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09/23/2022

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Bill Vanderburgh

I've never taken it that having a VAP or similar temporary teaching position, in itself, is an additional qualification. A postdoc, as a kind of recognition of research success and potential, could be. Having the additional successful teaching experience you get from a VAP or similar IS valuable. But after a run of a couple of years, by when you've taught several different courses, a couple of them more than once, and your teaching evaluations show a pattern of improvement to at least a good level, there's not much that more teaching can do for you. In fact, if someone is teaching so much that they are not getting new publications, the position is probably hurting their chances overall. At some point committees start reading a long list of temporary teaching positions as a sign that the candidate doesn't have the right stuff (whatever that is). From the candidate side, it is important to consider the massive impact of loss of early career retirement savings if you stay on the temporary treadmill, in addition to other factors.

Former SC member

I think there are a couple of ways in which VAPs can help you build your CV and increase your chances at a permanent position. One is by giving you teaching experience at a specific kind of institution. So if you got your PhD from a large public university and taught there, and then you teach successfully as a one-year VAP at a SLAC, I would imagine that a SLAC hiring for a permanent position would look favorably upon the SLAC-specific teaching experience.

Also, VAPs should help your chances by getting you a new teaching letter written by the chair of the department where you did your VAP. This was something that was offered to me, but I don't think there would be anything wrong with politely asking, if it's not offered. Then you'd have a teaching letter written by someone without a vested interest in your success, which could be valuable on the market.

I also think the prestige of the institution at which you do a VAP can matter.

Ultimately, I think a long string of VAPs may start to hurt your chances, unfortunately. But I agree with Marcus that your own success in getting interviews for TT positions is the best indicator of your chances.

early career

Trevor's post is very helpful. Bill V's comment is not.

By Bill V's logic, one should not accept VAPs, since hiring committees don't care if you are a good teacher (or they stop caring up to a point). Rather, if you are in a teaching-heavy VAP which is preventing you from writing, then you're just in a position where you're hurting yourself because, again, hiring committees think: 'eh, you can only be so good of a teacher'. Fair enough.

So department's should probably stop asking for VAPs, right? Faculty should probably stop taking sabbaticals too, that way they won't have to hire these VAPs who are wasting their time.

assistant prof

@early career -- the question is about whether a VAP will help you on the market, not about whether it's just that departments hire VAPs. i also don't think you should dismiss the advice of a senior person actively serving on search committees with first-hand experience of these kinds of decisions, given the question that was asked.

people take VAPs because it helps tide them over financially while searching for permanent work and it's often better than staying in grad school, not because it helps you or looks good on the market (for many jobs) to stay in VAP positions for year after year. that's just the truth and should not be obfuscated for people on the market. (of course, VAP experience will be more important for teaching-focused positions, not quibbling with that)

early career

assistant prof & Bill V: Sorry if I take this in a direction of now wondering about the value of teaching for job market success, but that is what this calls to mind.

As far asst prof, your response is much different than saying that having a VAP is not 'an additional qualification'. That sounds a lot like: VAPs don't help your chances of getting jobs. But if thinking that is the default position, then where's that leave those who don't get to stay tucked into their grad program for 6, 7, 8 years, but who do want to land something permanent?

Part of the motivation to take a VAP, other than financial concern, is that one hopes it'll make one a better teacher and that that will mean something for some hiring committees. Sure, no one says bouncing around as VAP for 4-5 years is a good thing. But Bill V's comment suggested that taking a VAP is rarely looked at as a sign that one has acquired some new, valuable skill that is attractive on the market. That sounds odd to me.

I suppose I am not surprised, since this echoes things I have heard that worry me: 'No one really cares about your teaching'. It's precisely the belief that people do care that might motivate to take a VAP rather than stay longer in graduate school. But, again, by Bill V's claim, there's no additional value here.

So then let's come out and say it: Teaching doesn't matter.

But of course we know that's false

another assistant prof

@early career - isn't Bill's point exactly that the value of a VAP lies in the teaching experience it provides? That is, the teaching experience you get from a VAP or two is valuable and thus helpful on the market. Merely having VAPs, especially for many years in a row once you're established as a good teacher, is no longer valuable and helpful on the market. That seems rather plausible to me. As he said:
"Having the additional successful teaching experience you get from a VAP or similar IS valuable. But after a run of a couple of years, by when you've taught several different courses, a couple of them more than once, and your teaching evaluations show a pattern of improvement to at least a good level, there's not much that more teaching can do for you."
The claim was that the VAP is not an additional qualification per se. The teaching experience you acquire *is* valuable, but teaching experience alone is usually not all you need to land a permanent or TT position.
I find it hard to conclude "Teaching doesn't matter" from the above.

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