Many thanks to Helen for inviting me to contribute to this series. I am assistant professor at Mount Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts, which is a small, liberal arts college for women.
Career path. I have been at MHC since 2012. Before that, I was a post doc at Amherst College. I completed my PhD in 2010 at MIT, where I worked primarily in epistemology. My postdoc gave me teaching experience and time to expand my research into ethics.
Research. The financial research support at MHC is tremendous. Everyone is guaranteed about $1700 for travel per year every year (for a conference or talk in which they are a participant—it’s slightly less for attendance only). Even if you don't manage to negotiate a start up or research budget, you’re covered. Faculty can also apply for yearly research grants from the college. I’ve received one per year since I’ve been here and haven’t paid for any travel on my own, despite a quite busy global travel schedule. There is also financial support for faculty to learn and collaborate together by, e.g., creating reading groups or faculty-only seminars.
There is also public recognition of faculty research. Accomplishments are announced and celebrated at monthly college-wide faculty meetings. There are also “Faculty Fridays” where faculty share their recent research.
Other benefits specific to MHC result from its location: it is within 20 minutes of Amherst College, Hampshire College, Smith College, and UMass. Though four of these are quite small, with tiny philosophy departments, together they form a large and exciting philosophical community. Since some recent retirements at MHC, we are a department of three permanent faculty. It doesn’t feel that way thanks to the greater community. All of the five college philosophy departments also constantly host talks and events.
Finally, pre-tenure faculty get one paid semester of pre-tenure leave after reappointment. There is an option, which many take, of an unpaid second semester—to be funded by either external grants, past frugality, or what not. After tenure, faculty have the same option every four years. This is generous: many other institutions provide only one semester every six or seven years.
Teaching. MHC’s teaching load is 2-2, excluding occasional independent studies and thesis projects. Three of the classes are roughly introductory and in the areas hired to teach, the fourth is a seminar on any topic. The classes are largely discussion based and writing intensive. Most have between 20 and 30 students, though some are larger. (Logic gets up past the 70s and is one of the only classes with a grader.) Since the classes are always writing intensive but not always small, grading can be quite onerous—especially if you take seriously your job of teaching critical thinking and writing, as most faculty here do.
The teaching is thus more intense here, but it is also more rewarding. The students choose MHC because they value the liberal arts. They are thus refreshingly not cynical or dismissive about the value of philosophy (like my MIT students were).
The proximity of MHC to UMass also provides opportunities for graduate teaching and advising. I taught a graduate course there in spring 2014, and have been on a number of graduate student committees. I suspect some of this kind of part-time work with graduate students is possible at other undergraduate only institutions, but it’s particularly easy to get at MHC.
Service. The benefit of a small department is that there isn’t as much bureaucracy. Our department does, however, meet fairly often to discuss the curriculum, learning goals, and to think about the future of the major and the department. College service usually starts after the first year and involves standing on one college-level committee and evaluating grant proposals, fellowships, appeals, or the like.
Mount Holyoke is faculty run. Everyone is expected to attend monthly college-wide faculty meetings, where most of the business gets done. This way of running the college, and the expectation of attendance, says something about the culture. Faculty are expected to be involved in the life and functioning of the college.
All of this, of course, can provide more pressure and means of procrastination. Research is hard, lonely, and there aren’t as many deadlines (or urgent looking student faces) to push you to get things done. This is why it’s so good, and so important, that MHC cares about and supports research. Both the college and the faculty want colleagues with active and exciting projects. MHC’s self-conception is as of a research and teaching institution—not just a teaching school, as such places are often viewed from the heights of top-tier philosophy programs.
Culture. MHC’s is a women’s college. Members of the student body are either female or identify as women. (The faculty is co-ed.) On a daily basis, working at a women’s college—at least this one—is not all that different from working at a co-ed school. Differences in my experiences at MHC, Amherst, and MIT are likely better explained by the distinct self-conceptions and cultures of the colleges, which don’t have to do with the sex or gender distribution of their student bodies. Teaching at MHC has, however, made certain, independently important issues especially salient and urgent for me. Consider, for example, diversifying syllabi: it’s harder to commit to teaching a standard all dead white dude Introduction to Political Philosophy when you think about what your audience would be like. Beyond that, teaching philosophy at a women’s college can be a nice antidote to what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy.