Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Faculty looking to switch to PUI from an R1

Via the comments on the Faculty List open thread, Anon9:25 AM has a question:
A question for those looking at PUI/lib arts institutions: I'm currently at a large state school as an assistant prof in my fourth year, and the department culture is rapidly moving away from a teaching emphasis to a research emphasis. When I started, I got about $150k in startup and two small fume hoods, with the expectation that I would repay my startup with external funding and publish 0.5 papers/year over our 6 year tenure track. Now, the expectations have shifted to >$300k in grants and at least 10 papers. I don't mind the metrics, but I came back to academia from industry because I wanted to focus more on the educational aspect of the professorship.  
I'm thinking about applying to faculty positions with a teaching emphasis next year, but I don't know what the current state of the field is. For example, will PUI's value my prior research/industrial/teaching experience, or are they looking for newly-minted PhDs and recent postdocs? What are the research expectations and associated startup packages? FYI, I'm actually not opposed to starting over on the tenure track at a PUI/lib arts school. Thanks in advance for any input.
An interesting set of questions. Can anyone help? 


  1. From what I've seen and heard, "PUI" covers quite a range of schools and expectations. I have friends who were offered anything from 5k-80k for startup funds (n = 6). I can give you some detail about my specific department but I realize that it may not be general (or even describe the majority of schools.) My department would definitely consider someone with experience, although we would look carefully into why you want to leave your previous position (your explanation above sounds reasonable.) We are a small enough school that we don't want to pay for another search/start-up package every few years. Our start-up is in the range of $40k-50k, with the expectation that you will actively pursue research and mentor undergrad researchers. External grants are encouraged but not required and the department pays for most supplies and small equipment. Two publications is normal for tenure in my department, although one publication with exceptional teaching and other research-related activities may work. You could potentially count previous experience towards your tenure-clock if you negotiated it before accepting the offer.

    Start-up: $40k-50k
    Publications: 2-ish
    External grants: should be applying but not required.
    Past experience: welcome but would ask questions.
    Anyone else able to comment?

  2. VTJ is absolutely correct that there is a pretty wide range of schools in the PUI category. I think the most research-heavy places have startups in the 100-200k range, have relatively light teaching loads, and expect for you to do a lot of research. I got an offer at a place kinda like this, and sounded like you had to have a paper out by your third year review or things weren't going to work out. These places tend to have really good research students.
    My school is a not so research-heavy - my startup was 70k, teaching load is 4 lectures/3 labs per year, and three publications (tet lett level) is the standard for promotion, although there is some flexibility (funded grant taking the place of publication, excellent teaching making up for weak publication record, etc). Mentoring undergraduate researchers is expected, although not absolutely required for getting tenure. I know a few folks outside of science who moved here from previous institutions, and their previous publications counted for tenure. All of them are on accelerated tenure clocks, going up for promotion after 4 years. I don't know if they elected to do this, or if it was forced on them.
    We would definitely consider someone with your type of experience, although you'd want to make everything completely clear in your cover letter (like VTJ I thought your rationale was reasonable). Previous research experience would count as a plus, but you'll want to make the case that your research will work at the institution (undergraduate researchers, limited instrumentation, less money, less time).

    To summarize:
    Start-up: $60-70k
    Publications: 3-ish
    External grants: should be applying but not required
    Past experience: good, but you need to make a compelling case

  3. You can find anecdotal examples here and there:
    They're probably not the only ones, and I'm sure non-Jesuit schools hire industry folks, too.

    From my experience interviewing eventually getting hired, PUI startup can vary from anywhere from $50k or less to just over $100k, depending on the school's research ambitions. You'll know at the interview by the relative lengths of the research talk and teaching demonstration.

    Coming from a larger school gives you some great talking points about pedagogical differences between those two models (large public vs. small private). You'll be fine, and like the other guy said, you can probably negotiate earlier tenure review by counting prior experience. You're coming in as a known commodity, with piles of (presumably) good teaching evals and (hopefully) a great letter from your current chair.

    My own start-up (top-50ish liberal arts college) was about a year's salary, and research expectations are about one paper every 3-5 years, give or take, with a funded grant counting just as much as a paper would. YMMV.

  4. I would agree with most of what was said above. In my department (top 50ish liberal arts) you are essentially required to mentor undergraduate students in research including for 8-10 weeks in the summer. The publication requirements are adjusted based on this though which is good. The teaching load switched from 3-3 to 3-2 within last decade so still in a bit of a transition period in terms of figuring out the right balance of teaching to research.

