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Author Topic: Applying to SLACs  (Read 109821 times)
polly_mer
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Have you worked on that project today?


« Reply #15 on: January 08, 2012, 7:08:47 PM »

I am not sure if this belongs in a separate thread, but I was wondering if anyone has suggestions for grad students interested in positioning oneself for a SLAC. How does one obtain experience teaching at a SLAC prior to going on the market?

You don't necessarily need experience teaching at a SLAC.  I'm interviewing at SLAC's with no SLAC experience (didn't attend one, don't teach at one).  However, since all of my teaching has been in small classes with a lot of reflection on how to engage the students in front of me, that seems to be sufficient for people to want to see me in action.

The SLAC folks want to make sure that you will teach their small classes using the appropriate methods for those size classes instead of just doing the same thing with 20 students that people often do with their 100+ students.
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I've joined a bizarre cult called JordanCanonicalForm's Witnesses.  I have to go from door to door asking people things like, "Good evening, sir!  Do you have a moment to chat about Linear Transformations?"
seniorscholar
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« Reply #16 on: January 08, 2012, 7:25:28 PM »

For grad students interested in a SLAC, I've emphasized covering a broad and varied set of areas in coursework and prelims, which is helpful to small departments;  teaching "unpopular" intro courses (we have an "introduction to poetry" which can fill a requirement, but sure isn't chosen by many), which provides both small classes and an opportunity to be "surprisingly successful" when someone comes to visit; and picking up adjunct classes at the nearby VSLAC (that's "very small") colleges.
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heywhynots
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« Reply #17 on: January 08, 2012, 8:50:28 PM »

I am at a SLAC in the 30-50 range.  Most faculty teach a 3-2 load.  Most in my department due to a quark in how hours are counted teach a 3-3. Research with undergraduates is expected.  At least one pub with student coauthors (ideally more) is expected for tenure along with applying for external grants.  Excellent teaching based on student ratings and peer evaluations is required for tenure.  I am in the sciences.  What we are looking for in an applicant is someone who can do exactly that and will be a good colleague. 

A grad student/postdoc thinking about applying ideally should have teaching experiences beyond being a TA, have experience mentoring undergraduates in research, and a research plan appropriate for undergraduate researchers.  In your application you need to convey your excitement for teaching undergraduates in a liberal arts setting and a reasonable research plan.  We end up cutting a number of candidates because their plans are not reasonable and or they don't talk about teaching. The application documents are your writing samples.  They should be edited and refined accordingly.  Your CV should show while you were looking for teaching experiences, you still were doing quality research.  Ideally, it would also show you have undertaken professional development (eg attending teaching workshops).
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msparticularity
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« Reply #18 on: January 09, 2012, 1:55:49 AM »

To add onto all of the above, here are some other things that I had done that seemed to be compelling to the SC that has hired me--despite the fact that all of my graduate experience and postsecondary teaching background has been at R-2s:

-I was a high school teacher before going back for my PhD, so was accustomed to teaching, mentoring and tutoring students, advising student clubs, serving on accreditation and curriculum committees, and so on;
-I had been a debate coach, and could talk honestly about how some of my favorite "teaching" had taken place through long and wide-ranging conversations on long drives in the 15-passenger van;
-I had done a study with an undergrad and a master's-level student as co-investigators, and we had published  together;
-Even while teaching a master's-level course load in my current position, I had continued to mentor undergraduate researchers and to serve on the undergrad research committee.

While some of these experiences are not easily replicable for others, some are things that people at almost any university could pursue. Programs like McNair Scholars are often looking for faculty mentors for their students, and that can range from being a friendly face and occasional cheerleader to actually mentoring research. Student clubs often need sponsors, and sometimes campus committees having to do with students activities and/or research need people, too.
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"Once admit that the sole verifiable or fruitful object of knowledge is the particular set of changes that generate the object of study...and no intelligible question can be asked about what, by assumption, lies outside." John Dewey

"Be particular." Jill Conner Browne
federale
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« Reply #19 on: January 09, 2012, 2:01:47 AM »

Wow! Exciting news MsP!

Congratulations! Hope we will still be hearing from you in the new digs.
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punchnpie
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« Reply #20 on: January 09, 2012, 2:28:34 AM »

Well, congrats to msparticularity!   I'm a big state school gal myself, but I'm always interested in how the other side operates (hence my popping in here).  I hope you enjoy your new gig and that it is everything you want it to be.
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He's allergic to chocolate. I had to beat him.  -Tower Heist-
msparticularity
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« Reply #21 on: January 09, 2012, 2:54:57 AM »

Thanks to everyone for the good wishes! I'm hoping that others will keep adding on their experiences here, too, so we can collect a wide range of knowledge to help lots of future SLAC job-seekers.
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"Once admit that the sole verifiable or fruitful object of knowledge is the particular set of changes that generate the object of study...and no intelligible question can be asked about what, by assumption, lies outside." John Dewey

