Applying for teaching-focused jobs

*If anyone has anything to add, please feel free to comment below*

Caveat: These tips are for anyone applying for a primarily undergraduate university (PUI) or small liberal arts college (SLAC) with emphasis on teaching. However, there are some SLACs and PUIs that are more competitive and have higher research expectations (some examples might be Haverford, Grinnell, or Carleton). I teach a 4/4 load (four courses per semester) and the expectations for my research are centered on including undergraduate. I love this. But it’s not for everyone. My research will never be center-stage or published in “high impact” journals, nor will I publish often. I DO work closely with students on research and LOVE teaching and mentoring students.

Disclaimer: Search committees are all unique and some people get really stuck on the most random details

Applying for teaching focused positions in higher education: My experience

I attended a small liberal arts college (SLAC) and loved my undergrad experience. Although I was fairly open minded about future careers going into grad school, I was pretty sure I wanted to end up back at a teaching focused institution.

I was so lucky as a graduate student. My institution offered a graduate certificate in college teaching. We also had a teaching center that offered workshops and learning communities for teaching/higher education. I had the opportunity to think about teaching, to learn how to teach, and to discuss my teaching experiences. I was also lucky to have supportive mentors who allowed me to embrace my goal to end up at a small, teaching-focused institution by encouraging me to teach as an adjunct at two nearby colleges while I completed my PhD. By the time I finished graduate school, I had independently taught four courses as instructor of record and TAed for a number of other courses where I gave guest lectures, helped with organization, and helped with grading.

As I neared the end of my PhD, I had a decision: apply for postdocs or apply for visiting or tenure track position at a teaching-focused institution. I decided the latter. My research primarily used fMRI and I didn’t feel like I had enough connections to find a postdoc that would help position me for a teaching focused job, which is where I wanted to end up. I was also, tbh, really really ready to be finished with my PhD and what felt like a fast-paced, stressful research life, to me. (Not sure I recommend this to others, many small schools are still looking for candidates who’ve done a postdoc…).

So I set out on the academic job market in August 2014, looking for jobs that would start August 2015. In August I applied for mostly tenure track positions at small schools in the Midwest. I also applied for positions that I felt like were a good fit outside of the Midwest. This process was very lonely for me. Most of my peers were searching for postdocs. My mentors did not know how to help me position my job application materials or prepare for interviews. My partner was doing a postdoc in a different country. I was adjuncting at a small school in the area that operated one class at a time (i.e., one 3.5 week course that meets 3 hours per day, every day). I was finishing my dissertation. AND, I was applying for jobs.

Applying to any non-R1 or non-traditional research career path can feel lonely (well, probably any job in general). I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be at a small teaching focused institution, but there is still a small stigma associated with anything other than a research-focused career (although this is definitely changing!). I ended up not finding a position right away in my first round of fall applications and continued applying through the spring. Finally, I landed a visiting position that ended up being amazing (they used to call the position a teaching postdoc but switched it to visiting to increase the pay; needless to say, I had many great colleagues and professional development opportunities). I spent two years there before landing my current tenure track position, which I love! I get to work with great people; I have wonderful students; I have pretty solid work/life balance. 

I offered to help read through folks teaching philosophies if they were applying for small, teaching focused institutions on Twitter, and it seemed to generate some interest. So, I put together some general tips for putting together your application packet. I also put a list of additional resources at the end of this post, because, hey, I’m still pretty new to this whole thing (3 years post grad) and I’ve only served on ~2 search committees so far (technically just one, with another search this fall + I contributed to meetings for my replacement for a visiting position).

 

What goes into the application packet and tips for each document

Your application packet will likely include some or all of the following:

  1. Cover Letter
  2. C.V.
  3. Teaching Philosophy
  4. Research Statement
  5. Diversity Statement

You may also be asked to send student evaluations of your students, copies of published articles, letters of recommendations, a list of courses you’ve taught, your graduate school transcripts, and your undergraduate transcripts. I kept a specific folder on my desktop for easy access to all of these materials.

Three key take aways from below (the TL,DR):

  1. Research the institution you are applying to – know their mission, values, demographics, and resources and discuss how you will fit in and contribute to that setting
  2. Demonstrate that teaching is your main priority and you clearly understand that you are applying for a teaching-focused position and have actually thought critically about teaching
  3. Provide concrete examples – show me, don’t tell me.

