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The unfairness comment drives me batty. As I've said before, hiring institutions are not giving out merit awards based on standards of fairness. They are hiring who is best for their department. What about being fair to their students, those who are paying to come to the university? Or being fair to everyone else that works there? Fairness is simply not an issue in this type of situation. At least, this type of fairness. Certain types of discrimination is clearly relevant for all sorts of reasons, including these types of discrimination I have in mind are based on things irrelevant to job performance.

Second, even if we were giving out awards based on fairness, it seems impossible to do so. Some people come from academic families, have better PhD advisors, have money to go to conferences, etc. There is just no fair way to evaluate who has had an equal starting point.

I have to say, I have a hard time believing there were no teaching opportunities for this grad student. I suppose there could be a school like this somewhere in the US...but nearly 99% of places this seems not true. At least I mean, in the US. There are community colleges almost everywhere, and even if not there is online teaching opportunities. The poster at Daily Nous said he thought online teaching would not be as valuable as TA experience. I think this is almost certainly false, as the way things are going online teaching is often more valuable than in-person teaching experience. It is more valuable insofar as less people have it, so it makes you stand out in a good way if you were the lead instructor for an online course. As for TAing...this is almost irrelevant to hiring at teaching schools.

For those people who are at institutions that offer a ton of research time and almost no teaching experience, well they have plenty of time to get adjunct experience given all their research support.

As for the adjunct issue. I think the main issue with adjuncts comes with so many people doing it full-time for a living. But if you are a grad student who also gets a grad stipend, I think adjuncting actually fits in nicely. And not all adjunct places are the same, some do pay well and give benefits.


I think you're right to point out that proximity of teaching opportunities I should be a factor one considers, Marcus. Ease of getting to regular conferences is another one; the west coast is nice, and cost of living in the midwest is low, but getting to conferences is a lot cheaper and easier on the east coast.

FWIW, I did my PhD at an institution in a major Canadian city. Throughout my PhD, I tried to find sessional work nearby (which is to say, up to three hours away, and across two provinces). No dice, although I know a few people who did manage to get it (often as a result of their experience teaching K-12). The thing is that the glut of candidates goes all the way down, and (here, at least) much sessional and the equivalent of community college work is unionized and protected by a points system. This is a very good thing, but it does make it a lot harder to enter the system. Especially without significant prior teaching experience. So students are reliant on what their department can (or is willing to) give them, or what they can get from a cognate department. And there's not enough of that to go around.

It's also worth noting that I know of several departments (across the PGR ladder, including unranked ones which claim to specialize in preparing their graduates for teaching jobs) that require their students to teach (up to a 2-2 load), but do not pay them for doing so. Instead, it counts towards their tuition waiver/stipend (which is often not enough to live on). That's not OK, and it certainly isn't the sort of teaching experience we should be encouraging students to get.

More generally, can you guys say a little about what it is, exactly, that makes teaching a single course so much better than TAing for a comparable course? I agree when all we're talking about is teaching vs. grading, but many TAships also involve significant classroom contact (often as many hours as the instructor gets). In those situations, the TA is probably doing *more* work than the instructor (and slightly less than an instructor without a TA), and yet I keep seeing it being dismissed as not relevant. Why's that? What is it that the instructor does that the TA doesn't? Is it just syllabus design, or is it course *load* that's doing the work for you guys?


Differences between TAing and Teaching:

1. As a TA you explain the professor's lectures in your sections (at least usually). This is entirely different from creating your own lectures out of thin air, without having any other lectures to go on. This was one of the hardest parts for me, as I switched from TAing to teaching. I was *great* at explaining the professor's lectures and the students loved me for it. It was an entirely different thing to learn to just do my own lectures, activities, etc.
1.2 - Getting students excited about a topic on your own is much harder than getting them excited about a topic in the position of a TA.

2. Writing a syllabus and arranging the general structure of the course is a lot of work, and the TA doesn't do this. Making syllabi as examples is good practice, but not at all the same as making a syllabus and teaching it.

3. Students tend to like TAs more, in my experience. It is much easier to win the approval of students as a TA.

4. If you are adjuncting it shows you are balancing a lot of teaching work and research work, which teaching schools want to know you can do. (not exactly on topic, but often PhD institutions have better students than the students at many teaching schools, hence another value of adjuncting.)

5. At the end of the day, as a TA, you are simply not responsible for how the course turns out. This sense of responsibility alone changes the experience.

