Friday, March 8, 2019

Question: is there data (or anecdata) around visiting assistant professors?

Via longtime reader and commenter VTJ, this good question:
...the question came up about what percentage of chemistry faculty hold a visiting position before getting their first tenure-track position. One fellow chemist stated confidently that it rarely happens but anecdotal evidence would suggest otherwise, at least for the SLAC/PUI environment.
I still remember this post from quite some time ago where the commentariat was, overall, not interested in VAPs. A respected friend thinks of these temporary positions as providing some data points as to "how will this persion be, as a teacher of undergraduates and a colleague in a department?" and was relatively warm to them. Another respected friend finds these positions have half-lives, i.e. two or three VAPs is about as many has any one candidate should take on.

So, some questions:
1. Is there any data around the percentage of assistant professors who have done stints as VAPs?
2. Is there any data around the percentage of visiting assistant professors who receive tenure-track assistan professor positions?  
Finally, a call for anecdata around this issue. Readers, have at. 

8 comments:

  1. One of the people who worked where I worked took a VAP at her alma mater - it was turned into a TT position after a year (no tenure yet) at a PUI.

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  2. I would love to know the same thing about adjusts - what % of them convert to tenure track positions? I've heard it's vanishingly small, but would love others insights.

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  3. Since I fielded the original query, I will put forward the context in my department (small, private PUI):

    -We have 8 tenure-track faculty in our department and two permanent lab coordinators. One of the TT and one of the lab coordinators started here in visiting positions but none of the others did visiting positions before getting hired here. We're split 50/50 on whether we did post-docs after our PhDs.
    -In the last decade, we have had six 1-3 year visiting positions as sabbatical and retirement replacements (or while waiting for the university to approve funding for a permanent position.) One of those became permanent here, three went to TT positions elsewhere, and two are still here.

    For those grad students who come to this blog for advice or reassurance or whatever, I'll add that my department views 1-2 years of visiting teaching experience or adjunct teaching as an asset, although we have never excluded someone from consideration because they had more visiting positions. Hopefully further commenters can give a sense of whether this attitude is general.

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  4. One thing to consider: adjuncting typically means part-time employment in which the faculty member might only teach one or two classes a semester, while a "visiting assistant professor" position is typically a full-time position and, at some PUIs, even allow for a modicum of research activity. The outcomes for VAPs and adjuncts are likely quite different. Based on the people I know (so solidly anecdata), those that did VAP positions had a much higher likelihood of finding TT positions, while those that took adjunct positions had much worse outcomes.

    I did not postdoc but held the same VAP position for four years prior to being hired in a TT position at a different University. Luckily, this position allowed me to stay research active with undergraduates. I was also fortunate on the job market: I went on campus interviews for a majority of positions to which I applied. So on paper, it seemed the VAP position was worth something. I don't think my file would have been competitive without EITHER the VAP position OR a traditional postdoc; however, it didn't seem like having BOTH was important. YMMV.

    On my interviews (including some very prestigious PUIs), no one seemed to care that I lacked a traditional postdoctoral position--although a couple of people specifically commented that they didn't care and a couple of people asked me why I made that choice--but many folks were very interested in talking about my teaching experiences from my VAP position.

    If I had to do it again, I would go the same route. The primary focus of a PUI job is teaching and mentoring undergraduates; a VAP position will help develop these skills as well as provide a documented track record of ability in a way that a traditional post-doc typically does not.

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  5. In my experience (Asst. Prof. at PUI w/ search committee experience), what matters is a strong track record with research and teaching experience. VAPs tend to be very strong in the latter area, and I have seen many strong candidates who were VAPs that also excelled in the former area as well.

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  6. I think the data also breaks down by the "type" of VAP. There are (as mentioned upthread) VAPs that give lab space and support/fund research, and don't have an increased teaching load relative to the TT faculty. There are also VAPs with no research support that teach an increased load, and everything in between.

    I was in a visiting position before my current TT appointment. In that department (14 TT faculty), almost all of the faculty had held a VAP before getting the TT offer- some in the same school, some in others. When I interviewed, the track record for VAPs there going on to get TT positions elsewhere was also very, very high.

    From what I've seen, having a strong VAP frequently leads to a TT position- or rather, I have not run across many instances of individuals coming from a research-active VAP with good recommendations that subsequently don't land TT positions.

    On the other hand, it definitely doesn't seem to be a requirement- there are lots of faculty also getting hired straight from post-docs or PhDs.

    A good VAP allows you, as a candidate, a chance to show that you can *do* the job you're being hired to do. It shows that you can build a research program involving undergraduates, that you can produce results working with undergraduates, and that you can do so while teaching a full load.

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  7. -Chemist, -Biochemist, +ScientistMarch 8, 2019 at 10:43 PM

    I think it has to do with if that position is even offered. Some places folks have never heard of it and are correspondingly dismissive. Others, there are two or three with that title. If it's not part of their ethos, faculty doesn't value it (unless they've been somewhere that had some). If they use it, it tends to be a trial period to a full-fledged hire (or stepping stone to full hire at another institution after you've proven your chops). I think it also follows the outline described by the above commentators, more common at PUI, very much less so at R1.

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  8. Reader warning: the following is anecdotal.
    No VAP in my PUI department. But in the recent past, many of our profs were lecturer, assist prof or VAP before being hired here.
    During phone and on-site interviews, most of the VAPs, TT-assist Profs and Post-Docs with significant teaching experience, demonstrated a better understanding of what is a TT-Assist Prof job in a teaching focused PUI. They understood better the "game" to play. Several "senior" VAPs and TT-assist prof appeared less flexible in their teaching philosophy, teaching practices, research plans. However, if all equal, candidates with a VAP or TT-assist Prof experiences had more convincing arguments on the "can *do* the job you're being hired to do".
    But, the view on the matter seems to vary a lot form one Dean to another, from one search committee member to another, from one department to another.

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