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« How I learned to love writing philosophy: 3 steps | Main | Rightness as Fairness and another study on psychopaths & future-directed mental time-travel »

07/07/2017

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joshmugg

I took a one year VAP position, and two months into the position they asked me to stay on as a permanent 'Lecturer track' faculty member. I don't think that is common, but I have heard of VAPs at other institutions being converted to permanent lines after a few years. You can always ask in the interview if the position is renewable.

Also, as a VAP, I received really great mentorship on my teaching. My campus really pushes excellence in teaching, and all new faculty are part of a community group where we discuss pedagogical theory and practice. I also attend talks and workshops at our Center for Teaching and Learning (adjuncts are invited to these too, but few come).

I teach a 4-4-2 (well, 4-4-3 this year), and ensure that I only have 3 preps each semester. I actually learned a lot by teaching the same class twice in a semester, and I have enjoyed really honing my Intro Phil class, which I generally teach 2 sections of each semester.

The biggest downside was having to move, which fully occupied a couple of weeks, preventing me from doing anything philosophy related for that time.

Tim

I think (and I want to stress that I'm not giving facts here, just what's helped me) there are here things you need to do:

(1) make a hard deadline for when you'll quit doing that sort of gig while pursuing a TT/permanent gig. Then start telling people that's your deadline so that you actually stick to it.

(2) decide if your the sort of person who is able to prioritize their own interests over doing minor things for students. Here's what I mean: can you ignore student emails for a whole day so you can focus on your research? I don't mean "ignore them unless they seem really important" I mean genuinely ignore them. Like not-even-looking-at-your-inbox kind of ignoring. Are you willing to schedule your office hours at a time that works best *for you* even though you know that it won't work as well for your students? If you are that type of person, you'll have the potential to get research done even at a 5/5 load. If not, you definitely won't. There's always a panicked email and students will always crucially need you for something the moment you sit down to do your work. Always.

(3) decide if you are ok with doing an ok-but-not-great job at your teaching. If you demand more than that from yourself while doing a 5/5 load, you're screwed. Deeply.

---

If you fit, take the gig. If you don't, don't. So if you can't set a hard deadline to get out, get out now. If you can't prioritize you, take your chances adjuncting. If you demand excellence from yourself, give yourself a chance at it by teaching less, even if that means getting paid less. (and if you can't afford to get paid less, but still can't do less than perfect work, get out.)

Sam Duncan

I used to work in a 4/4 lecturer position and I'm now permanent faculty at a community college, which is 5/5 with optional summer teaching. Before that I adjuncted for a few years. Having been on multiple sides of this I'd say that there's no contest; you ought to take a 4/4 or even 5/5 lecturer gig if you can get it. There's a lot more stability in lecturer/VAP positions than there is in adjuncting. Most VAP positions can be renewed (sometimes indefinitely) and once you have the initial prep done teaching heavy jobs don't take that much work and you can have time to do research if you want. I don't think that my life is dismal by the way. I actually have a lot less stress than my friends on the tenure track at the research oriented school where I used to teach, the pay's good, and I like my students. The people who think that teaching heavy positions are a living hell have as a rule never done anything but 2/2's at research schools. On the other hand I found the constant stress and frustration of adjuncting really hampered both my research and teaching. It's hard to do good research or even come up with a coherent plan for a career when you're living in a constant state of low level panic. There's also the fact that adjuncts get no respect and practically no support from their institutions. Trust me that kind of thing matters for developing as both a teacher and a researcher. VAP/lecturers don't get the same support or respect as TT faculty, but they do get some. For instance,I actually had a really generous travel budget in my old lecturer job and the school was more than happy to help me apply for grants. You'll get none of that as an adjunct.
More importantly, there's the fact that VAP/lecturer positions usually have benefits while adjunct positions pretty much never do. Unless you're independently wealthy having health insurance through work is a big deal and it's nice to at least start getting some money in a retirement account.
Also, I can't help but note that despite the fact that by Tim's criteria I'm not at all the kind of person who can get research done in a 5/5 job, I seem to be doing pretty well on that front. I've had a paper published in a top specialty journal since I started my current job and I just got an R and R from one of the better generalist journals.

Amanda

Perhaps Tim is right, but it is depressing to think the only people who should take a teaching job are those "committed" to doing a mediocre job.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: For what it's worth, I pretty respectfully disagree with Tim and am with Sam on this. First, I didn't give myself a hard deadline for how long I would be willing to stay in such a possition. I instead evaluated how I was doing on the market each year, and decided to stay in the VAP as long as my performance on the market appeared to be going in a positive direction. Second, I do not think it is a good idea to do a mediocre job teaching in such a job. If you are in a teaching VAP, chances are your best chances for getting a TT job are at a teaching institution (if you were on track for an R1 job, you would probably be in a prestigious Postdoc or something). In that case, provided you can still find a way to publish, I think the best thing to do in a teaching VAP is to work your butt off to become the very *best* teacher you can be. That will make you a more attractive candidate for TT teaching jobs, whereas doing a mediocre job will make you less attractive.

