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TheDude

Do you feel like there are two academic worlds?

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I actually disagree with this. Teaching in a high school is *very* different from teaching in a college/university setting and it is definitely possible to teach underserved college students without having to go to China. There are quite a few minority-serving institutions, community colleges, and tribal colleges where faculty can focus primarily on teaching and work with underserved students. I think a lot of people here don't realize that there are tenure-track positions at community colleges where faculty teach a 4-4 load and have little to no research/publication expectations.

I agree that teaching in high school is completely different from teaching in a college/university setting, hence why I suggested it as a viable alternative for this person. From what I could tell when I wrote this post, the OP seemed a lot more interested in teaching and seemed to have little or no concern for research. If you just want to teach, it might be better to save the time and aggravation of getting a PhD and start focusing on a career path where you could do some good.

And no, I was certainly not implying that going to teach in rural China is the only way to do some good in the world. But this person seemed to be very into saving the world through teaching and this program in China happened to be one of the THREE programs I am familiar with that are both very highly regarded and have this same goal.

Also, you do not need to have a PhD to teach at a community college. One of my high school teachers used to teach courses at the local community college every summer, which he seemed to enjoy very much.

Have you ever actually met with those candidates? The over-qualified applicant sticks out like a sore thumb. Why? Often it's clear to those meeting with the candidate that he or she intends to use the job as a stepping stone, doesn't actually want to live in the area, thinks the place is beneath them, etc. And before you say this doesn't actually happen, let me assure you that it does because I've been in the room with more than one job candidate like that. Needless to say, those candidates were not offered the job.

I do not doubt that these kinds of people would stick out. But why do you say they stick out? Because of their attitude. If this person truly wanted to teach in this kind of setting, then they wouldn't have that kind of attitude to sabotage them, would they?

I was definitely not saying that this person should give up their dream to teach at a smaller state school. I was merely encouraging him/her to consider ALL of the options and, more importantly, the ultimate consequences of his/her decision before it becomes irreversible. It can be incredibly frustrating to work in almost any teaching environment, from preschool to college. However, it can be even more frustrating to work in an environment where the problems and injustices seem enormous and individual progress slow/non-existent. It truly takes a special kind of person to be able to work in that kind of environment all day every day for 40 - 50 years and not become incredibly frustrated. I was just trying to get this person to ask himself/herself if he/she is truly that kind of special person.

There are plenty of other ways where you as a professor could work with the underprivileged and at the same time also have a decent amount of research opportunities. Become a Big Brother or a Big Sister, become a faculty advisor to a student charity organization, organize a writing seminar that teaches students from low-income backgrounds/school districts how to write at the college level, or teach a course at a community college. All I'm saying is that you don't have to make helping others a permanent career in order for it to mean something.

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@American in Beijing, becoming a card-carrying member of the academy is NOT the only reason to get a PhD. As a former teacher, I would gladly go back to the middle school classroom after getting my PhD, if that was my only option. I am getting the PhD because I want to learn, I want the experience of being a doctoral student, and I want to serve whoever I teach to the best of my ability.

Edited by rachaelski

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I'm not sure what the community colleges are like where you are, but around here you can't teach at all with a BS/BA, and you are quite limited in what you can teach (primarily adjunct teaching) with an MS/MA. The vast majority of the faculty has a PhD.

In addition, a great many professors at lower tier 4 year colleges focus on teaching predominantly, with little focus on research. And outside of *some* of those classified as instructors, a PhD is traditionally required.

I would say if you want to go by numbers, there are more PhD's who are primarily teachers than primarily researchers in academic institutions in the US.

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@American in Beijing, becoming a card-carrying member of the academy is NOT the only reason to get a PhD. As a former teacher, I would gladly go back to the middle school classroom after getting my PhD, if that was my only option. I am getting the PhD because I want to learn, I want the experience of being a doctoral student, and I want to serve whoever I teach to the best of my ability.

"If that was my only option" seems to imply to me that it's not exactly your ideal thing to do after getting a PhD either. Once you get your PhD, wouldn't you also become overqualified for a middle school position?

Obviously becoming a professor is not the only thing you can do with a PhD in general. A career in industry is definitely an option for people in the hard sciences. Government jobs are also an option for people in the social sciences. But for the humanities, becoming a professor is the only real option that I am aware of.

And yes, there is of course the emotional side of getting a PhD. But if you can't provide for yourself and your family afterwards (which is definitely a possibility in a fiercely competitive job market where there are too many PhDs and not enough jobs)

More importantly, getting a PhD hardly makes you more qualified to serve your students, because it does not actually teach you very much about pedagogy. If a teacher were valuable purely based on their knowledge, then why bother having teachers at all? Why not just give middle school children books and have them read them on their own! Teaching requires a certain type of skill that has very little to do with the actual amount of knowledge he/she has.