    One thing to keep in mind is that a smaller department might want to have a diverse range of faculty research projects. If you work in a interdisciplinary area make sure that you emphasize the new insight or research topics that you would bring.

    Start-up: ~100k
    Publications: 2-5 (grants count as publications)
    External grants: definitely need to be applying but not required
    Past experience: We look for people who we think will be successful. We don't want to be doing a search every couple of years.

    1. Sorry, 3-3 to 3-2?

    2. Teaching load of 3 courses/semester vs. 3 courses one semester and 2 the next. Those seem like pretty standard teaching loads for PUIs with some research expectation, although I have friends with a 4-4 teaching load (which leaves almost no time for research...or anything else). That's something to find out if/when you are applying for faculty positions.

  5. From my experience PUI's tend to snub people with a strong research experience, saying that they will not fit in.

    1. I think that this is highly dependent on what PUI you are talking about. Some have very high research expectations and a smaller teaching load.

  6. Do you think the department head would be receptive to an argument that this isn't what was agreed on when you started? I'm guessing that the faculty already tenured will keep on doing exactly what they've been doing anyway.

    Your institution sounds a lot like my undergrad - a tiny PUI now run by over-ambitious types who think they can turn the place into a mini-MIT (and will likely ruin the character of the place in the process). I doubt most of my undergrad professors would make it through the hiring process today.

    1. You may be right but this may simply be a response to reduced state or federal funding. I have colleagues at several state schools that have shifted dramatically towards research, not because their departments particularly wanted to, but because external grants were the only way they could maintain the quality and class sizes that they had previously supported.

    2. Interesting perspective - I had assumed this was the work of some overzealous college president trying to put a little school on the map by trying to turn the place into Berkeley overnight. This is probably why my own alma mater is constantly sending me braggy fundraising material about all of the fancy research their all-undergrad population is doing - it's really in response to funding incentives, not because it's a great idea for a small undergrad-only liberal arts school to try to be more like a huge university.

    3. What's wrong with trying to be like a mini-MIT? Sounds great to me. The best way to learn chemistry is through research, not classes. The better the research, the better the learning experience. Engaging in research will also better prepare you for the real world. In some cases I've heard of lecturers who have bowed to collecting the assigned homework and giving the students credit for doing it. Research should be the theme of the day.

    4. My graduate alma mater was a top-10 program, so everyone on the faculty there had to be a research rockstar (at least when they were in grad school/postdoc). A lot of these top-notch researchers considered their undergrad teaching duties to be a waste of time, and even the ones who made an honest effort were often not very good at giving a lecture (think of how many awful speakers you see at any scientific conference). Frankly, I don't think my graduate alma mater would be a very good place for an undergrad chemistry major to go.

      I agree that undergrad research is important, but it doesn't need to be JACS-level stuff - the kind of research within reach of a small PUI is fine for this purpose. I suspect that at the original poster's institution, the kids are going to graduate knowing how to operate a NMR, but will be completely lost if they end up at a small company relying on old-school, low-tech wet chemical analytical techniques that they should have learned in gen chem.

    5. @anon December 15, 2016 at 9:46 AM: part of what makes MIT able to be such a premier institution is the scale of funding and infrastructure that a top 5 institution is able to command. Smaller schools, even lower-teir r1's, are crippled by not even getting the chance to compete from lack of prestige, bluechip students, and serious internal reserves (*cough* seven figure startup *cough*). MIT is MIT for a reason; it is insanity to expect the same from a PUI

    6. Anon 11:38AM: We are talking undergrads correct? While agree doing research is invaluable at that stage its more likely to narrow ones basic understanding without providing the breadth of chemistry education obtianed from classes and often good lab courses that is important. Most current PhD end up with expertise that is overly focused that now-a-days may not be as easily adaptable to today's positions, hence implementing that approach for undergrads would be counterproductive IMO.

      Anon 1:58PM is dead on that most places don't have the resources to replicate MIT (and as implied earlier attempt that would negatively impact the character of the institution anyway, although in my experience people out of MIT are more practical minded and less bombastic than Harvard, Yale, Berkley and Stanford products)

  7. This is a good q. I will write more soon.

    Meanwhile, Post this question to