Professorship at an Institution Focused on Undergraduate Education and Teaching FAQ Sheet

This FAQ sheet was generated from notes collected during the FEFP workshop in an effort to help engineering students pursuing advanced engineering degrees and post-docs become competitive candidates for faculty positions at institutions focused on undergraduate education and teaching. This FAQ sheet should help applicants get started in preparing an application for a faculty position at an institution focused on undergraduate education and teaching.

Note: The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher EducationTM has various terms to describe institutions that focus on teaching and undergraduate students. For simplicity, this document uses the phrase "institutions focused on undergraduate education and teaching" to refer as a general term. However, readers should be aware that there is a specific classification system for intuitions that emphasize teaching where engineering bachelor degrees are awarded: Master's Colleges and Universities (L) are large programs, Master's Colleges and Universities (M) are medium programs, Master's Colleges and Universities (S) are small programs, Baccalaureate Colleges—Arts & Sciences, Baccalaureate Colleges—Diverse Fields, and Baccalaureate/Associate's Colleges.

 Students should also review other FEFP career FAQ sheets for additional information.

1. Can you provide some estimates that describe institutions focused on 
    undergraduate education and teaching?  

  • All items are estimates shared during workshops:
    42% of all engineering schools are non-doctoral (do not offer PhD programs in engineering);
            approximately 150-200 institutions
    26,000 engineering faculty members work in the US
    4,000 (15%) of engineering faculty are at teaching focused institutions
    10% of engineering faculty retire or leave teaching focused institutions annually;
           400 positions open annually at teaching focused institutions

2. How do I prepare a competitive application?

  • Prepare a clear and compelling cover letter.
    The cover letter must speak to who you are and how you match the institution.
           Some panelists have stated that the cover letter is the most important part of the application, and that 
           approximately 1 in 7 applicants make it past the cover letter review.
    Applicants should be specific about what they do, why they like what they do, 
           and how what they do adds to the mission for that specific department
  • Review the position description carefully.
    Apply for the opening that has been solicited. Do not apply for something that was not solicited.
  • Know the institution.
         Engineering school culture, engineering school size, and the different engineering programs.
  • Be complete.
         Answer all of the questions in the interview or application.
  • Submit flawless documents.
         Check for spelling and grammar errors. Have a third party proof read everything before you submit.
  • Have strong references.
    Applicants should solicit professors and professionals with whom they have a good
            relationship for references. The research advisor should write one of the reference letters.
         If the applicant’s advisor is missing, this will send a "red flag" to the search committee.
         Reviewers look at references very carefully and will contact them.
         Do not ask an undergraduate student to write a letter of recommendation.
  • Tips:
         Everyone is going to have a PhD; ask yourself, "Why is my degree good?"
         Teaching focused institutions tend to have smaller departments. Faculty may be asked to teach a
             course outside of their preference because the school needs to fulfill their curriculum plans.
             Students should practice being a team player in a research group and be adaptive to the needs
             of the research group.
         Applicants should be prepared to discuss their graduate experiences in a manner that shows
             they are adequately prepared for the solicited position. The interviewers will want to know about
             what you did while earning your degrees. What were your responsibilities? What were the outcomes?
             Why are your   experiences important to this faculty position?
         Recap on interviewing stages: application, telephone, fly to the campus.

3. How can I become a competitive applicant?

  • Applicants with the following are competitive:
    Winner of an outstanding teaching award or mentoring award
    Winner of a grant that can be brought with them to the institution
    Created a research outline in an area that requires collaboration and has identified
            the network of people they would like to collaborate with at the teaching focused      
            institution of interest and outside institutions.

4. Should I apply for a faculty position at a teaching focused institution if I have a MS and PhD
in an engineering field that is not offered at that particular institution?

