What to Do After Landing a Teaching Job at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution

Dec. 27, 2016

Many new microbiology faculty members, having finished a Ph.D. and then held a postdoc position (or two… or more…), get their first teaching position at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI), and find that they no longer have the same resources they had in the larger labs they had previously been in. How do you start an undergraduate research program? Or compete for funding? Or find the right journal to publish in?

Questions like these were on the mind of Dr. Sarah Fankhauser, Assistant Professor of Biology at Oxford College of Emory University, and her collaborators Dr. Holly LaFerriere (Bemidji State University), Dr. Carla Bonilla (Gonzaga University), Dr. Olga Calderon (LaGuardia Community College), and Dr. Angelo Kolokithas (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College). The five early-career faculty members are ASM Leaders Inspiring Networks and Knowledge (LINK) Fellows. The LINK program, and particularly the ASM-LINK Undergraduate Faculty Research Initiative (UFRI) Fellowship, provides professional development to undergraduate STEM educators to help them build research programs and successful partnerships. Fankhauser and her collaborators met at the 2016 ASM Microbe meeting, where they discovered their common concerns. Fankhauser notes that in the “typical” undergraduate-through-postdoc pipeline, there’s little preparation for teaching—and often a stigma against teaching and an expectation that one’s efforts should be focused on research. So when new faculty begin their careers, particularly at PUIs, they often need significant professional development.

Fankhauser emphasizes the importance of building a diverse network of contacts and collaborators, particularly when you’re just getting started. Scientific conferences are great places to build connections. New contacts could become everything from research partners to collaborators on a symposium to external reviewers in your tenure process. A conference’s scientific program can identify speakers that you want to meet; visiting them at their poster or attending their talk can give you a chance to set up a time to chat. Or you can contact them before the conference to set up a meeting. You should attend discussion sessions, networking events, and other discipline-specific events, like workshops on teaching and education research. Don’t forget to apply your networking skills as a new faculty member, adjusting your focus as you start your career. Do you need to attend more sessions on pedagogy? Are you looking for information on starting a research program and finding funding? Can you meet with someone who’s been in the field longer than you and ask them questions? Can you find some fellow early-career faculty to share ideas with?

Having benefited so much from the LINK program, Fankhauser and her collaborators want to share what they’ve learned and foster communication among fellow early-career faculty. They will lead a symposium at the 2017 ASM Microbe meeting as part of the Profession of Microbiology Track.  Topics will include developing as a teacher in one’s trainee years, how to get started as a microbiology faculty member at a PUI (including applying for positions, mentoring, research, tenure), and building a research program at a PUI, among other issues. They hope to foster a discussion among their peers about the unique challenges and opportunities for faculty at PUIs, and help their fellow faculty succeed.

Author: Bethany Adamec

Bethany Adamec
Bethany Adamec is a Science Education Specialist at ASM, where she communicates about ASM’s work in student and faculty professional development, supports the ASM Education Board, and works with colleagues to promote evidence-based education reform.