"Be particular." Jill Conner Browne
paddington_bear
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« Reply #22 on: January 09, 2012, 8:38:55 AM »

Please forgive if this question isn't appropriate for this thread, but I was curious about whether these hints/tips are exclusive to SLAC's? I'm not looking for a job, but I did interview at some SLAC's about a decade ago. I ended up getting a job at a smallish (student population of about 5300, undergrads and MA students but no PhD students) state school. Most departments have a 3-3 load, and teaching is definitely a priority.  Many of the things that people here are saying that SLACs are looking for was what my department/school was (and still is) looking for as well. Basically, I'm curious about how/if a job search at an SLAC is different from a search at a non-SLAC of similar size, or slightly larger, that still values teaching and faculty-student interaction above research.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 8:41:23 AM by paddington_bear » Logged
heywhynots
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« Reply #23 on: January 09, 2012, 9:16:16 AM »

Paddington it is hard to say without knowing specifics of your department and school.  For example, do faculty there have to teach in an interdisciplinary first-year seminar program?  We do.  When we teach those courses, we are usually teaching far outside our fields of interest.  These courses are writing intensive.

When we evaluate applications part of what we are looking for is whether an applicant to teach such courses along with those for the department.

In the sciences, I would expect differences in the research plans as MA students add a different dimension. 

At smaller schools it is much harder to hide, so we do look for people who are comfortable with being recognized by students on a regular basis off-campus.

These are relatively minor distinctions.  Overall though, I suspect we are looking for similar qualities.


Regarding experience that MsP is asking for, when I applied two years ago for positions, search committees were impressed by the following:
- My publication record
- I had sought out additional teach experiences beyond what was required by my Ph.D. program
- I taught a night course at a local PUI while I was a postdoc
- I had mentored a number of undergraduate students and a high school student in research
- I served on curriculum committees and helped redesign the curriculum in my Ph.D. department
- I took a variety of courses on how to teach, and attended pedagogy workshops
- My application spoke to the importance of research as a means to teach students science using specific examples from my own experience as a research mentor.  My research plan also connected to the educational mission of the colleges.
- My application conveyed why I thought the liberal arts are vital and how science fits perfectly in such an environment.
- My application was well organized and written.
- When I was on-campus for my interview I engaged students and faculty alike. I could talk about how I would teach courses, carry out research with students, and work with colleagues. 
- Students and faculty outside my area of interest understood & enjoyed what I was talking in my research seminar while still covering a lot of material. 
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lyndonparker
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« Reply #24 on: January 09, 2012, 10:05:32 AM »

Some of what Paddington is asking is going to vary greatly depending upon the type of school to which one is referring. Of the 4,000+ colleges and universities in the United States, the vast majority emphasize teaching, including many that have aspirations to "move up" the food chain.

Part of the problem with discussions regarding SLACs involves to what the "S" refers--my opinion, shared with David Breneman, is that the Carnegie definition is too loose, and that there are indeed fewer than 100 true SLACs left. With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Middlebury, St. Olaf), the vast majority of SLACs also have fewer than 2,000 students. I also find amusing the rush of public universities to rebrand themselves as SLACs--certainly I respect places such as New College of Florida or the University of Minnesota at Morris, but I don't think most of these places get it, despite their efforts.

If you are looking at many of the better SLACs, there is of course an emphasis on student-centered education, but also a culture that is missing in many other places. Edward Fiske and the late Loren Pope have written extensively on SLACs, as have more scholarly authors such as Samuel Schuman. Perhaps it is snobbery, but I don't look at all types of experience as "equal," although I am certain it is all valuable.

On my SLAC's SCs, candidates who attended places such as Macalester, Earlham, Kenyon, or Knox certainly have an advantage insofar that we know that they get it. As do candidates who had a fellowship at someplace like Oberlin or Lawrence.
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Lyndon always has such a nice succinct way of putting things.
envprof
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« Reply #25 on: January 09, 2012, 10:56:57 AM »

I'm not sure about Minnesota-Morris, but I'm fairly certain that lyndon doesn't "get" New College.

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paddington_bear
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« Reply #26 on: January 09, 2012, 11:24:25 AM »

lyndon and hey, interesting comments. To answer one of your questions, hey, in my department, nearly all of us do teach outside of our fields of interest in the lower-level general education courses offered by our department.

