Tuesday, May 16, 2017
The One Thing Never to Say
At a primarily-undergraduate state institution we have a research expectation, though not as heavy as a research university, and a heavy teaching expectation, though not quite as heavy as a CC. So we're in this weird in-between place and we know it and inferiority complexes develop. And a lot of people spend a lot of time saying "Well, you know, at a place like this, we can't..." And a lot of people say (I think reasonably) that in addition to liking teaching for its own rewards they also prefer focusing on teaching to the insane competitive pressures of research institutions that want you to be a leader in the field.
So there's a lot of talk going on that sounds dangerously close to "We have a slower pace and less pressure here." That's not quite what's said, but it sure comes close to that.
And sometimes we even say stuff like that in interviews, ostensibly as a way of filtering out candidates who are looking for a more research-driven type of job that we don't actually offer. There will be a lot of reminders of how coming here will mean less time spent on research and lesser research infrastructure and more time spent teaching freshmen, and sometimes it will be presented in a way that sure sounds like a step down in the world.
But if at any point somebody responds to the constant talk of "You'll be taking a step down, and not able to do as much high-powered research stuff..." with something like "That's OK, I want to slow it down a bit..." everyone is shocked and scandalized.
I get why they're shocked and scandalized. I'll be the first to say that teaching isn't light work. I'll be the first to say that this is important work. But at the same time, teaching really IS less competitive than trying to publish in the top journals. It's hard work, but not competitive work, and maybe some people genuinely find it an invigorating and satisfying alternative to the competitive research rat race.
But God help the person who says that.
I've heard this at interviews, too. Unbelievable.
I've worked at both. Teaching is hard work. It requires dedication, discipline, and energy. HOWEVER, as a community-college instructor, I have never come anywhere close to working a 90-hour week like I did at every research-intensive institution I've worked at. Likewise, I have never been in my office at 2:00 am on a Sunday finishing a grant proposal.
To someone coming from that environment, 40- or 50-hour work weeks feel like working part-time.
Some of us are just smart enough to keep our mouths shut.
Teaching in a vocational field can mean a job that is part management. On top of teaching a bunch of classes, you will probably have to hire, train, mentor, and evaluate a large team of adjuncts. That is certainly the case in some of my college's vocational (AS) programs. IMHO, it is harder than my purely teaching job. So (although I've never been involved in a search like that) I can imagine a probing question asking about management experience and spiking any candidate who says "oh, I don't want to manage a lot of people any more".
Our interviews in the science areas usually have a question intended to start a conversation about teaching versus research. We get plenty of tone-deaf answers! In addition, we sometimes get odd answers from people who assume our majors classes aren't very big or that we will have grad TAs to help with grading when they are big classes. Oops.
PS - Have you seen Sally Forth, with the saga of her former boss teaching business classes at a CC? (A highlight was having the same kid in the same class for several years running.) He has just decided to retire from that rat race. Running this week.
Don’t spend a lot of time talking about your research interests at the interview, since all they really want is someone who can teach elementary subjects to a classroom of students. The interviewers might fear that if you started working at that community college, you would immediately jump ship as soon as a position at a research-oriented institution became available. Best to hide any sense of disappointment at being forced to lower your expectations. You have to be a good liar--don’t give them the impression that you regard teaching as a lesser career goal than research. A teaching-oriented full-time gig may not be what you really want, but it sure beats freeway-flying for the rest of your life.