@Eigen I do come from a relatively rural area, so that may be the reason my teacher was allowed to teach during the summer.

However, my point is that even at the colleges where the faculty "primarily teach", research and sitting on committees still play a significant role. You can't devote 100% of your time to your students. Also, you only see each class twice a week on average, and many of these classes can be quite large. So the amount of time you spend with each students ends up being very small compared to other teaching settings.

And yes, I do know that a PhD is typically required for lower-tier 4-year colleges.

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Hmm, we're a quite rural area as well.

And I would say at my 4-year college, the professors (not instructors, professors) spent maybe 10-20% of their time on research, and the rest teaching/working with students.

Also, wouldn't you spend an average of closer to 2.5 times per week? Most classes are either 2 day or 3 day-per-week, with one day per week being much rarer, in my experience. Most of the time, you're also required to keep a decent section of office hours, and even at my current college (where most faculty teach around 1 class per semester), the amount of time they have to devote to office hours is quite large. I had some teachers that spent 3-4 hours per day (in addition to classes) working with students- sometimes the same student every single day.

Quite honestly, it's my personal opinion that if you want to get a PhD and go into academia, being interested in teaching is by far the most important qualification, a sentiment echoed by both my current and past professors. Research is important, and you won't get through your PhD unless you are decently interested and talented in research. That said, people in academia that are good researchers and poor teachers have, in my opinion, a much more deleterious effect on their field than those that are good teachers and poor researchers.

All of my current and past professors consider teaching and advising students to be one of their most pivotal roles as faculty. If you just want to do research, there are many places to work- government facilities, private research institutions, etc.

If you go back to work at a university, you are there because you want to teach as well.

Edited by Eigen

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"If that was my only option" seems to imply to me that it's not exactly your ideal thing to do after getting a PhD either. Once you get your PhD, wouldn't you also become overqualified for a middle school position?

More importantly, getting a PhD hardly makes you more qualified to serve your students, because it does not actually teach you very much about pedagogy. If a teacher were valuable purely based on their knowledge, then why bother having teachers at all? Why not just give middle school children books and have them read them on their own! Teaching requires a certain type of skill that has very little to do with the actual amount of knowledge he/she has.

Teaching middle school again would not be my ideal position post-PhD, however, if I was unable to secure a professorship I would go back to teaching. And more importantly, I would enjoy it, much more so than a state-level education policy position or other office-type job. Public schools have PhD on their pay scales, and I had several teachers with PhDs in high school. Heck, at some of the private high schools here, your resume would not be considered unless you have a PhD. I went back to school because I love learning. In addition I believe I can best serve public education by improving teacher education at the college level.

Second, I would have to disagree with you, somewhat, on your statement that a PhD does not help a teacher or professor better serve their students. In my experience, teaching is half pedagogy and half content knowledge--they are equally important. This is especially true in History and Science. In fact, I believe it is part of the problem with public education in America, our teacher education programs focus so much on pedagogy that teachers do not acquire enough background knowledge to teach properly. A middle school science teacher needs to have taken upper-level science classes--you would not believe how many questions students ask that are quite advanced. If I were to go back to the classroom, my PhD would certainly make me a better teacher. I would have a better understanding of the reading process. I would have more knowledge related to books and literacy materials. And I have more knowledge of new literacies, something that certainly wasn't taught in my teacher education courses.

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I agree that teaching in high school is completely different from teaching in a college/university setting, hence why I suggested it as a viable alternative for this person. From what I could tell when I wrote this post, the OP seemed a lot more interested in teaching and seemed to have little or no concern for research. If you just want to teach, it might be better to save the time and aggravation of getting a PhD and start focusing on a career path where you could do some good.

It seems like what you're saying is that getting a PhD and focusing on teaching in a college/university setting places a person on a career path where they can't do any good. I strongly disagree with this and I certainly hope this isn't what you're saying.

Also, you do not need to have a PhD to teach at a community college. One of my high school teachers used to teach courses at the local community college every summer, which he seemed to enjoy very much.

Have you actually tried to get a full-time position at a community college? In my discipline and several others I know of, you *must* have a PhD in order to be hired full-time (generally a 4-4 or sometimes a 5-5 teaching load) and these positions can be tenure-track. On rare occasions, and I say this because it happened to a good friend, you can be currently working on a PhD and still get such a tenure-track position at a community college. And, at these colleges, the emphasis is on teaching, not on research. I should also point out that I see 4-4 teaching jobs advertised at smaller state universities all the time, including Cal States, and these jobs all require that someone either by ABD or have a PhD in hand at the time of appointment. And, many of these universities would give a professor an outstanding opportunity to work with traditionally underserved populations.