All of these things add up to the two experiences being nothing alike, at least for the purposes of evaluating someone's readiness to get a job. Hence I think potential grad students should be wary of accepting PhD positions in the UK or Canada, or anywhere that it is hard to get teaching experience.



FWIW, I don't share your experience of 1 or 1.2 at all, and I'm skeptical about 3 and 5. As a TA, I (well, we, I guess) explained the reading, and fostered discussion. We were almost never required to attend class (I never was, sometimes others were), and almost never had access to the primary instructor's notes. While it's true that our meetings were usually the second time students heard things, that doesn't mean they came to them prepared or knowing the material. Not by a long shot. The main benefit TAs had was that the groups were smaller (though still large at 35 a pop), which makes it easier to ensure that everyone is on the same page than when you're teaching several hundred all alone.

As for 1.2, my experience has been the opposite: as the primary instructor, I control the material, and usually know a fair bit about it, and that makes it a lot easier for me to share my enthusiasm.

I agree with 2, but I'm not convinced it makes much difference.

WRT 3, my experience has been that less student contact (i.e. seeing two groups once a week rather than one group twice), less authority to do stuff (e.g. change deadlines, etc.), and doing all the grading (which makes you the bad cop) all made it *harder* to get the students on-side than when I'm solo-teaching.

WRT 5, I dunno. *My* experience of it is different, sure, but not in a way that seems to make it substantially harder (or even substantially different).

So it looks like it all boils down to 4. And I agree that that makes a really big difference. But at that point, I think we're talking about juggling a teaching *load*, not just teaching simpliciter. On the simpliciter front, TAing a class looks pretty similar to teaching a class. There are differences, of course, but we shouldn't oversell them. The real difference comes from the nature of the job expectations, and the structure of the job.

That's fine, and I think it makes sense to prioritize candidates with that experience. But let's be clear about what it is that we're after, and let's not discount the work TAs do. It's real work, and it really does track the work instructors do pretty closely. It's just the scale that's different, and that's because it's not the same kind of job.

(For the record, I did post essentially the same question over at DN, and Marcus gave a detailed answer there. But I still think we're overselling the differences, and slipping between talk of teaching and talk of juggling a teaching load.)


Well you think it boils down to 4. But many hiring committees don't. So even if you are right, it is wise for potential grad students to keep in mind that many search committees will judge them by lack of teaching experience, and hence it makes sense to consider teaching experience possibilities in choosing which grad school to attend.


I agree with Amanda's point 2. Designing a course is not easy and costs a lot of time. It makes a big difference. For example, when I design a course, I have to think about what topics to include in the course; I need to look for appropriate readings according to the level of the course. Based on the student population, I need to think about whether to assign a textbook or just assign papers. If I decide to use a textbook, I need to compare a few of them in terms of their contents, prices, availability, etc. Then I need to think about the amount of work I want to assign to students (both good for them and good for me). Some schools require learning outcome reports at the end of the semester... I'm sure there are more.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Michel: Thanks for continuing this conversation. Let me try to clarify what I take some relevant differences to be, and why I think most search committees at teaching schools are likely to have a similar perspective--as I think we may have been talking past each other a bit.

You write, “as the primary instructor, I control the material, and usually know a fair bit about it, and that makes it a lot easier for me to share my enthusiasm.”

One thing I think your comments here and at Daily Nous miss is just how often, when teaching courses at a teaching institution, one actually *doesn’t* know a fair bit about the material before teaching it.

This is in my experience one of the main reasons—in fact probably the main reason—why search committees prize teaching rather than TA experience (and is is why breadth of independent teaching experience is prized as well). As Ornaith O'Dowd pointed out over at Daily Nous, people at teaching institutions are looking to hire people they are confident can step in and teach a variety of courses effectively on Day 1. A track record of doing just that is important.

Generally speaking, as a TA in grad school one is an assistant in a few courses generally dealing with material one knows something about. In contrast, in my time at a teaching focused institution I have had to create entire courses in Ancient Philosophy, Business Ethics, Bioethics, Philosophy of Law, Justice, International Justice, Morality of Warfare, etc.—often multiple courses at the same time while learning a lot of the material from scratch.

With this in mind, think about this for a moment. There you are, having to choose between 100 candidates. 95 out of 100 have TA experience with just a few courses. These candidates have *no* experience creating courses from scratch, let alone a variety of courses on material they have little background in—courses that your department is going to need to have created and taught, and taught well...while doing all of the other things they need to do in the job to be successful (publish, etc).These candidates have *no* track record of showing they can do any of this successfully.