I guess I'm curious about what people mean when they say that they "want to teach at a SLAC". Are applicants that specific in their thinking and their vocabulary? I guess some probably are. When I applied for jobs, I applied everywhere, but I wanted to teach at a small school. I didn't specifically say "an SLAC," although I think I was aware of that term, and I did apply to SLACs (and larger schools as well). I got lots of conference interviews for schools of various sizes, and had campus interviews at among other places, a school in Maine that is an SLAC, a school in Ohio that was an SLAC, I assume, and where I am now, which is definitely not an SLAC, although it is relatively small for a state school. (And it's as small as I want it to be. I can't imagine being in a department with only 5 or so other colleagues.)  I'm just thinking aloud at this point, so feel free to ignore.
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ruralguy
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« Reply #27 on: January 09, 2012, 11:27:24 AM »

As I said before, I actually don't think it matters much (in terms of mindset of the candidate and the core of what the SC is looking for)  whether "S" stands for selective or "small".

Yes, an SC for Williams is going to look for higher level of achievement in research that for Coe College (and tenure requirements will sure differ). But the basics of what an application has to address is going to be very similar, save for maybe the extremes (such as the most selective like Williams or the totally unranked SLACs).

But, of course, yes, some of what we suggest for SLACs would apply for any college/uni job at all! Its just a matter of emphasis. For instance, for an R1 job, getting teaching experience might help immensely, but emphasizing this and "doing research with a nickel in the funds" is almost certainly not what you want to do!

But take us seriously when we say that the emphasis for the vast majority of SLACs is excellence in teaching (never mind that this may not be measured very well, but even so, there is a lot of time and talk devoted to this principle) , mentoring undergrads, being a good colleague across disciplines, etc. It doesn't mean these won't be useful for other jobs, and it doesn't mean you can or should chuck your research into the recycle bin.
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glowdart
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« Reply #28 on: January 09, 2012, 12:02:45 PM »

lyndon and hey, interesting comments. To answer one of your questions, hey, in my department, nearly all of us do teach outside of our fields of interest in the lower-level general education courses offered by our department.

I guess I'm curious about what people mean when they say that they "want to teach at a SLAC". Are applicants that specific in their thinking and their vocabulary? I guess some probably are. When I applied for jobs, I applied everywhere, but I wanted to teach at a small school. I didn't specifically say "an SLAC," although I think I was aware of that term, and I did apply to SLACs (and larger schools as well). I got lots of conference interviews for schools of various sizes, and had campus interviews at among other places, a school in Maine that is an SLAC, a school in Ohio that was an SLAC, I assume, and where I am now, which is definitely not an SLAC, although it is relatively small for a state school. (And it's as small as I want it to be. I can't imagine being in a department with only 5 or so other colleagues.)  I'm just thinking aloud at this point, so feel free to ignore.

I would go even further than "outside fields of interest" with first-year seminars; "outside your discipline entirely in a truly interdisciplinary class" is more like it at many places. 

For me, wanting to teach at a SLAC meant:

* an actual liberal arts focus vs. gen eds which make it seem that way
* actual shared governance vs. the facade of shared governance
* small classes, small campus, small faculty (thus, necessitates much of the rest of this list)
* actual focused attention on your students
* students involved in campus decisions (but not on a customer-service model; students on SCs, student input solicited for curriculum committees, external assessment teams meet with students, etc.)
* mentoring is expected and funded/supported
* undergrad only (or ~one Smith-like MA program which doesn't change the focus on campus)
* the aura that comes from all of the above -- when a campus is organized around the premise that the liberal arts are worth studying, that knowledge should be acquired not simply to get a job, that all students should be well-rounded and inquisitive enough to become well-rounded, and that faculty should be on board with all of this and the implications of this focus on their work-life -- the aura that comes from it?  It can be seen in everything on campus - housing, student government, faculty meetings, funding decisions, library collection development, campus event programming, curricular decisions, hiring decisions... That's a "true SLAC" in my opinion.  It all works together. 

You can have bits and pieces at other schools, but if it isn't all unified, then.... well, then you end up with most places that call themselves SLACs but are really SLACS-turned-hydra in an attempt to survive, recruit, and remain financially viable.

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envprof
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« Reply #29 on: January 09, 2012, 12:12:46 PM »

Paddington, I think you're asking two different questions. To answer the first, I would be surprised if there were considerable differences in how best to handle applications to a SLAC versus applications to a SUOU (small undergraduate-oriented university). Document one's care about teaching, and convince the committee that one excels (or will excel) at it. Express in the letter of interest why [one] is interested in working at [slac/suou], emphasizing things like mentoring undergraduates and collaborative research.

That doesn't mean that the search processes are identical on the institution side. The two archetypes vary in institutional culture (as lyndonparker notes) and are likely to perceive "fit" differently.

I think that's about as far as I can get, in general terms. There are additional things that can help, but it's probably a case-by-case thing. A candidate who has a bachelor's from Bowdoin and a doctorate from Penn probably doesn't have to worry about whether the SC at Haverford thinks they understand Haverford. The marginal value of a PostDoc at (say) Middlebury will be less for that candidate than for the candidate with a bachelor's from Michigan State and a doctorate from UT-Austin.


« Last Edit: January 09, 2012, 12:16:09 PM by envprof » Logged
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