It can be incredibly frustrating to work in almost any teaching environment, from preschool to college. However, it can be even more frustrating to work in an environment where the problems and injustices seem enormous and individual progress slow/non-existent. It truly takes a special kind of person to be able to work in that kind of environment all day every day for 40 - 50 years and not become incredibly frustrated. I was just trying to get this person to ask himself/herself if he/she is truly that kind of special person.

I'm totally unclear on what your point is here. I think the problems and injustices are enormous and progress slow to non-existent regardless of where you intervene in the American educational system. It's in shambles from the top (higher education) to the bottom (preschool/pre-K) and riddled with problems throughout. For example, I think high school education is incredibly flawed so it seems to mainstream students into a pre-college track, without letting them consider other options. While I find this unjust and think working in such a system would be frustrating, so is working at a state university that's more concerned with dollars and the number of butts in chairs in a classroom than they are with providing their students a quality education. But, we all have to work somewhere, right? I sincerely doubt anyone can find a career where they aren't faced with problems and injustices. But, if it is possible, can someone tell me how? It'd be nice just to *know* what the easy way out is, even if I never take it.

Obviously becoming a professor is not the only thing you can do with a PhD in general. A career in industry is definitely an option for people in the hard sciences. Government jobs are also an option for people in the social sciences. But for the humanities, becoming a professor is the only real option that I am aware of.

And yes, there is of course the emotional side of getting a PhD. But if you can't provide for yourself and your family afterwards (which is definitely a possibility in a fiercely competitive job market where there are too many PhDs and not enough jobs)

You obviously don't spend enough time doing research on non-academic careers for humanities graduate students. Despite what you say, there are plenty and several websites devoted to making such options more clearly available to graduate and former graduate students. Two examples are The Versatile PhD and Beyond Academe. As far as actual careers for humanities PhDs, there are consulting jobs (with cultural preservation companies and in other areas), government jobs (for example, the federal government hires historians and archivists to work in a number of areas), and nonprofit jobs (museums, arts foundations and organizations, etc.). Saying that in the humanities the only option is to become a professor is incredibly naive. You might want to either check out the websites I've mentioned, make a trip to your Career Services office on campus, or both.

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I think this whole thread got derailed in a hurry. My original point (and I think also that of American in Beijing) was that attending a more "prestigious" (define it any way you want: Ivy league, higher ranked, more funding, etc) will not close any doors and should open more options. The objection expressed thus far (aside from what the inquiry stated) was that the candidates from such schools have attitudes and are snooty and thus don't get offered positions. While I believe there are cases like that, I'm failing to see the causal relationship that going to a prestigious school will necessarily result in the said attitude. Moreover, the point was to encourage the person who asked the original question not to prematurely close the doors on what could otherwise be good opportunities.

If there are reasons that you can think of for not attending a school that is more prestigious, fits the applicant's research interests, and provides funding, I would be very interested in hearing them. The one reason that I could find was expressed by the person asking about this and it was that he/she would feel more rewarded/find it more beneficial to research and society at large when teaching students from commonly under-served background and thus would be more apt to choose a school of lesser ranking/prestige.

My response was that maybe a school where work with such students is more limited, would in the long run provide more opportunities for this kind of work and that it's better to be overqualified. Without getting into the whole discussion about what it takes to teach at a community college, what drawbacks do you see to this?

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If there are reasons that you can think of for not attending a school that is more prestigious, fits the applicant's research interests, and provides funding, I would be very interested in hearing them. The one reason that I could find was expressed by the person asking about this and it was that he/she would feel more rewarded/find it more beneficial to research and society at large when teaching students from commonly under-served background and thus would be more apt to choose a school of lesser ranking/prestige.

My response was that maybe a school where work with such students is more limited, would in the long run provide more opportunities for this kind of work and that it's better to be overqualified. Without getting into the whole discussion about what it takes to teach at a community college, what drawbacks do you see to this?

I'm attending the school that's less prestigious among a slew of schools that fit my research interests and provided funding. Why? Because I went with the PI that I felt was most passionate about helping me as a scholar, has an excellent track record of placing his graduate students, and where I felt I would be comfortable socially. So yes, there are other reasons to attend a school that's less prestigious, but these reasons are personal. I'm sure the conventional wisdom here, if someone actually knew enough about my discipline to offer an opinion, would be that I should have gone elsewhere. But, if someone knew my discipline and subfield, they would understand why I picked the PI over the university name.

