Things to know before coming to a LAC

We asked our faculty members what they wished they had known before applying to, or accepting an offer from, a liberal arts college. Here is what they had to say:

  • “Ask good questions about how much internal research support will be available to you–not just with respect to your start-up, but what sources will be available (if any) post-tenure. Also, if you value research mentoring, ask good questions about how that is supported (e.g., financial support for student positions in the summer) and “counted” (i.e., given teaching credit–or not!). Finally–a positive!–I didn’t anticipate the extent to which doing research at a LAC affords the opportunity for creativity and getting involved in new and different kinds of projects vs. a med school or R1 environment. While obtaining support *can* be trickier and doing certain types of projects (e.g., treatment outcome) can be a lot more challenging, less pressure to chase grants and more valuing of collaborative work with students and cross-disciplinary colleagues has really opened up some exciting new scholarship avenues for me.”
  • “I came from a clinical position, so I wish I had known more about the current trends in LACs and general academia such as inclusive pedagogy, digital pedagogy, etc. I would recommend reading through the Chronicle of Higher Education website ahead of applying/accepting positions.”
  • “Sadly, many LACs are experiencing tough financial times. A few years ago, I applied for a job at a college that has since closed. I’d recommend researching the college’s financial standing or asking about it before accepting a position. At the very least, if the college is in serious debt, I would want to hear from the Dean what is being done to address the issue before accepting a position.”
  • “Be aware that activities like service commitments & individual student supervision (theses, advanced research opportunities, formal/informal mentoring, etc.) will take a considerable amount of time, probably more so than in other kinds of academic positions.”
  • “Learn to balance your time and prioritize the things that are most important to you. Don’t do service just because someone asks you to do so – do it because you care.”
  • “How to write a good exam. How to negotiate a position. How to set up a lab and research agenda.”
  • “I wish I had known how difficult it would be to switch institutions, once I landed in my first tenure-track job. This has had implications for my family, in terms of where we are living and raising our children. I ONLY thought about the job when making my decision – not as much the long view. I wish I had asked about regular/on-going sources of funding (not just start-up) for research.”
  • “Try to understand as specifically as possible the expectations for teaching, service, scholarship, as these mean different things to different institutions. Service, in particular, can mean a variety of activities. Try to find out which are valued and appreciated within the college and department.”
  • “Take care to notice department and university culture around department politics, work-life balance, etc. Really consider your priorities and the fit of the program with respect to course load, research expectations, etc.”
  • “Being a faculty member at a LAC is a fantastic job! In applying and interviewing for positions, I’d recommend thinking about how your expertise could fit into the existing needs of the department. In addition to the courses posted on the job description, what else might you potentially be interested in teaching that would augment existing curricular offerings? Additionally, are there multi-section courses for core or major requirements that you’d be interested in/able to teaching on a regular or intermittent basis?”
  • “The schools vary a lot in terms of how well they support research and what the department’s cultural norms are surrounding applying for sabbaticals, grants, how much to work with students vs. own work, etc. I definitely wish I had known that the variability is large and asked more. Also, some schools give reduced teaching loads to help in the beginning (so many new preps! and also setting up the lab) while others don’t. It provides a glimpse (potentially) into how well-resourced the institution is and/or how supportive of an environment it is for a junior faculty.”
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