT ecology faculty

Note: Jeremy is traveling so comment moderation may be slow.

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So, how much teaching experience do you need to get hired as a tenure-track assistant professor in ecology or an allied field in North America? What sort of teaching experience does it have to be? Is it enough just to be a TA, or do you have to serve as an instructor of record, or what? And how do the answers to those questions vary by type of institution?

I compiled data to answer those questions, using my nearly-comprehensive list of people hired into TT asst. professor positions in ecology and allied fields in N. America in 2017-18. The results were really interesting! And somewhat unusually for my faculty job market data posts, those data imply some very clear-cut advice for ecology faculty job seekers.

Methods

I googled for the cv’s of 2017-18 hires at bachelor’s colleges, and at R1 universities. I did that to roughly bracket the range of possibilities, since it would’ve been too time consuming to go back and check the cv’s of 170+ new hires from 2017-18. On average, bachelor’s colleges presumably care a lot about teaching experience. On average, R1 universities presumably care less about teaching experience.

I found the cv’s of 16 bachelor’s college hires, and 29 R1 uni hires. Many recent hires don’t put their cv’s online, but I have no reason to think that those who do are a statistically-biased subset of all recent hires with respect to their teaching experience. For each person whose cv I found, I noted which if any of the following they had done before being hired into their current position:

  • served as an instructor of record
  • served as a co-instructor
  • served as a teaching assistant (TA). I lumped “lab instructors” and “lab demonstrators” in with TAs. Some colleges use undergrads as TAs; I counted those. I also lumped Ivy League “teaching fellows” in with TAs, because that’s how some teaching fellows described those positions on their cv’s.
  • served as a guest lecturer
  • obtained formal pedagogical training (anything from a workshop or short course on up to certification as a public school teacher)

Obviously, just noting whether or not someone had done those things is a very crude way to summarize their teaching experience. I didn’t count how many times they’d done those things, for instance, or try to determine how well they did them. I didn’t compile data on other sorts of teaching experience, such as mentoring students, offering workshops, or giving presentations to school kids. But as you’ll see, my summary isn’t so crude as to be useless.

Equally obviously, I’m limited by what folks choose to list on their cv’s. In particular, I suspect some people don’t bother to list TA experience on their cv’s (doesn’t almost every ecology grad student serve as a TA at some point?) So my data on the frequency of TA experience among recently-hired ecology faculty should be considered a lower bound.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of these recent hires were not moving from one TT faculty position to another. So most of the people in this dataset acquired their teaching experience as students and postdocs.

