iJOBS workshop: Applying to Faculty Jobs at Undergraduate Universities

  • August 8, 2023
iJOBS Blog

By Kylie Ryan Kaler


As a graduate student or a postdoctoral researcher planning to or currently seeking a job as a professor, you should firstly consider whether you prefer to work at an institution that is heavily dedicated to research (such as an R1 university) or an institution with a greater focus on teaching undergraduate students (such as a liberal arts college). The iJOBS workshop, Applying to Faculty Jobs at Undergraduate Universities, provided its participants with insight into identifying and applying specifically to a desirable undergraduate-focused teaching position.

The workshop comprised advice from six panelists about applying to faculty positions at universities that cater to undergraduate students, which are termed primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs). The panelists Cindy Arrigo (NJ City University), Emily Monroe (William Patterson University), Greg Wiedman (Seton Hall University), Tammy Castro (Montclair State University), Sofia Borinskaya (Saint Elizabeth University) and Kenneth McGuinness (Caldwell University) provided suggestions and stories about obtaining and navigating a job at a primarily undergraduate university.

Universities and the jobs that they provide are not dichotomous; universities offer a spectrum of positions that allow for a varying degree of research and teaching roles. As a prospective professor you should identify roles at specific universities that meet your desired career goals. The panelists highlighted several main considerations when investigating a position at a university that go beyond identifying an appropriate position based on your level of interest in research and teaching. A university’s expectations surrounding the productivity of their research programs can vary. Does the role that you are applying for expect you to provide a highly productive research environment through the acquisition of funding and the publishing of high-quality research papers?  Are the expectations more in line with providing an environment where undergraduate students can gain experience in research and garner excitement for science? Once a desired role is identified, you must then consider what experience you will need to acquire this role.

Selecting a postdoctoral position that can provide you with the experience that you need to be successful in your desired role is paramount. If you determine that you would like to work as a professor at a university that has a great degree of focus on undergraduate education, it will be important to find avenues to gain teaching experience. Depending on your postdoctoral position, you may need to find teaching experience outside of your postdoctoral institution. There are postdoctoral fellowships that provide the recipients with the allocation of funds for time spent on teaching activities. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) offers Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) that provide mentored teaching experience that is tied to a sponsoring scientist. Moreover, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers the Institutional Research and Academic Career Development (IRCADA) postdoctoral fellowship that provides funds for postdoctoral research with 25% of the fellow’s time spent on the pursuit of teaching activities at partner institutions.

What do many PUIs look for in their candidates? Some of the biggest achievements that many PUIs are concerned with are demonstrations of research excellence (such as publications, presentations, and research independence), evidence of grant writing, and evidence of teaching experience. PUIs also look for demonstration of leadership and service to the institution and/or the community and engagement in professional development.

When applying to PUIs you will be expected to prepare a research statement as part of the application process. Identify the facilities and instruments that are available to you when writing your research statement so that you can propose research that is feasible at the institution. Make the science exciting and accessible. Explicitly mention how you will incorporate undergraduate students in the research plans. You will also need to prepare a teaching statement for your application. The search committee will want to know in a clear and concise manner what teaching experience you have. Were you a teaching assistant, a guest lecturer and/or an instructor of record? What were your responsibilities for these courses? Provide examples that speak to your teaching style. Your teaching philosophy should incorporate your understanding of a teacher’s role in a classroom and how you interact with a diverse student body. Ensure that your teaching statement incorporates a diversity statement that is authentic and exemplifies how your own experiences have prepared you to relate to topics of equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

Identifying an appropriate professorial position at a specific academic institution is the first step in transitioning from a graduate or postdoctoral researcher to a professor. This position should align with your career goals in terms of allocation of time to research and teaching endeavors. If your chosen career entails working at an institution that primarily focuses on undergraduates, you can enhance your teaching experience during your postdoctoral training through guest lectures and fellowships that provide funds for teaching and/or career development. Once your job hunt begins, it is important to highlight your attributes and skills that make you an attractive candidate. Regardless of the type of university that you apply to, an understanding of the role that you would like to play and the role that you will be expected to play is necessary to ensure that you identify a position in which you can thrive.


This article was edited by Senior Editor Natalie Losada and Senior Editor Shawn Rumrill.

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