The academic job search for the rest of us, Part IV – Odds and ends

I may write a post or two about the actual telephone and on-campus interviews, but otherwise, just a few semi-random points to complete my series on the job search itself.  If you just stumbled across this series, you may want to start at the beginning.

Teaching loads

Standard advice is to “just look it up, stupid!” if you want to know the standard teaching load of the jobs you want.  Ahem.  First, as a non-employee, you won’t have access to the official course information, which is generally hidden behind a employee/student portal.  Second, you can’t necessarily rely on a faculty member’s website for reliable information.  If that faculty member uses some sort of Course Management System (e.g., Blackboard, Moodle, etc.), they may post all their materials to the CMS and not on their own website and/or not keep their website current.  Thus, again you are out of the loop.  Sometimes courses are cross-listed so that a person may look like they have extra classes.  Student-faculty research and other independent study classes may or may not count towards a faculty’s official teaching load.  Even if you find reliable information for some people, you don’t know if any of those people are getting re-assigned time for some heavy service activity (e.g., Faculty Senate), for having a research grant, directing an important internal program, etc.  Plus, you don’t know if someone is getting a heavier than usual load because they were given a break the previous semester (or vice versa) for some other reason, which may be as simple as there not being the same amount of teaching to be done in both semesters.

The point is that you, playing Sherlock Holmes, may not be able to get the correct information.  Usually, if the job ad mentions teaching first, the load is probably three or more courses per semester, but that’s not guaranteed because there are liberal arts colleges that just require two.  In any case, don’t assume too much.  Instead, hope that the search committee brings it up in the preliminary (usually telephone) interview.  That’s how we do it.  Otherwise you will have to ask.  I would recommend asking it in such a way that you are assessing the balance between teaching, research, and service.  In fact, asking about this balance may get you the answer without sounding like you are obsessing on the teaching load.

There’s another issue here.  How many preps will you have?  In my department, with a three course per semester load, you might have two sections of one class and your third course will be a second prep.  For me, it’s about 50-50 as to whether my three course load is two preps or three.  Our institution officially discourages a four course, three (or four) prep load, although it can and has happened (to me, of course).  But, a four course load might just involve two sections each of two courses.  If the section sizes are reasonable, this is about equivalent to a three course and three prep load.  There is a lot of variability out there in terms of how many sections of lower-division courses exist.

There’s one more big issue, which is how many students will you have and whether you have to do all of the grading?  Keep in mind that in the undergraduate world which is the main topic of this series of posts, you probably won’t have huge numbers of students in each course, but you also probably won’t have graders and/or teaching assistants.

There’s another smaller issue in the sciences, and that is how lab courses are handled.  This can range from a three-hour per week lab being counted as the same as a one-credit class to a three-credit class.  The reality is that such a lab is probably the same effort as two-thirds of a standard three-hour per week class, even though the student is probably only getting one hour of credit.

Spousal hires

At a non-elite undergraduate institution; good luck with that!  We probably each had to blow a Dean just to get this one tenure-track position.  If you are looking for some sort of staff position or adjunct work for your spouse or partner, that could actually happen.  It may or may not have anything to do with whether the department(s) want to consider a spousal hire.  It’s mostly a numbers game.  When you only hire a tenure-track faculty member every five years or so in a given department, you generally don’t have the luxury to hire two at a time in one department or one each in two different departments at the same time.  Just understand spousal hires are generally a major perq that happens only at a small fraction of institutions.

On the other hand, if both of you are applying for different faculty positions at the same school at the same time, you just might have a bit of leverage.  If you get a campus interview, you might be successful at getting your spouse an interview.  While a tenure-track position is sacred, an interview slot isn’t.  After all, most on-campus interviewees will not get hired anyway, and even a “courtesy interview” can occasionally turn out well.

“Rumor sites”

Most fields, if not all, have a website where anonymous information can be found relating to the progress of the job search at particular institutions.  This can potentially be useful if you are most of the way through the job season and the places where you thought you might have a chance have made offers.  Those schools might not send you a rejection until someone has signed a contract, or even never.  I had the classic experience of receiving a rejection letter forwarded to my new institution that was dated after what would have been the start of the contract for that school!

With some knowledge about the status of various searches, you might still have time to apply for less attractive jobs, apply for another post-doc position (remember, I’m mostly talking about the physical sciences here), or hang on for another year at your current position.

However, just keep in mind that this information can be bogus.  It can range from someone on the search committee clandestinely posting the exact details from the search to some gadfly who thinks they know what’s going on but doesn’t.  In between are candidates for the job that might range from someone who got a telephone interview and is just as in the dark on the rest of the search as everybody else, to someone that is accurately posting that they got the job.

Randomly calling a search committee because the wait is driving you nuts and there is no information on the rumor site is a dumb idea.  Calling a search committee because you are still interested in their position after receiving another offer is totally appropriate.


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