Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Science on a Sphere exhibitThanks for this post on Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs)  – what they are and how to apply from an excellent WomanOfScience:

In honor of the most recently passing holiday (Halloween), I thought I would try to demystify the application process for tenure-track appointments at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs). Over 85% of professoriate jobs are at PUIs, so more than likely and right about now, you are weighing your options and trying to decide if that second or third postdoc is right for you. I know that some people have a misconception about what it means to be a professor at a PUI, and I’ll admit my family does too. They think that professors at small schools don’t do research, they only teach and that they only have to work for 9-10 months of the year. This is just not the case! We do teach, we do research and we perform extraordinary feats of service. We just can’t usually do research at the pace of a research one school, or like we did when we were postdocs. At PUIs, we usually don’t have access to graduate students, lab technicians, or postdocs to run our labs while we teach. There are at least three tiers of teaching institutions and maybe more depending on whom you ask. Here’s the skinny on what I know…

There are the elite liberal arts colleges, where one teaches on average two lecture courses per semester, about 8 contact hours. At these schools, one is definitely expected to conduct research with students. There’s the middle-tier school where one has about 12 contact hours per semester. A typical schedule maybe split over some combination of one to two lectures, along with the labs associated with that lecture course and an advanced majors lab type course. There is still an expectation that one will perform some student-centered research. Here’s an option which might be a nice bonus if you are at an institution or in a department where they built-in research release time into their teaching load. This is the case at my institution. And then there is the high-contact-hour liberal arts college department. At these schools one is in contact with students for about 12-15ish hours. At these schools, there is not the expectation of research. Some professors have even told me that they are even discouraged from doing research. Here’s some application material to think about in preparation…

You will need, at the least, a curriculum vitae, a teaching statement, and a research statement, all wrapped up in a cover letter. Some schools will ask for names and contacts of references to phone later, others will ask for formal letter. Some will also ask for student evaluation forms or course material, as well. If you are going to a place where you are expected to start a new class, you should feel free to submit your syllabus along with any course outline or material you may have on hand.

Although the vita is pretty much self-explanatory, I will share with you a few tips to adjust your vitae depending on type of teaching institution you are going for. First of all remember to highlight your teaching. You should probably not really change the order from highlighting the research first, especially if you are applying to the upper-tier liberal art institutions. Just remember, “This group of schools really want good researchers who can learn how to teach.” Move the teaching sections right below your educational background. If you don’t have any teaching, which is pretty much a must have for the middle and lower tier school, you should try to highlight any TAing or guest lecturing you’ve done in the past. If you have been associated with any outreach, perhaps it can be mentioned there or if you’ve lead any activities. The biggest difference for the two resumes for elite and middle is that the closer the institution is to the elite schools, the more they will be interested in your research and deciding if it fits into their department. For the lower tier school, they want to see that you can teach and that you can hit the ground running. So make your resume reflect that.

The teaching statement should reflect that you’ve given some thought to teaching. It should show that you are conscientious and care about your students and it should convey how you intend to get this point across to your students. It’s basically a statement of how you teach, what techniques you use in your teaching (pedagogy), how you reflect and improved in your teaching, and perhaps a summarized list of your courses taught throughout your teaching career. I also like to include some statement about how I also use my lab to mentor and train students in research. If you have been asked to teach a new class at the institution you are applying to, I would integrate that into my teaching statement as well. You can also add any teaching ideas you would like to introduce or classes on the books you would like to teach from. This will show your diversity.

The research statement should reflect projects that are student centered.  Then you should introduce the reader to your line of research and detail, without being jargonny or overwhelming, noting the fact that the reader has a Ph.D. in your general field, but perhaps not in your specific topic. Use the opportunity to teach them about your research. Being careful to convey how you would interact with a student in your research group. If you have supervised or mentored any students’ prior, you should highlight your achievements. You should convey how students can access your work and list specific projects they can work on in your group.

The cover letter should tie your application together. It should highlight your activities from you resume, research and teaching statements. And most of all remember it has to speak for you to the application reader.

So get your interview suit cleaned and get ready to start interviewing. Carpe diem!

Thanks for this great post! Do you have suggestions for applying to PUIs? Comment or send a post!

Comments on: "Application Season: Advice on the PUI" (2)

  1. Heather Walling said:

    Thanks for this post. This is exactly the kind of job I’m interested in and I’ve had no idea how to start, who to go to for help or advice, etc.

  2. Jenn Pearce said:

    I am currently at a physics position at a middle tier PUI. We teach 9 or 12 contact hours per semester (3-4 classes). One thing I would add to the above great advice is to keep in mind that your research and teaching statements will be read and evaluated by people outside of your discipline. If you are a physicist, you should also keep in mind that you will probably work as much with non-physics majors as with physicists, depending on the size of the school you apply to. Discussing your research as interdisciplinary and how you can involve lots of different students is a big plus, if you happen to have that type of program. You can also tie this in to your teaching statement, chances are at a PUI you will be teaching some introductory classes, and being able to discuss examples from your research that interest students from chemistry or biology or any other field will look very nice. As the author above points out, you can also sell your research as a way to train non-physicists if you can integrate them into your research.

    If you are thinking about getting one of these jobs, you might also consider visiting the type of institution you want to work at to see just what it is like. Even if you went to a PUI for your undergraduate degree, the faculty side of the mountain looks very different than the student.

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