  • This issue should be addressed on a case-by-case basis; interested applicants should contact the school.
    When contacting the school, applicants should describe how their qualifications in their current engineering
    discipline are aligned with the engineering faculty position opening. Applicants should present how their
    engineering area can be valuable to the current curriculum(e.g. technical elective).
  • Tip:
    Do not write a statement like this: "Here is what you all are missing and this is what I think you need."
           The department’s aim is to hire someone that can help further and meet the current goals of the 
           department. Applicants should describe how their proposed contributions complement the department.

5. What if my research is in one engineering field but my degree is in another engineering field?

  • Applicants may want to call the institution and describe their unique situation. For legal reasons, and institution is asked to list the minimum
    requirements for a position, if the applicant does not meet the minimum requirements for that particular position then the applicant cannot apply.  
  • Tip:
       Avoid fraud and misrepresentation; do not overstate your qualifications.

6. OK, I have made it past the cover letter and application. What happens next?

  • Undergraduate focused schools have limited funds for interviewing candidates on campus.
    Therefore the first interview may be by phone or SkypeTM. Panelists shared that approximately
    1 in 7 applicants made it past the SkypeTM or phone interview. 
  •  Once the applicant passes the interview, the applicant is asked to visit the institution.
     Applicants present their research.
     Applicants teach a class. Students will evaluate the applicant’s performance after the class.
            The faculty will also evaluate the applicant’s time management and ability to command the class.

7. How should I select content to teach for the on-campus interview?

  • The applicant should choose a topic they are passionate about. 
  •  Plan to teach junior level students.
  • Do not take too many risks with the content or pedagogy. 
  • The applicant should pay attention to the institution’s instructions to prepare for teaching and
    customize their presentation for this interview.
  • Keep the audience in mind; be mindful of the jargon used while teaching.
  • When speaking, slow down and get feedback (e.g. do not mumble or write fast on the board).
  • Tip:
    A quiz is a good way for the applicant to get feedback from the students during the interview.

8. What is the search committee expecting in the research seminar during the interview?

  • The research seminar is an opportunity for the applicant to demonstrate that he/she is passionate about their work and can conduct quality research.
  • Applicants should ask questions about expectations for the research presentation in advance.

9. I understand what I will need to do be a competitive applicant, but how do I prepare right now?

  • Create a well-defined, signature area of expertise to teach.
  • Develop a network of associates (i.e. your peers and committee members).
  • Develop a versatile teaching ability (i.e. teach a different course).
  • Find a teaching mentor.
  • Tips:
          Look up engineering professors that won awards in the past, meet them, and watch them teach.
         Use Purdue’s good name. Purdue has a well-earned reputation and you are a part of that reputation.

10. What should I know about a faculty career at an undergraduate focused institution? 

  • Teaching.
    Faculty are responsible for the development and delivery of engineering course.
         Faculty may teach lectures, labs, grade homework, and record grades.
        Class sizes are smaller, 10-25 students.
    Faculty teach 3-5 classes a semester, and they may all be different.
    Faculty work to provide a nurturing environment. Students have a different academic
           history and faculty work to develop students into competitive engineers.
  • Research.
    Departments are small. Faculty will have few colleagues, 2-3 people sometimes.
  • Service. 
    Faculty are expected to participate on committees. 
  • Tips (more on teaching):
    Students are the main product at a teaching focused institution. As a new faculty,
           success is based on your ability to have relationships, empathy, and adjust classes
           to ensure students have an equitable learning environment.

11. Where can I find open faculty positions at teaching focused institutions?

  • Look for higher education job listings in sources like in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Academic Keys, and Higher Ed Jobs.
  • Engineering professional organizations are good place to look. For example, at the Annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers
    (AICHE) Meeting there is a "Meet the Faculty Candidates Poster Session" on Sunday night, before the conference. Universities that are
    hiring will go to this session to meet candidates and look at their posters.
  • American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) has job postings.
  • Applicants should talk to their department heads about hiring opportunities. Just because a position was advertised 6 months ago does
    not mean that position was filled.

