Tenure-track from Large Chemistry to Small Liberal-Arts Science
February 1, 2010 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Science tenure-track interview/negotiation/expectation advice filter. Going from large masters state-school chemistry dept to small liberal arts 'joint-science' dept.

I'm an assistant professor at a large, predominantly undergraduate state school (Masters Comprehensive), in a chemistry dept of ca. 30 faculty. I have an interview soon at a private liberal arts school 'joint science' dept (all 3 sciences: chem/phys/bio) with a *total* of 10 faculty.

Do you have advice on questions to ask at interview about Tenure, Facilities, Service/Committee expectations, teaching/research expectations, workload, startups, adjunct appointments in other depts, or anything else that you think differs between a SLAC vs State school.

Advice also welcome on negotiation for benefits when the school in question doesn't have it's own housing stock and the area is expensive to live in.

Any other advice from tennure track/tenured people at SLACs welcome.

Throwaway email at libartsdecision@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Education (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could be describing my school!
With regards to tenure, oh, the politics of it all. I think you should definitely ask about how professors are reviewed, if you should decide to extend your stay there.

For example, my school tried to quantify the rating process using anonymously submitted surveys that were filled out by students at the end of each semester. Of course, this process came with its own limitations... Basically, a lot of great professors were overlooked, because of stupid petty things like surveys from students hell-bent on revenge because of an unsatisfactory grade.

So. You should definitely look into how the school analyzes a prof's performance. In the end, the whole tenure process is bullshit, but you don't want to waste a few years at a school because they are particularly opaque about it.
posted by hellomina at 8:25 AM on February 1, 2010

(But I guess my advice applies to any school regardless of size...)
posted by hellomina at 8:27 AM on February 1, 2010

In my field (math) the issues you raise are all really good ones to discuss with a potential new employer -- but after you have a job offer, not at the interview. You don't want to start negotiating for benefits when "don't offer this person a job" is still one of the options for your negotiating partner.
posted by escabeche at 8:48 AM on February 1, 2010

Now, I'm not going through applications yet, but I'm intending to focus my academic job hunt on SLACs. I've developed some mentors at those institutions, and here's two big things they've told me to be ready to pay attention to during interviews:

1. Issues of teaching/research balance and integration. Really pay attention to how much they expect you to publish, how much recently tenured folks are publishing, et cetera. Consider how reasonable that load is with whatever the stated teaching load is. SLACs want to be able to show off that their undergraduates are getting authored on peer-reviewed publications, but how many, and what type, is enough? Do they expect you to do that while teaching a 4/4? Do you think that you can do that? Do they offer a summer salary for professors, or do you have to bring that in yourself? Are you expected to supervise students' summer projects regardless? How much financial support do they offer for undergraduates to work in your lab (will they buy supplies for students doing independent studies projects or honors thesis projects)? How much leeway do you have in selecting which students can work in your lab? Do you have to take anyone who is interested, or can you turn down unmotivated students? How many undergraduate advisees is each professor expected to work with (might be a lot if all students have to do a research thesis to get a degree)?

2. Teaching philosophy. What is yours, and why? How do you implement that in the classroom? How about in the research lab? What philosophies do the department as a whole espouse? Does your philosophy complement theirs?
posted by amelioration at 8:58 AM on February 1, 2010

but after you have a job offer, not at the interview

Unfortunately, this isn't a universal thing. In pretty much all the departments I've been associated with where I've had any view of the hiring process, if someone with a tenure-track line already didn't ask about these sorts of issues, it would have been seen as a lack of interest in actually coming, and we/they would have thought it likely that the candidate was just trying to score a raise off the home institution.

Not really any way of knowing how the department you're interviewing at would look at it, though, unless you know someone there well enough to ask privately.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:02 AM on February 1, 2010

I agree with ROU_Xenophobe, you should ask about what standard working conditions and benefits are before you get the job offer. You just shouldn't try to negotiate them until after you get it.
posted by grouse at 10:09 AM on February 1, 2010

I taught sabbatical replacement for a year at what I'm fairly certain must be the same place you are looking at. We had some kind of dean overseeing us who we at first had been happy about because he was a scientist himself, but the meetings he supervised were mostly him grandstanding about ways to divide up lab space. May be a bit tricky to keep up research in a mainstream field while teaching at such a quality liberal arts place--I remember profs there specializing in the physics of spider webs, in whether coin tosses could really be predicted--stuff at the margins where they didn't have much competition. I remember a day when students put up posters on their projects, and they were mighty impressive (with an exception or two!) A very able student body, though perhaps the hippie school had a few more flakes, and sometimes students from other schools joined in too. Labs were well-stocked with up to date stuff, but I may have given labs too little emphasis. I wasn't tenure track but one guy was promoted to tenure while I was there... He seemed able and dedicated and not overly a politics player.
posted by Schmucko at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2010

In math I've heard the same thing that escabeche said. (Caveat: he knows more than I do.) If it helps, I *had* an interview today (my throat's still sore from all the people I talked to!) and did *not* ask salary and benefits questions. This was for a postdoc, though, so the expectation may be a little different.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:36 PM on February 1, 2010

Here are somethings to consider. I would ask how many people they've hired as assistants have stayed through tenure. Don't ask how many people who have come up for tenure have gotten it, that's a different statistic. Some people get the hint and leave early. Some leave early b/c there is something not to their liking. Ask if any tenure decisions by the dept have ever been overturned at higher levels, either way. Ask what records are expected for tenure, how many classes, papers, grants, etc. Ask if they allow teaching release for a semester (to catch up on research) before tenure. Ask if you can double up your class load to give you a free semester. Ask what courses they expect or need you to teach and their typical sizes. Ask how often you'll get a TA or grader to support you.
posted by about_time at 8:35 PM on February 2, 2010

« Older Toronto patient needs reference to a good Buffalo...   |   Illinois Debt, Collections, and Garnishment Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.