I have an upcoming campus interview at a SLAC that is my dream job. My undergraduate training was at a SLAC, and I loved the environmentparticularly the smaller classes, hands on learning, and interdisciplinary emphasiswhich is why I am so attracted to this job (I also love to teach). My graduate training was at a private R1 institution where grad students cannot teach, so I feel very fortunate to have made it this far in the selection process with experiences that do not include instructor of record. I was wondering if anyone who has made a similar transition has advice for my interview. Were there any questions you were not prepared for? Were there any questions you wished you had asked? Thanks for any advice you have!
Date: 19 Jan 2014 15:49
Number of posts: 16
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Please ignore the strikethrough above—I had set apart that phrase with hyphens and it got crossed out!
R1toSLAC - I had a similar experience this Fall. I also went to a SLAC for undergrad and am currently attending an R1 institution. I interviewed at a SLAC for a TT position and got the job! I found that they asked me A LOT about my undergrad experience (and not so much about my grad school experience) - for example, "What were your favorite classes at your undergrad SLAC?" and "How do you think the students at your undergrad SLAC and this SLAC compare and contrast?". Also, a lot of questions were aimed at figuring out if I could conduct research in the SLAC environment, and how I could include undergrad students at every step of the way. For me, this was easy because my research doesn't use a subject pool common at big R1s, and I have years of experience teaching undergrads about research in my advisor's lab. Ultimately, you want to sell that you LOVE teaching, and that you had the experience of attending a SLAC and an R1 and you know that a SLAC is where you want to be. Good luck!
I went from an all public R1 background including teaching huge lecture sections as a grad student instructor of record to my current tenure track position at a SLAC. So, I think I may have some insight.
First, be sure you articulate that you "get" what a SLAC's purpose is. I was told by my college's dean that I had the best answer about what a SLAC's purpose is out of all candidates interviewed. In your case, your undergrad experience can provide a wealth of insight. In addition, be sure you emphasize engagement and concern for students. You don't want to go overboard with this or it could come across as false, but be sure much of what you discuss is student-centered. In my case, I made sure to talk about the students who worked with me as research assistants during my grad school years. This helped to convey that research isn't something I do for my own sake exclusively; instead, it's something I do to cultivate student engagement.
My first question would be about service. Find out from each faculty member you meet how much service they do for the college. I wish I had better insight into this coming into my current position. Also, as anon3 noted, ask about research support - especially support for research involving students. Ask about advising, too. Do faculty handle advising? If so, is it majors only? Freshmen? Advising can devour time, so be sure to check into this and check into how many advisees faculty members tend to have. Check into how many freshmen advisees, too. Freshmen in particular can be quite time-consuming and problem-laden to advise.
Ask about travel funding and support for necessary equipment (e.g. SPSS or another statistical package). SLACs can vary with the support. Some don't offer anything. Other places, like my institution, do have fairly generous support that may be limited to some maximum amount annually. You should also visit the library and check out the journal databases to see what resources you'll have. While you're there, browse the stacks for a bit to see whether there are many newer texts in your specific area available.
Finally, it may be worthwhile to check into summer teaching. Is this expected? If not, could you possibly offer a summer course or two? Summer teaching can be a great way to boost salary.
Hope this helps!
As someone who just got a tt SLAC job (I also went to grad school at an R1 and also did by undergrad at a SLAC), I would say that one thing that really helped me was to talk to the professors that I had worked with at my SLAC and get their advice. They helped me think about their job from a different perspective than I had as a student (or that my advisor at my R1 could give me).
A question you might get — and I would think very hard about the answer (I'm sure you have, but still….) — is how you could know that you love teaching if you haven't done it. One-on-one mentoring in a lab context is different from teaching a course, and enjoying the hands-on and interdisciplinary environment as a student is very different from being able to cultivate that environment (or enjoying the steps required to cultivate that environment) as a professor. You probably said something really great on the topic in your teaching statement (or else it's really surprising you got an interview!), but teaching is really hard (and the difference between the best SLAC courses and the mediocre ones feels — upon reflection — to be terrifyingly intangible) and requires very different skills than it sometimes appears to require.
If I had to guess, the #1 concern that they will likely have about you is your lack of classroom teaching experience (I know the people who interviewed me had that concern, and I had been instructor-of-record in 2 classes, TA'd for 8, had lots of other non-university teaching experience, and had great student reviews throughout). They may ask you "how would you design x course?", and you want to have a good answer prepared for the service classes you'll need to teach and for any courses in your field of expertise. When you can, giving specifics will tend to help your case (e.g., not "I would assign them an empirical article on the topic and then have them do some hands-on activities" and instead "I would assign x article by y author, and then have students replicate the experiment's design"). Other questions I got were related to "what are you most scared about in making the transition from an R1 to a SLAC" and "If you had 10 hours to work in a day, how many hours would you ideally spend on research, teaching, and service?"