Another reason for picking the less prestigious university might be the extent and quality of the teaching experiences that you will get offered. At several of the Ivy Leagues, graduate students never teach their own courses, which certainly doesn't really prepare one to do 2-4 course preps and teach 2-4 courses independently in his or her first semester as an assistant professor (which is what pretty much any job will require). If you really want hands-on experience as an instructor, you wouldn't want to go to Princeton, just as an example. If you're trying to prepare for a teaching career at a teaching-oriented college or university, they are going to value your teaching experience and want to be assured through your application materials and in your interview(s) that you can handle the course preparation, teaching, and grading without floundering or performing poorly as an instructor. The best way to ensure this, in the minds of many, is to look at the teaching evaluations the applicant has accrued as a graduate student. If you haven't accrued any, what will you put in your teaching portfolio?

Graduate school isn't all about having a prestigious university name on your diploma. It's also about the connections you make, the letters of recommendation you get, the experience and training you get, and the work you produce. What matters is figuring out where you can get the best combination of those things to help you achieve your career goals. For some people that may mean attending Harvard or University of Chicago, while for others that could mean Vanderbilt, or University of Michigan.

I hope that answers your question, timuralp.

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I chose the less prestigious of my options for similar reasons to Rising_star.

I found the potential advisers to be very passionate (and thought they would make good mentors), the department was laid back enough to be socially comfortable and close knit (a good community of scholars as opposed to intense competition), and I will likely have the chance to teach or co-teach lecture courses before I finish.

In addition, due to the fact that it's a smaller program, I know *all* of the faculty, not just the few directly in my discipline. And knowing a wider ranger of faculty well nets me a larger ranger of network opportunities.

As my adviser recently told me: It's better to be the best graduate student at a smaller university than simply one of the best at a larger one, because when it comes time to write rec letters for post-doc positions, each PI is still just going to pick their best to back for the good positions. And from what I've seen, there's something to be said for that. All of our decent students are going to what I would consider top-notch post doc, and many have met or been introduced to the top people in their field.

Edited by Eigen

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I'm attending the school that's less prestigious among a slew of schools that fit my research interests and provided funding. Why? Because I went with the PI that I felt was most passionate about helping me as a scholar, has an excellent track record of placing his graduate students, and where I felt I would be comfortable socially. So yes, there are other reasons to attend a school that's less prestigious, but these reasons are personal. I'm sure the conventional wisdom here, if someone actually knew enough about my discipline to offer an opinion, would be that I should have gone elsewhere. But, if someone knew my discipline and subfield, they would understand why I picked the PI over the university name.

Heh I guess I really need to define "fits research interests" better. I went by the possible advisors I could work with and am happy where I ended up. What you described is what I meant by "fits research interests".

Another reason for picking the less prestigious university might be the extent and quality of the teaching experiences that you will get offered. At several of the Ivy Leagues, graduate students never teach their own courses, which certainly doesn't really prepare one to do 2-4 course preps and teach 2-4 courses independently in his or her first semester as an assistant professor (which is what pretty much any job will require). If you really want hands-on experience as an instructor, you wouldn't want to go to Princeton, just as an example. If you're trying to prepare for a teaching career at a teaching-oriented college or university, they are going to value your teaching experience and want to be assured through your application materials and in your interview(s) that you can handle the course preparation, teaching, and grading without floundering or performing poorly as an instructor. The best way to ensure this, in the minds of many, is to look at the teaching evaluations the applicant has accrued as a graduate student. If you haven't accrued any, what will you put in your teaching portfolio?

The teaching aspect sounds plausible to me. I do wonder, however, how much this can also be offset by the better name school aspect. For example, would it be something that a candidate from Princeton can still overcome when applying for such positions? Is the experience something that is also learnt on the job? Personally, I feel like teaching is in a big part talent and if one doesn't posses the talent for it, there's not much one can do. I know at my current institution graduate students seldom teach whole courses, but rather frequently TA, which involves leading discussions. Nonetheless, I am aware of at least one who successfully applied for a primarily teaching job at a small liberal arts college. I know at my undergrad school of another student who did the same. I don't know if these schools are desperate or something, but it did not seem to me that way. Also, I know some schools have a guest lecture by a prospective applicant as a means of evaluating teaching ability.

Graduate school isn't all about having a prestigious university name on your diploma. It's also about the connections you make, the letters of recommendation you get, the experience and training you get, and the work you produce. What matters is figuring out where you can get the best combination of those things to help you achieve your career goals. For some people that may mean attending Harvard or University of Chicago, while for others that could mean Vanderbilt, or University of Michigan.