Results and discussion

  • Most recent hires have multiple forms of teaching experience. 10/16 recent hires at bachelor’s colleges had multiple forms of teaching experience, as did 21/29 at R1 universities. Those numbers are probably underestimates, because some people may not list their TA experience on their cv’s.
  • Hardly any new hires have no teaching experience, even at R1 unis. Just two new hires, both at R1 unis, had none of the forms of teaching experience I checked for. Though perhaps they’d been TAs and just didn’t say so on their cv’s. One had taught many statistical methods workshops, the other didn’t list any teaching experience.
  • Most new hires have teaching experience beyond just TAing or guest lecturing. When I was hired at Calgary, my only teaching experience was some TA experience plus a few guest lectures. That is, the two easiest forms of teaching experience for grad students and postdocs to acquire. At the time, I thought that was pretty typical, at least for people seeking research university faculty jobs, as I was. And I dunno, maybe it was typical at the time? But if it was, it isn’t any more. Only 9/29 recent hires at R1 unis had teaching experience limited to TAing and/or guest lecturing. And no recent hires at bachelor’s colleges had teaching experience limited to TAing and guest lecturing.
  • You pretty much have to serve as an instructor of record to get hired at a bachelor’s college. 14/16 bachelor’s college hires had been instructors of record, and most of them had been instructors of record for multiple courses (though I didn’t keep an exact count). One had not been an instructor of record but had been a co-instructor. And the one remaining bachelor’s college hire is the exception that proves the rule: she designed and taught a course for high school students, an unusual but substantial form of teaching experience for a prof. So here’s very clear-cut advice: if you think you might want a faculty position at a bachelor’s college or other teaching-intensive institution, get experience as an instructor of record. A second, more tentative bit of advice: if you’re looking to cut down on the number of longshot faculty job applications you submit, don’t bother applying to bachelor’s colleges unless you have teaching experience at least equivalent to serving as a co-instructor.*
  • It’s rarer–but far from unheard of–for recent hires at R1 unis to have served as instructors of record. Only 12/29 did so, and an additional two served as co-instructors. It’s hard to give advice based on this, because it’s hard to say if the benefits of acquiring experience as an instructor of record would outweigh the costs to your research productivity. Clearly it is possible to get experience as an instructor of record while still building a research track record that will get you hired at an R1–12/29 recent R1 hires did it! But equally clearly, it’s far from essential to serve as an instructor of record if you want an R1 job. So if you want an R1 job and are thinking of serving as an instructor of record, think very hard about costs and benefits (sorry, I know that’s not very helpful advice.) Personally, I might advise you to get a bit of pedagogical training instead. Which leads to my next bullet…
  • Formal pedagogical training is not common among recent hires, not even at bachelor’s colleges. Lurking on ecoevojobs.net, I occasionally see the claim that you “have” to have formal pedagogical training these days if you want to get hired at a bachelor’s college. To which, no you don’t. Not even close! Only 3/16 recent hires at bachelor’s colleges had any formal pedagogical training (one was previously a school teacher, two others had some pedagogical training courses). And only 4/29 new hires at R1 unis had any formal pedagogical training. Of course, maybe some people don’t list their formal pedagogical training on their cv’s. But I highly doubt that most recently-hired ecology faculty who’ve had pedagogical training don’t list it! So I feel confident in concluding that pedagogical training is far from essential to landing a TT faculty position in ecology. Now, whether formal pedagogical training helps your chances, all else being equal, is a different question that can’t be answered with these data. And of course, you might well want pedagogical training not (just) because you think it helps your chances of landing a faculty position, but because you want to teach better! Honestly, I’m a little surprised formal pedagogical training wasn’t more common. Is that because people don’t seek it out, or because it’s not widely available, or what? Personally, I’d think that taking even just a couple of days worth of pedagogy workshops would improve your teaching more than (say) giving a few guest lectures would. And I bet a couple of days of pedagogy workshops would look much better to search committees than would a few guest lectures, while not taking up any more time than it would to prep a few guest lectures. But apparently I’m in the minority on that, because as you’ll see in the next bullet, guest lecturing is a much more common form of teaching experience than is pedagogical training.
  • Guest lecturing is a common way for R1 hires to get a bit of teaching experience. 16/29 recent hires at R1s were guest lecturers, but only 4/16 recent hires at bachelor’s colleges were. I’m sure this reflects the sorts of teaching experience that people aiming for different sorts of jobs tend to seek out. People aiming for R1 jobs devote most of their time to research, and so many of them squeeze in occasional guest lecturing to get a bit of teaching experience without committing much time to teaching. Conversely, people aiming for jobs at bachelor’s colleges generally acquire experience as an instructor of record, which would make occasional guest lecturing redundant. As an aside, I personally doubt that doing a few guest lectures is going to matter much to any faculty search committee, or do much to make you a better teacher (and I say that as someone who did some guest lectures as a postdoc). But please do comment if your experience indicates otherwise.
  • Most recent hires were TAs. 23/29 recent hires at R1 unis were TAs; it’s 12/16 at bachelor’s colleges.  As noted above, those numbers might well be underestimates.

Finally, just out of curiosity, was the information in this post surprising to you? Take the poll!

*FWIW (not much), my own anecdotal experience jives with this. Back when I was a postdoc, I applied to some bachelor’s colleges as well as research unis. I didn’t get any interviews at bachelor’s colleges, even though I had what I thought were some points in my favor (I got my BA from a bachelor’s college; I tailored my research and teaching statements for bachelor’s colleges). Of course, it’s impossible to know why I didn’t get any interviews at bachelor’s colleges. But in retrospect, my lack of experience as an instructor of record or co-instructor was probably among the reasons.

34 thoughts on “A crude statistical summary of the teaching experience of recently-hired N. American TT ecology faculty

  1. A bit off-topic: having looked through so many CVs, do you have any general advice about formatting teaching experience, formal pedagogical training, etc on one’s CV? In particular, do you think it is valuable to put “instructor of record” or not clearly, or is this something someone can intuit from other clues? I know this largely depends on what someone is applying for, but I have not found example CVs which I could model my own teaching sections after.

    • Yes, I think if you’re the instructor of record you should say so on your cv. Precisely how you format the “teaching experience” section of your cv doesn’t matter so much, so long as it contains all the information it should contain.

    • A very niche follow-up question for you, Andrew. Which I probably should send as an email but just in case someone else is also asking themselves the same thing.

      How do you distinguish instructor of record at Oxford? For example, is a Stipendiary Lecturer an instructor of record or a TA? It feels like it is somewhere in between. Is a supervisor for third/fourth year projects even an instructor? Or is it only for department lecturers? What about the distinction between tutor and TA in the math department? I have a hard time figuring out how to map teaching experience from the UK onto the US/Canada system. Have you seen any good guides on this?

