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Wednesday, September 21, 2005
"Just" a Teaching School
I've been organizing the materials for all of the jobs I'm applying for with October deadlines. It's a real mix, according to Carnegie classifications: a few R1s, a few a notch below that (are those called "R2"s?), one Master's-level university, and a slew of liberal arts colleges. I've noted before that I'm not sure where I really belong. Jobs in all of the categories are obviously appealing to me, but I do know that if I was offered a position at an R1, I'd have to think long and hard before accepting it. It would be a life I'm not sure I want to live.

I attend an R1, so I know what I'd be getting myself into if I worked for one. I am getting pretty annoyed, however, by the fact that a lot of my colleagues who are also on the job market turn their noses up when they realize that I'm applying to a lot of liberal arts colleges. "Oh, you just want a teaching school?" they ask, incredulous. "Won't you be bored?"

Quite the opposite. From the very beginning of graduate school, I have loved to teach. I feel very comfortable in the classroom, I enjoy advising students and getting to know them, and I really like involving them in whatever research I'm doing. I put a lot of effort into my teaching, too much sometimes, and I like feeling like I'm making a difference in someone's life. Honestly, I get a little bored doing research all the time (this entire year is nothing but research for me and I already want to scream) -- the students make my research mean something to me. (Of course, the type of research I'm working on matters, too -- if I'm doing theoretical work that's difficult to explain to a layperson, I feel like a useless, high-falutin academic. If I'm doing practical, policy-relevant research, I'm thrilled and I feel like I'm contributing to society and I don't "need" the students as much. If I'm tweaking variables to make a regression come out the way I want it to, I want to leave the discipline.)

"Just a teaching school." I think I could actually be pretty happy at "just" a small liberal arts college, provided that I had a handful of vibrant colleagues to bounce ideas off and a little time to work on projects that mean something to me. Small Dream College would be just that environment, as would Small Urban College. I'm applying to some very small liberal arts colleges, too -- 5-7 faculty members in the department, 3-3 teaching loads. That could be fun, I think. Sure, I'd never be a big name in my field, but that's not what I want or what I have ever wanted: I want to turn out some solid work, live in a nice town where my child(ren) can go to school and my husband can build a practice, and have a place we can call "home" for many, many years.

Maybe I do know what I want after all.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 9/21/2005 07:04:00 PM  
7 Words of Wisdom:
  • At 10:48 PM, Blogger phd me said…

    Hmmm, I seem to be sharing your wavelength. I'm also at an R1; I also love teaching; I'm also trolling the job market. I like your "wants" for the future and, less the husband and children - although both would be nice some day - I'm using the same criteria for my search.

    Anyone who can utter the words "just teaching" is really missing out; teaching is completely worth all the time, energy and emotion involved.

    I'm looking at an R1, too, although I said I never would (same reason you gave) but the job itself is so tempting...

    Good luck!

  • At 4:43 AM, Blogger La Lecturess said…

    Grr. I hate this attitude!

    Most of the faculty in my department have long-since internalized the fact that the job market sucks, and they'll encourage us to apply everywhere, and congratulate candidates warmly on any offers--and yet, clearly the "real" scholars, the ones with "real" promise, are the ones who got R1 jobs. Maybe this is because most of the senior faculty worked their way up to what they consider the pinnacle of success, at INRU, and so really see it as a brass ring worth striving for. But anyway: grr!

  • At 6:42 AM, Blogger BrightStar said…

    Teaching is fantastic! Do not let anyone say otherwise.

    That said, people told me straight out of grad school that if you want to TRY a R1, the best time is when you finish your Ph.D., because it's harder to go "up" then "down" -- I don't like that way of talking about it. That's why I have the job I have. I thought if I wanted to try the research world, now is the time.

  • At 8:44 AM, Blogger Carroll, Violinguist said…

    I've been enjoying your blog for a while now.

    Please pardon my ignorance, but why does teaching at a liberal arts college exclude the opportunity to do research? (I'm an English grad. student so I'm primarily thinking about research in the humanities.) If you read the bios of faculty at small liberal arts colleges, many list impressive publishing records by anyone's standards. The small liberal arts college from which I received my B.A. went out of its way to accommodate the research interests of its faculty--and in fact, having abolished tenure in favor of multi-year contracts (usually 2-5 years), they fire profs who fail to publish enough.

    I'd think in most ways a position at a liberal arts college would be ideal, both for the teaching and research opportunities. ???

  • At 9:31 AM, Blogger Prof. Me said…

    Thanks for the comments.

    ABD Me, it sounds like we have a lot in common. When I read your blog, I'm always nodding in agreement!

    Lecturess: ugh, it's frustrating. One of my best friends last year took a liberal arts job, and I've heard more than one person comment that it was "too bad he didn't hold out for a better job." This was the job he WANTED! And there was nothing but praise for the woman who took an R1 job, because, as you say, she was a "real" scholar.

    Brightstar: yes, I've heard that too, that it's difficult to move up from a teaching school to a research institution. That's why I'm applying to R1 schools -- if I get an offer, I want a bit of time to get used to the idea before I decide to accept or decline.

    Carroll, I think the reason people assume you won't do research at a liberal arts college is because you'll have a heavy teaching load. One grad from my program teaches at a VERY small college where he's half the department. He teaches four courses per semester and sometimes teaches in the summer as well, and he has a family. Not much time left for running regressions. I like to do research, and this is why Small Dream College is ideal: 3-3 teaching load, but only two preps each semester. That DOES leave time to research, which would be nice.

  • At 11:11 PM, Blogger timna said…

    I'm really debating even going back on the market after 3 years with no offers. yet, it pulls me back like a drug -- I noted on my own blog that there should be a 12 step program for academics who can't stay away from the market!

    I enjoy teaching very much so that part of my job is good. However, while I'm supported in my research in terms of conferences and archival funding, it's not as though there's much notice of publication (I'm at a cc). makes it kind of hard to sustain.

    good luck!

  • At 6:44 AM, Blogger jeremy said…

    I think the key is to realize that happiness is not tied to the school ranking. most people at liberal arts schools are just as happy or unhappy as people at r1 schools, perhaps for different reasons, but i think we have to realize that in academia, the workload is actually much the same, heavy, across all schools, and that it is only a few lucky individuals that manage to escape the workload blues in some way.

    in any case, you can be happy anywhere, however... being happy does not mean you will get tenure.

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