Say your goal is for a SLAC or R2 that has a reasonable teaching load and good research support. You have decent teaching experience. And you already have done one postdoc at an R1, which was not quite as productive as you had hoped due to some unusual factors outside your control - i.e., you think you can be more productive in the future. Would it be better to take a TT position at a SLAC with potentially low (but not nonexistent) support for research vs. a second postdoc at an R1?
Date: 25 Mar 2015 17:28
Number of posts: 5
RSS: New posts
This is a tough one. It really depends on how little research support you have at the SLAC and what the load is. If it's a 3-3 load (or less, duh) and there is a free subject pool (e.g. intro psych) plus some internal funds (startup and/or annual/summer funds) for research and your program isn't expensive then I'd take the SLAC. Your teaching experience and experience involving undergraduates in research (you HAVE to do this at your TT SLAC for your plan to work!) will look great on the market for a more elite SLAC or even R2 later.
If your load is greater than 3-3 and/or the support is worse than described here (no subject pool, no IRB, not enough equipment to do your area of research), then you'll need to take the postdoc unless you're willing to change your overall goals to be at this type of institution long-term. FWIW I am at this type of institution and I love it! I also get to do lots of research, but not as much as if I had a lighter load.
I confronted similar decisions during my job search year. Ultimately I was confronted by choosing between regional universities with a 3-3 or higher load but with contract systems instead of tenure; a TT SLAC position with a 4-3 load, a visiting elite SLAC position with a ridiculously low load + research support, or a Post-Doc with two very prominent researchers in my subfield. After offers had come in, I went with the permanent TT SLAC position and mostly have no regrets.
The main drawback with my position is that the 4-3 load basically closed down my ability to do much with research during my first year. Course preps and adjusting to the institution simply took a tremendous amount of time and energy. Fortunately, I had a bunch of data from grad school to keep me producing materials for conferences and some work towards publication. I dare say that you'll find a 3-3 load to be just as taxing, especially if you have more than 2 new course preps. In my case, a main motivating factor was that a Post-Doc guarantees nothing and too many Post-Docs can start to push one out of much hope for an academic position. I've seen colleagues who have a chain of post-docs at even elite institutions not land an R1 position after multiple searches. Success in the SLAC market is jeopardized in such a case because most SLAC search committees will want to see evidence of recent, effective teaching (i.e., last 1 to 2 years tops).
With your TT SLAC offer, you need to decide when "potentially low" is too low. If your SLAC provides enough annual funding to offset most of your travel expenses to one or two major conferences per year, can offer support with the essentials (e.g., computing, SPSS or a similar statistical engine), has a subject pool, and may fund some one-time research/faculty development start-up as part of your contract, that's not at all too bad. If there's an honors program or independent studies program where students work with faculty on research, all the better - esp. if working with those students gives you a little bonus pay. Even with a bare bones lab, you can do a lot these days. MTurk can easily expand a subject pool. Then, there's ever more free software that can help with unusual data analyses or even stimulus design.
Asstprof makes a great non-obvious point, too. Find out if the institution has an IRB. If it doesn't, this is a clear sign that research is not part of the institutional culture. Even if you have a way to do research at such a place, your colleagues won't likely be as enthused with research. In such an institution it's easy to feel isolated and bitter.
One final thought - in my opinion, a Post-Doc is only good if it 1) will teach you new skills that are highly sought out - and - 2) it's with a known researcher.
Hope there's something useful here!
I keep seeing people talk about "regional universities" here. However, a lot of places that clearly seem to me to be elite SLACs have "University" in the title (e.g. Wesleyan University).
DocJ, or anyone really, could you provide some good examples of both elite SLACS vs. regional universities?
Is this just a public state university system (e.g. SUNY, University of California system, University of Missouri system) vs. a private college thing? Granted there are definitely R1s within the state university systems, but are all of these so-called "regional universities" public vs. all of these so-called "elite SLACs" private?
Please correct me if I am wrong in that impression… I'm just confused about the distinction.
To answer Pearson's question, a good rule of thumb is that an elite SLAC is one that is ranked in the top 50 or so of the usnews "liberal arts colleges" list (or depending on your definition of elite, you might say top 20, or expand it to top 100).
A regional university might be one ranked in the "regional university" list on usnews. However some of the schools on these lists are liberal arts colleges. But they are not generally elite lacs.
You can't go by "University" or "College" because yes, Wesleyan University is an elite liberal arts college. But they have some graduate programs. Bryn Mawr College is another elite liberal arts program that also has graduate programs, but it does not call itself "University."
Regional universities can be private schools just as easily as public schools. I think they are thought of as regional because the population of students is regional.
Also, the vast majority of elite SLACs are private, but not necessarily all of them are (again, depending on your definition of elite.) For example, Saint Mary's College of Maryland is a public honors college of the U of Maryland system. Maybe it's not "elite" but it is ranked decently in the usnews liberal arts college list and is very well regarded.