      I guess really I am asking the same question as you: are there any good example CVs to model on?

  2. I’m going to have to give Meghan a hard time about tweeting this rather than commenting over here. 🙂

  3. Jeremy- I’m chatting about this with a colleague, and we are curious – how did teaching experience compare to the overall CV (e.g., publications, etc.)? In other words, can the case be made for more teaching experience/training when balanced with current expectations for other metrics?

    • I see what you’re getting at. But I wouldn’t expect any correlation–positive or negative–between teaching experience and other attributes among recently-hired ecology faculty if you restrict attention to hires at the same type of institution. And I just had a quick glance now at the 29 R1 hires and didn’t find anything.

      • To clarify – the question stems from an expectation that folks resistant to pedagogical training and/or prioritizing teaching might assert that high-performing candidates would be more competitive, and that high-performing candidates were likely high-performing students who may have been more likely to receive opportunities to be instructor of record, etc. We were mulling over how to respond to such assertions (which could be efforts to short-cut teaching training/experience by viewing them as a “given” if the candidate/student is otherwise high-performing). It’s a counter-argument anticipation, in essence, since we value teaching capacity as a distinct, though complimentary, skill set from research/publication, grant writing, etc., etc.

      • Hmm, not sure what to say to this. My admittedly-anecdotal experience is that opportunities to serve as an instructor of record are something that people seek out, rather than something that they receive unasked-for opportunities to do by virtue of high research achievement.

        Anecdotally, I do think there’s a view in some quarters that someone who gives a great research seminar is likely to be a good (or at least adequate) teacher as well. I don’t think that view is totally ridiculous; giving a good research seminar does have some things in common with being a good teacher. But as you say, teaching well is a distinct skill. So the quality of someone’s research seminar is probably a poor predictor of their teaching ability in many cases.

      • From your anecdotal experience, do you see correlation at the application (rather than just hired) stage? In your post, you implied that there is a negative correlation: i.e. if you choose to pursue being an instructor of record then that will somehow negatively impact your research output. Is this just a hunch based on the ‘prioritizing finite time’ hypothesis or is there (at least anecdotal) data to back it up?

        For examples where similar hunches can be had but I think are wrong: blogging and paper output.

      • “if you choose to pursue being an instructor of record then that will somehow negatively impact your research output. Is this just a hunch based on the ‘prioritizing finite time’ hypothesis”

        Just a hunch, based on prioritizing finite time. You wouldn’t expect to be able to check that hunch with the data I have, for the same reasons you often can’t detect evolutionary trade-offs by comparing (say) seed size vs. seed number across individual plants.

  4. Thread:

    • Jeremy Yoder notes, correctly, that it’s not necessarily hard to get instructor of record experience. But it takes some advance planning, and possibly a supportive graduate or postdoctoral supervisor.

      As a supportive anecdote, I can tell you that multiple grad students in my dept. have acquired experience as instructors of record or co-instructors in recent years. So my admittedly-anecdotal experience is the same as Jeremy Yoder’s: if you want to do it, and your supervisor is supportive, there’s usually a way to make it happen.

  5. With 84 votes in the poll (enough that the results aren’t likely to change further, if past experience is any guide), 40% of respondents are unsurprised by these results, 50% are maybe a little surprised, and 10% are surprised.

    I’m maybe a little surprised that only 9/29 R1 hires had teaching experience limited to TAing and/or guest lecturing. Even allowing for the fact that these data probably underestimate the frequency of TAing experience, I’d have thought it would be a bit more common for R1 hires to have only served as TAs and/or guest lecturers. Though if you’d asked me to guess an exact percentage I’d have had very little idea what to guess.

  6. Kind of curious about how you’re structuring data – just simple tables or are you building tools that could potentially dive deeper?

  7. Pingback: Useful links related to tenure track job searches in ecology (last update July 2019) | Dynamic Ecology

  8. I sought out pedagogical training during grad school, but I’ve never seen it actively encouraged at any of the universities I’ve worked or studied at (beyond mandatory TA training). They videotaped us giving a 15-minute lecture in one of those workshops and that was extremely informative. I had previously led training courses for tutors for a living in undergrad, so thought I knew a lot, but nothing beats being able to point to exactly what you are doing wrong/right in a video. As far as I know it was the only pedagogical training available at my school of 7000+ postgraduate students, and there were max 15 students in these workshops.