Cover Letter Tips

  • Tailor your cover letter to the institution – research the institution!
    • Use the language of the institutions mission and vision statement and describe how YOU will address the mission
      • the department also has a mission/vision statement (google search “Institution name + mission”)
    • Research who the students are! Does the institution serve first gen students? Do they serve rural students? Do they serve underrepresented minorities?
      • Google search “Institution name + enrollment” or search for the office of institutional research; sometimes you can find information by looking for campus climate surveys, too
  • Put your teaching first!
    • Research goes second and you should discuss HOW you will include undergraduates in your research program
    • Don’t forget to discuss service, too
  • If you are applying for a job in a rural institution (let’s just say anywhere more than 45 minutes away from a big city), make sure you indicate why that specific location is a place you could see yourself – one common concern of search committees in rural areas is whether or not the candidate will actually want to live in the location
    • by the way, rural institutions have far fewer competitive candidates and serve some of the most in-need students
  • ADDRESS THE JOB AD. Do you meet the qualifications?
    • Do they ask for PhD or is ABD okay?
    • Do they request a certain amount of teaching experience? Often, teaching focused school are looking for job candidates to have 2-3 semesters of experience as the instructor of record – make sure you state your experience EXPLICITLY.
    • With one caveat: sometimes the job ad will say something like “developmental psychology” and they are really looking for something broader.
  • Is there anyone in your department or across the institution you would be interested in collaborating with? Mention this.
  • Use short paragraphs
  • Provide concrete examples/stories (short!)
  • 1-2 pages max! (I kept my cover letter to 1 page if the institution asked for both teaching and research statements. If they asked for only one, I usually elaborated more in my cover letter)
  • Use your university’s letterhead
  • Have someone spell check for you – search committees are weird and get caught up on these details

CV Tips

  • Put your teaching first!
  • Find a way to highlight how undergraduates have contributed to your research (for example, use an * or symbol to denote an undergraduate on an article or poster)
  • Consider including mentoring
  • As a more general tip, make sure that your CV is easy to follow – have someone else read through your CV

Teaching philosophy tips

  • Give specific examples – what have you done that has worked well? when have you failed and how did you respond to that failure? In my experience, search committees love to see willingness to adapt and grow. They do not expect perfection. Rather, they expect passion for teaching, willingness to learn and adapt teaching methods, and evidence based practices.
  • Paint a picture of who you are as instructor. Are you like a coach in the classroom? Are you a guide to your students? What is your role?
  • Again, use the language of the mission statement
  • Demonstrate that you have critically thought about teaching – how do you adapt when you teach first years compared to seniors? How do you teach a group of 15 students compared to a group of 40? What resources do you use to support your students learning?
  • Look up the courses that are offered/check out the course catalog – which could you teach? which courses listed in the job ad are you prepared to teach?
  • What will you bring to the campus that is unique? How does your research inform your teaching? How does your teaching inform your research?
  • What does your teaching/mentoring/advising look like outside of the classroom?
  • Don’t just tell me what you do in your teaching, SHOW me how you teach
  • Aim for no more than 2 pages
  • Headings are helpful for organization. Also, search committees should be able to skim/read the first sentence of each paragraph and have a pretty good sense of your teaching philosophy

Research statement tips

  • First things first – How will you include undergraduates in your research and how will you do your research at a small institution with limited resources? If all of your past research is using fMRI (ah-hem, me), it is important to make clear your anticipated direction and the feasibility of that research. For example, I described how I could conduct behavioral research with little-to-no resources and my goal to acquire psychophysiology equipment (success!) through small grants. I discussed how this could be used in research AND how research could be used as a teaching tool.
  • I recommend writing your research statement as a 3 year (or 5 year) plan.
  • Consider how your research could benefit the campus community. For example, we (my students and I) are currently conducting research on stress and substance use in college students. This is important to our campus, which has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption of institutions in our state-wide system.
  • Many smaller institutions strongly value Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). If this is something you’re interested in, include it in your research statement! This also demonstrates you value teaching AND you value improving your teaching.
  • Again, research the institution. What resources do they have? How have other faculty conducted research with undergraduates? What are the local undergraduate conferences?
  • Try to use pronouns like “we” as you discuss your research as in “my students and I…”
  • Aim for no more than 2 pages

Diversity Statement Tips

  • I have the least experience with writing diversity statements
  • You guessed it – research the institution. What are the student demographics? How can you meet the institutions needs?
  • Don’t try to pretend to be someone you’re not. It is obvious.
  • EXAMPLES are important here. What have you done to make your teaching more accessible to students? What have you done to create an inclusive classroom? What have you done to promote diversity in your current position?
    • What service positions do you hold?
    • Volunteering?
    • In-class activities?
    • Accessibility of resources
  • Think both teaching and research – what communities do you serve? For example, I discussed the aging community and women in science as two communities that I serve through my research and through my service in organizations.
  • What issues are you passionate about?
  • Aim for no more than 2 pages

Resources!

Where to search for jobs?

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