Description: A variety of teaching positions exist in primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs), for example liberal arts colleges and universities with relatively small graduate programs. These positions can be roughly divided into those that are tenure-track, those that are full-time as well but subject to a reappointment process that does not involve tenure, and those that are part-time, e.g. temporary or contingent on immediate needs. The primary responsibility in all instances is that of teaching, however the specific responsibilities can range from teaching courses, directing student laboratories, developing curriculum, advising students, and establishing community outreach programs. Tenure-track positions almost always involve some level of research, usually that intended to involve undergraduate students in research-based experiences. Sometimes the research is of a purely pedagogical nature. The quality of teaching is, of course, vitally important in the reappointment process. Research and service to the institution are relevant as well.
Advantages of an advanced degree: The majority of faculty in tenure-track and full-time positions in public and private nonprofit higher education institutions such as PUIs in the US hold a doctorate. It is difficult to parse the data for science-related fields, but an even higher percentage of faculty with doctorates can be assumed. Nearly all tenure-track faculty in the sciences have postdoctoral experience. The reasons, outlined by Campbell et al below in resources, are 1) many applicants have postdoc experience, therefore those without are at a disadvantage, 2) the broadened experience allows one to teach additional courses, 3) the exposure to writing grants and publishing papers puts one in a better position to attain extramural funding, and 4) there is a maturity that comes with having to adapt to a new area of research in a short period of time.
Key competencies: The competencies acquired in PhD training in the biomedical sciences are almost synonymous with those required for effective teaching in scientific disciplines, particularly those disciplines in which research is required. Alumni report that skills relating to communication and management are especially important.
On-campus student organizations: None.
First steps: The distinction in the job search between those who have been tried and tested as teachers and the others is immense. It goes without saying, then, that individuals who are considering pursuit of teaching as a profession should strive for substantive experience beforehand. In graduate school, a student might consider serving as a teaching assistant, offering to give a guest lecture in a course or two, or organizing a workshop that capitalizes on his or her expertise in an educational sense. Penn’s Center for Teaching & Learning offers a teaching certificate that involves pedagogical discussion and training, teaching experience, observation and review, and teaching philosophies. Some students choose to teach for a period of time between graduate and postdoctoral training. At some institutions, programs exist for postdocs to gain significant exposure to teaching. Penn-PORT is one such program. Sometimes a postdoc adviser is amenable to providing time for teaching. Many who elect to pursue teaching after a typical postdoc begin with a year or two of temporary positions.
Alumni network: Contact Rebecca Lopez
- A. Malcolm Campbell et al, How to Get a Teaching Job at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution. The American Society for Cell Biology, 2012.
- Elisabeth Pain, Teaching as Skill and a Career | Science Careers
- Vijaysree Venkatraman, A Career as a College Science Teacher | Science Careers
- Penn Center for Teaching & Learning
- Penn-Postdoctoral Opportunities in Research and Teaching (PENN-PORT)
- Harvard Curriculum Fellows