By Anna Roberts-Pilgrim, PhD
Have you ever wondered what it takes to work in a teaching-based professorship? Looking to shift gears into a more predictable routine than found with graduate school or postdoctoral fellowships? Wanting to get away from fume hoods and pipettes? Well, look no further than last month’s teaching-based professorship workshop.
On October 11, 2016, the NICHD Intramural Office of Education hosted "The Secret Insider's View on Teaching-Based Professorships" workshop, where Dr. Sydella Blatch shared stories from her six years of teaching experience. Blatch began her academic journey as a graduate student at Arizona State University. She later accepted a two-year postdoctoral position at the NIH and then continued on as an assistant professor of Biology at Stevenson University, Maryland. She is now an associate professor.
Blatch began the workshop with a dose of scientific reality. Only 15% of people with a PhD in life sciences get tenure-track positions within five to six years of earning their degrees, and only 7% of higher learning institutions are research-based (data from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching). This should motivate us all to broaden our employment horizons. She drew stark comparisons between teaching-based and research-based professorships, expounding on three key points.
First, teaching-based institutions are student-centered. This encompasses not only effective teaching, but also making time for students outside of the classroom. Your success or failure in this area determines your longevity!
Second, there is a large service component outside of the classroom in which you support the student body and campus events, as well as participate in departmental committees and institutional governance on many levels.
Third—this may come as a surprise—you are expected to conduct research for publication and to give students research experience.
These responsibilities lead to a very busy life, potentially filled with long hours and hard work. As Blatch demonstrated how her weekly schedule transformed from a neat six-hour day to monstrous 12-hour days—filled with meetings, service projects, research, and unscheduled office visits from students—we all gasped. Loudly. She assured us that they weren’t impossible tasks and that her work is rewarding and, most importantly, fun. Her workweek was eventually reduced from 70 to 40 hours.
For those of us who are lion-hearted and see this type of position as a chance to achieve our best, Blatch talked about how to apply for a teaching-based professorship and make ourselves viable competitors for aposition. She emphasized that teaching and research statements are opportunities to showcase how you will be an excellent teacher, mentor, and role model to the student body. A key part in making these statements competitive is a thorough examination of the job advertisement. Without this, your application package will fall short; you need to understand the mission and culture of the university and department to which you are applying.
So, if you have a love for sharing information, or igniting the fire of science in the next generation of Nobel Prize winners, you may have found your niche. But remember, teaching-based professorships are not for the faint of heart!