I hope that answers your question, timuralp.

I did not mean to imply that graduate school is all about a prestigious diploma. I was more incredulous that one would willfully snub the possibility without exploring it further. The rankings/prestige/name are not everything, but if a school has the potential to be a good research match, funding, and fulfillment of goals, I'd think it should be at least considered. And the fitting in better socially is an unknown factor until the campus visit, so it's hard to consider it as a way to pick the schools to apply to.

Thanks for a measured response :)

So as not to make another post:

The point about big fish in a small pond or smaller fish in a big pond is very field dependent. I am one of 3 students working with my advisor. I don't believe either one of us is going to get extra help or a proverbial shaft. I believe a lot of it comes back to what research you've done, papers you've published, internships you've been at. As far as I can tell those are the best ways to find people interested in you and your work, who can offer you a job.

Edited by timuralp

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Heh I guess I really need to define "fits research interests" better. I went by the possible advisors I could work with and am happy where I ended up. What you described is what I meant by "fits research interests".

I actually don't think we mean the same thing by "fits research interests", which may be because I didn't fully explain myself. What I mean is that I went with an advisor that's a bigger name in my subfield but knows less about the actual substantive, narrow area of my research than a few other potential advisors. And there are several reasons why I made that choice that had very little to do with research interests and much more to do with where I wanted to live, the advisor's style, and the advisor's placement record.

The teaching aspect sounds plausible to me. I do wonder, however, how much this can also be offset by the better name school aspect. For example, would it be something that a candidate from Princeton can still overcome when applying for such positions? Is the experience something that is also learnt on the job? Personally, I feel like teaching is in a big part talent and if one doesn't posses the talent for it, there's not much one can do. I know at my current institution graduate students seldom teach whole courses, but rather frequently TA, which involves leading discussions. Nonetheless, I am aware of at least one who successfully applied for a primarily teaching job at a small liberal arts college. I know at my undergrad school of another student who did the same. I don't know if these schools are desperate or something, but it did not seem to me that way. Also, I know some schools have a guest lecture by a prospective applicant as a means of evaluating teaching ability.

Just as you are aware of people who have overcome their lack of teaching experience, I can remember the graduate students in my former department overwhelming voting against a particular job candidate because of his lack of teaching experience. Yes, leading discussions is good experience but it's nowhere near the same as developing and implementing a syllabus, giving lectures 2-3 times a week, etc. And, I think you have two similarly qualified candidates for a position, it really can come down to the teaching experience and the quality of that experience. Three of my department's most recent tenure-track hires (out of 4 or 5) got their jobs in part because of the new department's confidence in their ability to teach intro courses of 200-300 students right off the bat. And those hiring departments had that confidence because all of the students had already done that in the latter stages of their graduate career. (And, for the record, all of those t-t hires were at Research I institutions that you wouldn't normally think of as "teaching-oriented".)

Also, teaching requires talent, or a particular skill set, but that can be developed over time. That's exactly why universities offer teaching certificates to graduate students, provide pedagogical training, etc. The research says that your teaching can improve if you want it to, even if you suck the first time in the classroom. But, it takes work to improve. So to say that you can't do anything if you seemingly lack the talent as a grad student is a bit of a copout in my eyes. Books like Tools for Teaching can offer lots of help, as can visiting your university's teaching center and soliciting a classroom review from faculty or your advisor. Or you could look up journal articles on classroom teaching behaviors and incorporate the best strategies into your behavior. Just because someone isn't a natural-born math talent doesn't mean they can't learn algebra. The same, more or less, is true of teaching.

So as not to make another post:

The point about big fish in a small pond or smaller fish in a big pond is very field dependent. I am one of 3 students working with my advisor. I don't believe either one of us is going to get extra help or a proverbial shaft. I believe a lot of it comes back to what research you've done, papers you've published, internships you've been at. As far as I can tell those are the best ways to find people interested in you and your work, who can offer you a job.

This isn't just discipline-specific but advisor-specific. My advisor clearly has his favorites among his 10ish students but, at the same time, he'll try to get each and every one of us a job that we want, whether that's at a Research I institution or a community college. There are subtle ways in which you may notice it over time, like an easier time scheduling appointments, faster feedback on drafts, quicker response on recommendation letters, etc. Or at least, that's how it is here.

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My point wasn't about 10 student groups- most advisers can get all of them positions.

My point was more about 60+ person groups, where there's no way an adviser can get all of them desirable positions. When you have people graduating staggered semesters, they aren't all competing for the same jobs. When you have 4 graduating in the same semester in the same subdiscipline, the situation is a bit different.

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