I read one article declaring that these positions are a dead end because the teaching load is high, and there is no opportunity/time for pursuing research. I wonder two things: does anyone have experience getting some research done while working as a visiting assistant professor, and also, if your teaching experience is a little light for teaching intensive universities, could it be a good way to build your teaching portfolio toward a tenure track position at a teaching intensive university/college?
Date: 06 Jan 2016 21:04
Number of posts: 16
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It varies greatly. You can be teaching any number of classes but some are quite reasonable. While the emphasis is on teaching visiting positions are actually light on the admin duties.
I know people that did research while working as VAP. The main problem is that most of this positions are for one year and it is hard to get any research going unless you start early and get the IRB approval fast and so on. Most places will treat you as a regular faculty member and you can use the student's pool but no money. If you already have some data you can find time to write after you settle. It really depends how much you are willing to work hard to get some research going.
At our college the teaching load for such positions is 3-3 and this is one course less than the tenure-track and tenured faculty. The VAPs also have no advising duties or senior thesis mentoring duties, which I find to be way more than the work of one course. They also have no committee assignment.
If your long-term goal is to be in a tenure-line position at a SLAC, then these positions are desirable, in my view. VAP position demonstrates your teaching ability unlike any other position can, unless you are already on the tenure-track somewhere.
I do think it would probably be the wrong decision for someone who wants to end up at a research university.
At the SLAC I attended, this seemed to be a common stepping-stone to tenure-track positions at another SLAC. In fact, I was told by members of one department that they would be unlikely to consider any candidates who hadn't done one.
But I doubt it would help much if you want to be at a graduate institution.
As others said, these positions vary greatly. A VAP position at an elite SLAC will almost always carry a lower teaching load (e.g. 2-2 or even less if a lab counts as 2) than a TT position at an average school (e.g. 3-3 or more). You won't have to advise or do committee work, and these things take time. If you're motivated you can jump into research right away. I never did a VAP, but in both TT positions I've held I was able to get undergraduates in the lab in my first semester, and IRB proposals approved as soon as I stepped onto campus. It obviously helps if you have a research idea ready to go or already underway.
Whatever article you read might have been about VAPs in the humanities (often abusive) and/or at "lesser" schools. These give you 4-4 load and might make you do service. Not worth it! The key is of course selecting a VAP with a light load, one that treats you like a normal faculty member, and one that has good resources for jumping into research immediately (access to a pool, access to lab space — even shared, interested undergrads, etc.)
These are not good positions to take on if you want to work at an R1, even if you got a VAP with a light load. You should really do a postdoc instead. Even if you managed to be very productive in a VAP, it would send the wrong message to an R1 if you had one, unless the VAP was a freakish rare position held at an actual R1 (these occasionally exist). If you want to work at a SLAC these are excellent positions to have, especially if you don't have much teaching experience and/or if your whole record is all R1s (including undergrad). As others said, a lot of the time you won't even be considered for a SLAC position if you don't have this type of experience or sufficient teaching experience. For the R2-type places that fall between these categories, I don't think a SLAC VAP is the kiss of death, even if a postdoc is perhaps a better choice in some cases.
I agree that VAP positions can be an excellent stepping stone to positions at SLACs, if the college where you are a VAP is similar to the types of positions you ultimately want. I have been on multiple search committees at a SLAC and experience as a VAP was definitely desirable. Basically, you get a better understanding of the culture at a SLAC, teaching experience, (hopefully) some mentoring, and a sense of what it takes to balance teaching, research, and some service. I think 2-3 year VAP positions are better than 1 year positions, in that you'll have time to get letters from colleagues and some course evals to show evidence of teaching.
Everyone has already shared some great advice. I'll add, though, that of my colleagues who've taken a VAP position in the past, all of them are now tenure-track faculty. No, none of them are at an R1. Even with a VAP at an elite college (I've seen some with a 2-1 teaching load), it's probably better to take a multi-year post-doc at a prestigious lab than to pursue the VAP. The reality is you'll just get more done and will have more resources. Some VAP positions come with salary only and don't even include basic benefits, for example. Whether a VAP faculty member has access to campus resources for research will vary, too.
What a VAP is good for is developing greater teaching experience essential to land a good position at many R2 institutions and at nearly all SLAC positions. That said, if your VAP position carries some new course prep, the reality is you might not get a lot of research done. I'd thus recommend working on your dissertation data and publishing from that, or collaborating with a colleague at an R1 or your grad institution.
A final thought - I'm skeptical of 1 year VAPs. The reason is that taking one of these means you'll go right back on the market as soon as the position starts. Thus, your VAP won't really contribute much to your CV or, especially, to recommendation letters. If taking a VAP, I'd go for a 2 or 3 year position. The exception might be a 1 year VAP at a top notch institution.
I agree with a lot of what's above. Here are a couple quibbles:
The postdoc is only a better choice over full-time teaching *if* the long-term goal is to be at a research university. If you are coming out of an R1 PhD program, but wanting to end up at a SLAC, the VAP may help transition you to a small college path. Your advisers (if R1 faculty) may not get this and will almost certainly encourage the post-doc, but that could be because it's the path they understand best (their own).
Regarding benefits: The visiting assistant professors at my SLAC are full time employees (3-3 load) and have the exact same health care and benefits as the tenure-track/tenured faculty and firm job security for the terms of their contracts, barring some egregious behavior on their part. Most VAP positions that I've seen are a refreshing alternative to the world of part-time adjuncting, specifically for this reason, and they probably offer more institutional protection than a soft-moneyed post-doc of comparable length.
Regarding one-year positions: Yes, you have to be prepared to immediately be on the market again, and who wants to move for one year. But look at why the one-year position exists. If there's a full time VAP position, it may be an indication that the college will search for a tenure-track position in that area the following year. The VAP who has just taught all of the relevant classes will be taken very seriously if they are doing well and started the position with a modest publication history. Of course, that scenario would never happen at a research university, and one-year VAP positions exist at SLACs for other reasons like sabbaticals.
Anon (above) has some great points, but some additional notes from my experiences and knowledge from colleagues…
1. Benefits do vary. One SLAC VAP I was offered came with zero benefits whatsoever and was at a great institution. I'd check with the search committee chair during the interview or definitely if an offer comes through about any benefits.
2. While a VAP candidate may be taken seriously if a full tenure position does open, I'd in absolutely no way presume as a VAP candidate to have an advantage. Reality is that full tenure track positions tend to attract a different caliber of applicants than VAPs. Even at a mid-range SLAC, a full tenure position may well attach Ivy League graduates. Most institutions will want to open a tenure track position to a full search rather than just ushering an internal hire into the slot.
Yes, DocJ, regarding point #2, I fully agree that a mid-range SLAC WILL (not just "may well") attract Ivy League graduates. That said, if you are applying to a TT job at a school, your chances are better if you are the current VAP than if you are applying cold, with no connection whatsoever. I agree, though, that some VAPs take this the wrong way and think they have a good shot at a TT position because they are the current VAP, without accounting for the fact that the VAP search is much less competitive than the TT search.