Looking for a faculty position in the sciences at a small liberal arts teaching college?

Stephanie Dew, Ph.D.
January 16, 2015

Looking for a faculty position in the sciences at a small liberal arts teaching college? 

Here’s an insider’s view of the hiring process.

 

In general, what does the hiring committee look for in an applicant?

While teaching experience is great, depending on the school, it may or may not be essential.  What is important, however, is a demonstrated strong interest in teaching.  Experience with a liberal arts school is a plus, but understanding the importance of the liberal arts is essential (it’s not just about small classes).  Most small teaching schools do not expect applicants to have research funding in hand when they are interviewing.  However, expectations to gain funding in subsequent years will depend on the research expectations of individual schools.  In some cases, especially where teaching is the priority, research funding can even be detrimental because it can be difficult to balance both the demands of teaching and the research expected by the granting agency.

 

What should be in the cover letter?

The first emphasis should be on teaching.  If you start off talking all about your research, and only later start talking about teaching, then your priorities are backward for us.  It’s really nice if you address your ability to teach the classes we’ve listed on our ad.  It shows you actually read it and put some effort into personalizing the cover letter.  But be honest.  If class X would be a bit of a stretch, say so.  But if you think you could get up to speed with time to prep, say that too. We all teach things that are not central to our training.

 

How can I make my CV stand out?

In addition to including the experience you have and your degrees, etc., make sure to include any previous teaching experience, especially if it has been at a small liberal arts colleges, which is a plus.  List any classes you have taught, and what your responsibilities were (e.g. TA or instructor of record).  The classes you’ve taught should come before your list of publications, not as an afterthought at the end. 

      

What is a statement of teaching philosophy?

“I enjoy sharing my knowledge with students” is not a teaching philosophy. Rather, you should indicate some evidence of interest in different pedagogies.  Talking about your pedagogical approaches (think-pair-share, projects you’ve done in classes, clicker questions, etc) is important. Competitive candidates often have participated in programs such as “preparing future faculty members”, or teaching post-docs, or other types of training in teaching.  We had applicants recently who participated in pedagogy journal clubs—instead of reading science research papers, these groups read about teaching strategies.  Many of these applicants have had little, if any, opportunity to really implement these strategies, but at least they’ve been thinking about them.  It also shows a real interest in teaching—if you’ve pursued opportunities to teach or learn about teaching, that’s great, even if you haven’t had a chance to really teach a lot. 

 

What are you looking for in the statement of research interests? 

This should be pitched to a fairly general audience (i.e., no jargon).  We aren’t all experts in your particular field, and we always have someone not in biology or biochemistry on the committee.  The English professor who reads this shouldn’t be completely at sea.  If you never mention undergraduates in your research statement, and how you would include them in your work, you drop way down the list.  A realistic budget is nice too.  Be aware that the start-up funds at a small teaching college are not the same as at an R1 research institute, and you will often need to be able to run a small research program on a much smaller budget.  The actual availability of funds will certainly vary by school, and will also be dependent on expected teaching loads versus research expectations.  Keep that in mind when discussing start-up funds for research and be sensitive to the potential limits.  You may want to show that you have taken this into consideration by investigating other resources at nearby universities where you could have access to more expensive equipment, for example. 

 

Is there anything that ought to be included in my recommendation letters?

Ideally, they would address teaching, but that’s not always the case (or even possible).  If at least one letter does, that’s great.

 

Is there anything else that is important? 

We also look for “fit”—does your research overlap too much with someone already here?  There’s nothing you can really do about that as applicant, but it’s a factor.  A good paper application may get you a phone interview.  Then, it’s a lot about personality and interpersonal/communication skills.  This is where it can get pretty vague and personal.  We want the candidate to fit in well and work productively with the other members of the faculty, so this is an important consideration.


Stephanie E. Dew, PhD.
Professor of Biology & Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Centre College
600 W. Walnut St.
Danville, KY 40422


Stephanie E. Dew, PhD, is Professor of Biology and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (BMB) at Centre College, where she has taught since 1994.  She primarily teaches biochemistry, introductory cell biology, and immunology.  She has served as the chair of both the biology and BMB programs, and from 2011-2014 served as chair of the division of natural sciences and mathematics.  She has served on more than two dozen search committees in the sciences and math.  Dr. Dew has a BA in BMB from Centre College and a PhD in biochemistry from Vanderbilt University.

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