01 October 2010

The truth about teaching statements, part 2

Yesterday, I talked about how weak teaching statements by tenure-track job candidates are. I wanted to explore how teaching fits into job applications a little further.

Even in institutions with lots of undergraduate teaching, the research plan is probably going to hold greater sway that the teaching statement. As I mentioned yesterday, the research you want to do will greatly inform whether the institution can hire you. An institution might not be able to support some specialized needs.

More importantly, research statement give a search committee an idea about that intangible quality: how you might “fit” with the department. If you’re a molecular biologist who studies yeast, you might not find a good home in a department that specializes in conservation ecology.

So while a bad teaching statement can take you out of contention, you’re unlikely to get short-listed because of your killer teaching statement.

“Wait. Search committees care about teaching, but don’t invite you to campus because of it? How do they evaluate teaching?”

As I mentioned in the previous instalment, some places do phone interviews and ask teaching questions then.

The most common indicator that search committees and faculty use to evaluate your potential as teacher is your departmental research seminar. The quality of departmental seminars is the most reliable bellwether for who will get the initial job offer.

This is why you should prepare for that seminar like Steve Jobs prepares when he’s going to launch something like the iPhone. It is probably the highest stakes thing most academics will do in their careers.

It is incredibly important that you don’t try to dazzle people with your fancy techniques, but to make sure they understand you. If faculty are lost during your seminar, they are not going to believe that you can make glycolysis and the Krebs cycle clear to first year students.

Photo by icentralarkansas on Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons license.

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