Are they having you teach a sample class?
I've had a few years of visiting positions at SLACs, and I was able to be a part of some of the other job searches (reading applications, hearing discussion, etc.). The advice in this thread so far is spot on - allow me to only add a couple other things:
1. Make sure you're incredibly clear about what they expect from your job talk (assuming you're giving one, and not just teaching a class). My guess is that it won't be like a typical conference presentation - check to see what the audience is going to be like. Will there be undergrads there? Approximately what level, and how much might they know about your area? You may have to define some terms and explain some of the background more than you normally would, if it was just a talk for faculty. If you talk over their heads, that's a huge strike against you.
2. The biggest point might that you need to convince them that a SLAC is where you truly want to be - you're not just using this interview for practice for an R1 job, and you're not hoping to go back on the market again in two years. I've watched faculty look through someone's application, and make comments about how great it was they also went to a SLAC for undergrad, so they know what they'd be getting into. It will be absolutely critical to talk about working with undergrads in your research - not just your own work, but supporting them for their independent studies, honors projects, etc.
Congratulations on the interview!
Anon's comment (above) about lack of teaching experience could be pivotal in your interview. Be sure to have a clear, purposeful teaching philosophy before you arrive on campus. If you've not developed one or need some room to generate ideas, browse the Chronicle of Higher Education. You can bet a SLAC is really going to emphasize teaching. During my interview, I made sure to discuss how my research is of value and interest even in the classroom as part of my "job talk" (research talk). Good luck!
All of the above is good advice - especially the importance of communicating that you want to be at a SLAC, and this isn't your backup plan. Your undergrad background at a SLAC is a big plus in terms of you "getting" it.
I've been at a SLAC for three years and peripherally been involved with several searches. Depending on the SLAC (emphasis and size), two things that haven't been mentioned that are important are the quality/ quantity of your research program and your breadth. I have seen candidates who seem to want to come to a SLAC so they can stop with their pesky research. That is a non-starter at most schools. Check on faculty websites (especially junior or recently tenured people) to see how active they are. The clearer your plan for getting research done, the stronger your application will be (Need kids? Do research on day cares in the area. Need an ERP set up? Have a ballpark figure of how much it will cost and what infrastructure needs to be in place to get that going.) You don't need to have every i dotted, but the goal (for the committee and candidate) is to hire someone who will succeed and thrive here. It is safer to know whether we can meet someone's clearly-stated needs than to roll the dice, hope they figure it out later, and we can give them what they want. It also makes you look more competent to have that information. Be creative and flexible in how your needs could be met - ask about the range of startup packages. Definitely articulate how students will work on your research, and if you can discuss funding sources that you plan to take advantage of, even better.
Look at the size of the faculty and the range of courses that they teach. With a smaller staff, faculty at SLACs can wind up teaching more broadly than those at other places (there is a lot to cover with fewer people). Teaching beyond my immediate expertise is one both the fun and challenging aspect of my job. Be broader than your dissertation, curious about other areas of psychology and other disciplines, and thoughtful about psychology as a whole and how it might connect to other departments on campus.
I echo the suggestion to find out what is required in the job talk. We ask for a standard research presentation, and while talking over students' heads is bad, simplifying it too much for undergraduates is arguably worse (at least here). When we see a talk that is not very deep, it is very hard to determine whether the talk was dumb, or just dumbed down. Making the talk accessible to undergraduates while also being clear that it you have a sophisticated, competent and interesting research program isn't easy, but that is what you should be shooting for.
As someone who loved their own slac undergrad experience, had the R1 postgrad experience, and also thought a slac was preferable when it came time to land a tt position, let me offer the benefit of my experience.
after interviewing at several slacs i quickly learned that having a faculty position at a slac is much different than being a student there. if fact, what makes being a student at a slac so pleasant is exactly what makes being faculty at such a place potentially less ideal for someone used to doing research at an R1 pace. undergrads require a lot of hand holding and attention. you will teach more. you will spend a lot of time in office hours, grading, etc. i'm not saying this is bad, only that you should know what you are getting into if you don't have teaching experience, and are basing your preference to work at a slac on your own student experience.