Monday, January 20, 2014

Oh, that tricky job market

Also, in this week's C&EN, an article on preceptors at the University of Delaware by Celia Henry Arnaud. This is a rather interesting concept, in that it's an extra set of mentors or tutors for science students:
At Delaware, preceptors are skilled scientists who work alongside the professors and teaching assistants. They are full-time staff members, not adjuncts, who work closely with students and mentor teaching assistants (TAs).... What preceptors don’t do is grade students. That task is left to the professors and TAs. Weir likens his relationship to students to that of a “friendly uncle you can come to with problems and who isn’t going to punish you for doing things wrong.” The arrangement allows students to have an interaction with a professional that “doesn’t have to be threatened by an assessment and the outcome of that assessment,” says Alenka Hlousek-Radojcic, a biology professor involved in the program.
Of course, who gets hired to be preceptors? (emphasis mine)
The success that they’ve already had wouldn’t have been possible without the university’s strong team of preceptors. Five of the six preceptors (five for the integrated biology/chemistry curriculum plus one who works with a more physics-related class) are Ph.D.-level scientists, some of whom also have postdoctoral experience. The sixth has a master’s degree. 
Baillie attributes the strong team in part to the weak job market. “The talent pool we had to draw from was fantastic,” he says. “We have a team basically of five extra professors who are helping with this course.” 
Jungck and Baillie both hope to help the preceptors meet their larger career goals. “If this is a stepping-stone they’re using on the path to something else, my goal is to make sure that they have as much experience as possible with different aspects of teaching so they can use these experiences to be better teachers,” Baillie says. 
Martin plans to stick around, at least for now. “I really enjoy teaching,” she says. “This puts me in a situation where I’m in constant interaction with students,” she adds. “I work every day with small groups of students over and over again. It’s the kind of teaching I prefer.” Martin, who currently has a master’s degree, assumes that she’ll eventually go back for her Ph.D. “I would like to stay on board to see the program continue to go through paces and improve,” she says. “I know it’s going to take a few years for that to happen.” 
Weir hopes to be able to find a position as a professor. “I came from a postdoc that was a pure research position,” he says. “I missed teaching. This is not a permanent career move for me. It’s a step back toward where I want to be eventually.” But he’s glad that he has had this experience. “I’ve learned a lot about teaching. I’ve been able to put a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about into more concrete terms. It is temporary, but to me it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How often do you get to help design a new program from the bottom up?” 
One thing that I admire about this Delaware program is that the preceptors are full-time staff, which indicates a commitment on the part of Delaware to making this novel teaching concept work. I am also glad that the professors that work with the program recognize that their strong applicant pool comes from the relatively poor job market. It will be very interesting to see where these preceptors end up with respect to their long-term careers. Best wishes to them. 


  1. We have a team basically of five extra professors who are helping with this course.

    ...and get this, we don't have to pay them squat! #winning!

  2. I'd be curious to find out what the preceptors are paid. If its not much more than a grad student then it seems like the goal is to get grad students doing research instead of being distracted with teaching responsibilities, but at a price that is afforable to the school. If, OTOH, the preceptors are paid reasonably well (say somewhat more than a post-doc) then this would be a good development.

    However, it does make me even more suspicious about how just generally lazy the teaching academy is. The tenured faculty are always trying to find ways to make it easy on themselves by shirking responsibility (IMO).

  3. This ad appears to be the ad for these positions:

    Note that they were hoping for M.S. folks and hired mostly Ph.D.s. A good example of the crumminess of the market, IMHO.

  4. Preceptors? Oh, never mind, I was thinking of tranceptors.

  5. 3rd Post-Doc, Preceptor, Adjunct... Is there really a difference when it comes to sending out your CV for a faculty position? Think the outcome is likely to be the same for all three?