  9. Interesting insight to the US system, thanks! I don’t know what an ‘instructor of record’ is, but assuming it is similar to a subject/unit coordinator in Australia? We also don’t have the explicit divide between research/teaching unis here, but it’s generally a similar situation for ecology Lecturer jobs here – you’re expected to have teaching experience, and coordination is looked on much more favourably than tutoring (which is similar to TA positions) or guest lecturing, which is totally understandable. Also, online learning is common here, especially in regional universities, so having coordination experience demonstrates your skills in managing online learning sites, not just teaching experience.

    • “Instructor of record” basically means “the person who actually taught the course, and is recorded in the university’s records as having done so.”

      Thanks for sharing that info on the Aussie system; interesting.

  10. After applying last year and seeing who was hired, I started to get the feeling that the reason so many folks have teaching experience is because they have to have some kind of job while waiting to get a TT position. In other words, it takes multiple years of trying to get a position and in the meantime, postdocs that are hanging around institutions end up teaching classes that needed last minute instructors. Thoughts?

    • It is true that very few recently-hired TT ecology asst profs were hired straight out of grad school. Recent hires were mostly commonly 3-4 years post-PhD, though anything from 2-6 years post-PhD is fairly common. See here: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/when-did-newly-hired-n-american-tt-ecology-faculty-get-their-phds/

      More relevant to your question is not years of post-PhD experience, but what recent hires were doing in between their PhDs and their current TT faculty positions. The answer is that most of them were postdocs, and only a minority were in positions with teaching as the primary duty: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/how-were-newly-hired-n-american-tt-asst-professors-of-ecology-employed-when-they-were-hired-heres-the-data/.

      So I don’t think it’s correct to say that most ecology faculty job seekers are “hanging around” teaching classes because they need something to do while waiting for a TT job to open up. It’s definitely not the case that, if you hang around academia long enough, that you’ll eventually get a TT job. It’s not a matter of just waiting your turn! You do *not* necessarily become a stronger candidate in the eyes of search committees simply by having more years of post-PhD experience, regardless of what the experience is.

      Ok, I’m sure there are some people who’ve taught classes only because they couldn’t find any other academic employment and the alternative was leaving academia. And I’m sure some of those people later went on to obtain TT jobs. But the data say that’s not a common career path among recently-hired TT ecologists.

      • Using the term “hanging around” probably wan’t the best choice and certainly wasn’t meant to be derogatory. Rather, postdocs often have gaps in funding and/or need to supplement their income while waiting for another round of applications to go through. Therefore ON TOP of doing their research, they often will jump at the opportunity to teach at their institution or one nearby. This was my experience as a postdoc at Harvard and also at a UC in Southern California. I don’t think that most people would state that as their “career path” when prompted on a survey. Rather, it’s an additional form of income used to get by while waiting for the TT job.

      • Ok, I’m with you now.

        I didn’t compile data on how often people’s experience as instructor of record came as part of a brief teaching stint in between longer-term postdocs, but just offhand I can tell you it wasn’t often. Most people with experience as instructors of record or co-instructors did it during a multi-year postdoc position, at the institution where they were postdoc-ing. And in a couple of cases they got instructor of record experience before being hired into their current TT position because they previously held a full time position that included teaching duties (e.g., visiting assistant professor, or asst. prof at another institution).

        As to how many folks acquired instructor of record experience at least in part to supplement their income (which you might do even if you already had a full-time job, of course), obviously I can’t tell just from looking at people’s cv’s.

  11. I perhaps should’ve noted this in the post, but I’ll note that my data also show that, if you take a post-PhD position with teaching as the sole or primary duty, and the position lasts for a year or more, you are unlikely to later obtain a faculty position at an R1, R2, or R3 university (basically, research unis with PhD programs). Data and discussion here: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/how-were-newly-hired-n-american-tt-asst-professors-of-ecology-employed-when-they-were-hired-heres-the-data/.

    So yes, as the data in this post show, you can obtain experience as an instructor of record and later land a TT job at a research uni with a PhD program. But as data in that previous post show, people who spend a year or more doing *nothing but* serving as an instructor of record are very rare among recent hires at the most research-intensive unis. Presumably in part because people who spend a year or more as full-time instructors of record tend to seek teaching-focused faculty positions rather than research-focused ones. And presumably also in part because it’s very hard to keep publishing papers and doing the other things active researchers do if you’re also teaching full-time for an extended period.

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  13. Via Twitter:

    In response, I’d suggest that there are other ways to learn to teach well besides formal pedagogical training.

  14. There was a substantive Twitter discussion sparked by this tweet of Meghan’s, click through for the whole thread, it’s useful for any prospective ecology prof thinking about what kind of teaching experience to acquire and how to acquire it:

    • The convo subsequently branched, here are links to some other subbranches:

  15. Pingback: Ask us anything: good advice for today’s ecology faculty job seekers | Dynamic Ecology

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