From the inbox, an excellent question about teaching postdocs:
I'm wondering what you think about "teaching postdocs" -- postdoc positions with a 50% teaching / 50% research component. Those I've seen typically involve teaching one lecture course per academic term and may involve engaging undergraduate students in research. To me, this type of postdoc sounds perfect for someone who intends to seek a tenure-track position at a liberal arts college or PUI. However, almost all faculty members I've spoken to (at the large, research-intensive university I attended for grad school and at the large, research-intensive university I currently work at as a postdoc) think the teaching postdoc is a terrible idea, a career killer.
I would like to attribute their opinions to the fact that they are professors at research-intensive universities, where a traditional postdoc is a requirement for being hired. However, many have claimed that a traditional postdoc is preferred even by the higher-ranked liberal arts colleges. This surprises me because the higher-ranked liberal arts colleges are, in many cases, precisely the institutions that offer these teaching postdoc positions.
Teaching postdocs seem so comparatively uncommon that reliable statistics perhaps can't be gathered on the future careers of those who go through such a program. I'll gladly accept wild speculation... or random personal anecdotes from your readership?
My cynical side is bothered by the fact that the job description for a teaching postdoc sounds virtually identical to that of a new faculty member, but the postdoc comes without the equivalent salary or job security. Still, that alone wouldn't convince me not to recommend a teaching postdoc position.My opinion, unfortunately, is the same as your R1 colleagues -- I suspect that teaching postdocs don't do any favors for those who take them. I assume that they are offered in an idealistic spirit, i.e. "It is further training in how to teach, and also has a research component." However, I suspect that the execution is rather poorer than the ideal. That said, I am not aware of any recent articles in C&EN on the issue (assignment desk!) or any blog posts on the issue. (FWIW, I recall a recent C&EN article that I can't find that makes the exact point your professors do -- that you have to have a research-intensive doctorate in order to get a PUI position.)
I see a couple problems with teaching postdocs:
- Do they come with influential PIs that write great letters for them? I suspect not, but I could be wrong.
- The likelihood of tenure-track hiring committees being able to "imagine success" with such candidates are low, since the population of assistant and associate professors at PUIs who have come through teaching postdoc positions are not high enough.
I agree completely that there just aren't enough of these teaching postdocs to make a complete study of what their careers have been like. I assume that most of them are both talented teachers and researchers and did just fine in obtaining PUI tenure-track positions. But that's just conjecture on my part -- the opposite could easily be true.