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