Consider a Career at a Liberal Arts College

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Do you see yourself as a teacher, scholar, and mentor?

If you are preparing for or pursuing a career as a faculty member at a college or university, here’s a quick quiz.

  • Do you prefer small group or one-on-one educational experiences?
  • Do you want to teach and mentor students in addition to pursuing scholarly research?
  • Do you enjoy collaborating across departments and institutions?

If your answer is yes, consider a career at a small, residential liberal arts college, such as any of the 14 members of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM). You’ll find institutions where you can fully engage as an educator and member of a college community, while also pursuing your research interests.

Use the links below to learn more about the distinctive characteristics of small liberal arts colleges, or SLACS.

About Small Liberal Arts Colleges (SLACs)

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Have you considered an academic career at a small liberal arts college (SLAC)? Here’s an overview of some of the distinctive features of these institutions.

How do I know if SLACs are the right fit for me?

  • Teaching and research both interest you
  • You enjoy mentoring and working one-on-one with students
  • Working and living in a smaller, close-knit community appeals to you

Some general characteristics of SLACs

  • Four-year institutions, mostly private
  • Majority of students are “traditional” full-time degree-seeking undergraduates, ages 18-24
  • Lower student-faculty ratios (between 9:1 and 16:1)
  • Enrollment numbers at Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) institutions range from 800 to 3,000 students
  • Tenure-eligible positions emphasize successful teaching, research and publications, and service (weight given to each will depend on the department and institution)
  • Course load for full-time faculty varies, depending on whether emphasis is placed on the research and teaching requirements (2-2 or 3-2), or if the institution is more focused on teaching (4-4)
  • Faculty tend to publish at a slightly slower pace of productivity than at R1 institutions
  • While R1 faculty typically focus more on producing research, SLAC faculty focus more on producing strong researchers, writers, and critical thinkers

Faculty at SLACs say they enjoy…

  • Opportunities to develop and teach new course content
  • Mentoring and engaging with students in small group settings and one-on-one
  • Teaching collaboratively and across disciplines
  • More flexible schedules and leave policies compared to many research universities
  • Having a strong sense of stewardship and influence on the institution through faculty self-governance
  • Supportive environments in which they are encouraged to develop pedagogical skills

About Small Liberal Arts Colleges (SLACs)

people in chemistry lab

Application Cover Letter

Application cover letter

  • Spend some time learning about the college(s) to which you apply.
  • Make it clear in your cover letter what it is about the institution that piqued your interest.
  • Mention your experience with and interest in teaching, in addition to your dissertation research.
  • Some things that selection committees may be wondering:

– Had you heard of this college prior to seeing the job posting?

– What is it that draws you to a liberal arts college, and specifically to this college/department?

– Do you know where this college is located? What draws you to this location, if anything?

Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) or resume

  • This document should reflect your teaching and your publication history.
  • Position your teaching experience toward the top of your CV and list courses you have taught.
  • List your publications and presentations.
  • List your professional memberships.
  • List the conferences you have attended, even if you were not the presenter.

Teaching portfolio

  • During graduate school, seek out opportunities to expand your teaching experiences and pedagogical skills. For example:

– Ask professors to allow you to present part of your research in their courses.

– Ask your faculty for opportunities to observe them teaching undergraduates.

– Visit your graduate school’s center for teaching and learning, if there is one, and take workshops to build your teaching skills.

  • If you have not had much teaching experience, speak about your experiences mentoring students. Include your teaching philosophy, which should clearly articulate why you love to teach.
  • Your teaching statement should include information about teaching topics in the field broadly and what specific course ideas you might have for classes that align with your individual research interests or areas of expertise.
  • Include a description of the courses you have taught and copies of the syllabi and/or list of required texts.
  • If you helped create and implement curriculum, include this information in the portfolio or on your C.V.
  • If you have teaching evaluations, include a few copies or make reference to them.

Research portfolio

  • As an applicant, demonstrate an interest in remaining an active scholar, depending on the college and course load.
  • Your research statement should note ways in which you might integrate your research interests into course topics in ways that engage undergraduates with the materials.
  • Include reprints of publications, papers, and grant proposals.

Letters of recommendation

  • At least one recommendation or reference should come from someone who is familiar with your teaching experience and/or work mentoring students.
  • Recommenders who have not seen you teach should be asked to include information about your communication style, mentoring abilities, and successful work with people in professional contexts (in addition to mentioning your dissertation).

Campus visit etiquette

  • If you are invited to visit the college, make sure you communicate any special needs in a timely and courteous way. For example:

– If you require extra time to get from one building to another, let your contact person know so they can build an appropriate schedule.

– If you require a private room and time for breast-feeding, let your contact person know so they can secure this accommodation ahead of time.

– If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions, make sure to mention this prior to your visit.

  • If you are brought to campus, you will likely meet with staff and students who will inquire about your teaching and mentoring experiences — take this seriously! Their opinions often matter a great deal to the selection committee.
  • During the search committee interview you may repeat and expand upon the written materials you submitted.
  • Take notes on individuals you meet with and send a short, personalized follow up note to the head of the departments, members of the search committee, administrative assistants, and any other individuals with whom you made a personal connection or spent significant time during your visit.

Job talk and/or teaching demonstration

  • Inquire ahead of time what you should expect for your talk(s), in terms of how much time you will be allotted.

– Whatever time frame you have been given, make sure you do not go over it.

– Make sure you leave time for Q & A.

  • Inquire ahead of time who the intended audience will include.
  • Pedagogy matters (sometimes). If it is possible for you to engage or involve students in your talk, try to do so.
  • Practice your talks in front of undergraduates, not graduate students or faculty.

Possible interview questions

  • Tell us about your research.
  • Tell us about your teaching philosophy.
  • What is your approach to teaching an introductory course in your discipline?
  • Share with us an example of a text/reading that you would want to include in an intro course, and why.
  • Share with us an example of a text/reading that you used in a previous course which did not work well. Why not, and how did you handle the situation?
  • If you could teach anything, what is your dream course?
  • How do you understand the role of a faculty mentor and/or advisor?
  • How does your research inform your teaching, and vice versa?
  • What ideas do you have for generating excitement in students and interest in your discipline at this campus?
  • What do you think are the primary characteristics of an excellent undergraduate program in your discipline?

Links for more information

The Consider a Career website is supported by the Undergraduate and Faculty Fellows Program for a Diverse Professoriate.

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