Now take, on the other hand, a candidate who has adjuncted multiple courses a semester at a nearby university—including a fair variety of courses—for 4 years in grad school, all while publishing and finishing their dissertation. This person has given the search committee *much* more to go on to believe they are likely to be successful in the job.

I fear that the way you want to compare teaching versus TA-ing--focusing squarely on what it is like to teach versus TA one course--problematically abstracts away from all of these relevant details. It is not just that teaching a single course is somehow vastly superior with TA-ing (I wouldn't find a person with experience teaching a single course all that experienced either). Rather, it that when you put a bunch of different things together—experience teaching courses independently, breadth of experience teaching different courses, experiences with a real teaching load, etc.—a candidate who gets a lot of teaching experience during grad school is a *far* better candidate than candidates coming out of grad school with just a few TA-ships.

Why is this, in my view, the relevant comparison? Answer: because a *lot* of candidates only have experience TA-ing a couple of courses. When that is the sum total of your experience in the classroom--when you have little or no experience putting together syllabi, little or no experience teaching the variety of courses my department needs, little or no experience balancing a real teaching load with other things, etc.--you simply haven't given the committee good evidence that you are well-prepared for the job...at least not compared to a candidate who has taught eight different courses independently while in grad school. And, to be clear, these are the kinds of people one is competing against.

So when I hear people ask, "Why isn't TA experience enough?", my answer isn't, "Because TA-ing a single course is vastly different than teaching a single course." The answer is: because you're going to be competing against people with a *lot* of teaching experience--people who have a real track record suggesting they can do the job they are being considered for: a job that involves juggling a ton of things all at once; teaching a wide variety of material; and so on and so forth--the kind of thing people with a lot of independent teaching experience have shown they can do but which someone who has only TA-ed a couple of courses has not.

Look, I get it: this sucks. Everything about the job market sucks. But this is (in my experience) the reality.

Marcus Arvan

On further thought, I want to underscore one other thing I mentioned over at Daily Nous. The only relevant comparison is not just “teaching” versus “TA-ing.” Another relevant category is teaching courses at a *teaching* institution.

I cannot overstate how different the expectations are—among students, T&P committees, and administrators—for teaching quality at a teaching institution versus an R1 (where grad students get all of their TA experience).

I got splendid TA and teaching reviews in grad school. And I did it just by standing in front of the class and lecturing. This sort of thing just does not fly at a school like mine. When I got here, my evaluations tanked - and I had to fundamentally overhaul everything I did in the classroom. And I actually had quite a bit of experience teaching independently in grad school.

So here then is the position a lot of search committees at teaching schools are in nowadays. 95 out of 100 candidates only have TA that is far, far removed from the reality of what teaching is like and expected at teaching institutions. The remaining 5 out of 100 candidates went out of their way in grad school to get that kind of experience, demonstrating a real track record of success (not to mention syllabi, course materials, etc.) in the very environment being hired for. Those five candidates are way better prepared for the job—they are a better “bet” for the hiring committee—than the 95 who just got TA experience in their R1 grad program.


Just wanted to note that in the UK TA's run seminars, which are like small classes but with more discussion. I've also taught my own courses. The differences? Not many to be honest. The seminar teaching I did was also very similar to the typical philosophy classes I had in the states. Yes, I know this doesn't engage with all of Marcus et al's points... I just wanted to quickly note the similarities I encountered for what it's worth, whatever that is.


Seminars are very different from most undergraduate teaching.


Well as I said that hasn’t been my experience at any time.


Pendaran when you were an undergraduate in the US your intro classes were similar to seminars? Teaching would be so much easier if that was the case for me. I have taught a few seminars and many, many intro classes, and the way I teach is a different ball game. I just don't know how someone would do a seminar style class with 20-200 intro kids. Seminars I teach are very easy prep and much less stress as far as performance goes. (and never more than 10 students)


"For better or worse, PhD programs' research reputations are not all that matter for the job-market--and anyone choosing between PhD programs should be aware of this, and the different opportunities for teaching that different programs afford."

This seems right to me, though I'd probably go a step further. Don't go to a PhD program unless it offers teaching opportunities. I suppose there might be an exception if the school tends to place students in R1 schools. Trying to get a job at a teaching school without teaching experience is, as far as I can tell, much like applying to an R1 without any publications.

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