The one thing I do agree with Tim, though, with is that if you are in a teaching VAP, you absolutely must find a way to publish as well. In my experience, this does require being wise with your time (I only check my email only once in the morning and once in the evening). It is not a good idea to focus so much on teaching that one lets one research slide. All of which makes things really difficult in a job like this. One has to find a way to be an excellent teacher *and* publish...which is really tough. I basically worked my tail in the ground trying to do both...but in the end the strategy ended up working for me (as I think it did for Sam): I worked my tail off to become the best teacher I could, scraped every other free moment I had to write and publish...and ended up getting a TT teaching job. I don't think I would have gotten a job had I let my teaching slide.

Amanda

I hope you and Sam are right, Marcus. I do know a lot of people who takes Tim's approach and it saddens me. I mean it saddens me even at research schools. Consider that research schools are often the schools that cost the most money, and supposedly are where students get the best education. If only parents knew that many professors were doing all they could to minimize effort spent on teaching. I do not mean to say Tim does this; his example was to a specific situation. But I do know many folks who have this general attitude and brag about how little time they put into teaching.

Tim

Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by "ok but not great".

Here's the deal: I've seen load of recent grads get in their heads that they want to be great teachers. And they set about doing this by catering to every small thing that could improve their students' performance.

Didn't understand chapter 3? Let's have two extra review sessions this week to get people caught up!

Missed all of our in-class Hume discussions? I'll catch you up, don't worry!

Etc.

This is the sort of behavior inexperienced people often take "great" teaching to consist of. If you do this type of thing with even a 3/3, you'll simply die. You'll actually end up being a pretty *bad* teacher (for a lot of reasons; you can probably figure most of them out on your own). And you'll have no time for research.

Here's a mantra that you have to take with you if you have a high teaching load: good enough is good enough. And I genuinely mean good enough -- not "just a little less than good enough, but close enough that I probably won't get in trouble". No, you have to actually teach as well as the job requires (this will differ, even within high-teaching-load jobs, quite a bit from place to place). BUT: once you've done that, you've (actually, honestly) done good enough. And then you can decide what to do with any extra time you have.

Some of that should go into research. Maybe some *should* go into teaching. Some should go to your family. Some should go into developing relationships with your colleagues.

The point is this: you can't prioritize "maximally awesome teaching" over everything else. You must identify when you've taught good enough, then balance the remainder of your commitments in the time that leaves you. If you *can't* drop the "maximally awesome teaching" mentality, you'll be a bad researcher, a bad colleague, and (in all likelihood) probably actually a pretty bad teacher (because being harried just doesn't work in the classroom).

In sum: do good enough. Then know, having done that, that you've done good enough.

Marcus Arvan

Hey Tim: thanks for clarifying - I think you're spot-on. It is important to be a good teacher. But I too have known people who have made the mistake of going totally overboard in the ways you mention, such that they neglect publishing and other important stuff. It is definitely not a good idea to put all your eggs in the proverbial teaching basket. One has to find a balance where one teaches well, publishes well, and so on--and it does take discipline. Totally agree. The thing not to do, though, is to make the converse mistake of only being a so-so teacher. I see now that that's the not what you meant, but I think that is another pitfall some candidates fall into: thinking they can only be ho-hum as a teacher and still be competitive for teaching jobs. The trick, or so I think, is once again balance--doing one's best to be the best teacher *and* researcher one can be with the time one has available!

Amanda

Tim I agree with you second comment. I know many graduate students, especially, who put wayyy too much time into teaching. I also think a pit fall of many graduate students is to try and be a perfect teacher while also being a maximally hard grader. That said, I have to disagree that good enough is compatible with ignoring desperate student emails or scheduling office hours according to your own convenience and not that of the students.

I suppose the email thing depends on how long you will ignore it, but I do know professors who simply ignore student emails, consistently. I think this is failing to be a good enough teacher. I also think it is the job of a teacher to be accessible during office hours, and if you do not take into account the schedule of your students then you are failing as a teacher.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: I think that's a fair critique of the letter of Tim's earlier statement. However, for all that, I think the overall spirit of his clarified remarks make sense. I've known people who we're willing to meet with students all day, everyday--basically going overboard, neglecting their research. I agree with Tim that that's a serious mistake, and a fairly common one at that. One has to set limits. On the other hand, I'm closer to you in spirit when you suggest that one shouldn't be content with "just being good enough not to get in trouble." I sincerely think one should be the best teacher one can be relative to the constraint that one has other important things to do (research, service, etc.).

Sam Duncan

Tim,

I have to say I more or less agree with your clarified take on things. I honestly think that too much of what you describe isn't good for students either. Yes they need support, but they also need to learn to work on their own without constant supervision and to take responsibility, which are two things any job will expect of them. Too much hand holding or even catering to laziness won't do that. I feel some people make the mistake of putting in a huge amount the work in their classes so their students don't have to. In the long run that doesn't do anyone any favors. There's also the trap of thinking that working more is always better, which isn't true either. I've actually found that some strategies I use that save me a lot of work in classes like discussing case studies or having in class ethics bowls in my ethics classes also work better than would simply lecturing for the whole course. On the other hand I do a lot of people at research oriented schools who really phone in their teaching and are even proud of that. That's inexcusable in my opinion.

Amanda

Yes, sounds right Marcus!

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