12. How does the faculty hiring cycle work at teaching focused institutions?

  • Departments start looking for faculty a year ahead, around August.
  • For every research I university there are approximately 10-15 teaching focused institutions; therefore, more teaching focused institutions
    are hiring in than research I universities. However, research I universities hire more faculty.
  • Engineering department hiring varies by discipline.
  • There are approximately 100-200 applicants that apply for one position; applicants must customize their application so it goes in the "yes" pile.

13. How do faculty stay up to date in their respective engineering field without
      conducting research?

  • Faculty at teaching focused institutions DO conduct research!
  • In order to conduct research with a large teaching load, faculty collaborate more within their institution, with faculty at outside institutions,
    and with graduate students at other institutions.
  • Being a faculty member is a profession – it is your responsibility to be involved and aware of current research – regardless of the institution.
  • Undergraduate focused institutions do have funds to send professors to conferences and workshops to stay up to date in their field.

14. How much time do faculty have to do research? Do faculty have free time?

  • Research and professional development is heavily conducted in the summer.
  • There are times when faculty are working night and day: preparing courses, mentoring, and teaching classes.
  • Faculty work about 55 hours a week. Teaching is about 40 hours a week, 5 hours for service, 5 hours keeping
    up with research in their field, and 5 hours for the day-to-day activities.
  • Professional development happens on the weekend and after hours.
  • Faculty are required to have 11 to 14 contact hours with students a week.
  • Faculty schedules are very flexible.
  • Tip
    Be sure to ask this question during the interview.

15. What opportunities are available for people with interdisciplinary engineering degrees?

  • Interdisciplinary engineering degrees are strongly valued at teaching focused institutions because they have a great deal of versatility.
  • We encourage engineers from traditional disciplines to take classes outside of their discipline to gain more engineering knowledge.

16. What is the research startup package for a new faculty member at a teaching
      focused institution?

  • Faculty receive approximately $25,000 to start at a teaching focused institution as compared to roughly $500,000 at a research I university.
  • Purdue University College of Engineering Graduate Programs FEFP FAQ Sheet

17. What is the salary for an engineering faculty member at a teaching focused institution?

  • Salary varies; applicants will need to discuss salary with each institution.
  • Private and public universities have different salaries.

18. Do you have any specific advice for applicants currently in a post-doc position?

  • Search committees want to see applicants with teaching experience; be sure to gain teaching experience as a post-doc.
  • Applicants should explain why they conducted their particular research as a post-doc and why it is important.

19. Is there an advantage in taking a post-doc position before applying for a faculty position
       at a teaching focused institution?

  • A post-doc position is a nice way to transition into a faculty position. Post-docs can wrap-up their research
    and gain some teaching experience before applying for a faculty position.

20. How large are the classes at a teaching focused institution?

  • Classes have about 18-25 students, but occasionally there may be a class of 45-50 students.
  • The student to faculty ratio is about 16 to 1.

21. What if I have not had many (any) teaching experiences? I want to teach, there just have not
       been many opportunities for me to teach as a graduate student.

  • Applicants should express what they would do in the classroom based on what they learned as an observer.
  • If an applicant’s position focused on classroom management, he/she should explain what they learned from observing a classroom (i.e. grading).
  • If an applicant only has one teaching opportunity, they can use their time to explore multiple facets of teaching while in that one class.
  • Collect feedback while teaching. This shows that the applicant took initiative and has an understanding of the
    parameters to be a teacher. Include your evaluations in the application.
  • Go observe or sit-in on good teachers at Purdue.
  • Applicants can use the teaching philosophy statement to discuss how they would go about teaching if they have not had extensive experience.
  • Talk about outreach teaching experiences.

22. What if my supervisor from my teaching experiences is not connected to my research?
      Should I still include them in my application?

  • Yes. Generally, there is no limit to the number of references that an applicant can use, but they
    should be chosen wisely. Reviewing letters of recommendation and contacting references is
    a big part of the review process.
  • The recommendation letters should speak to the applicant’s character. Think about triangulation,
    if three different recommendation letters reveal the same qualities about applicant through different
    experience, the search committee will perceive that the applicant is consistent.

23. How is course integrity maintained at a teaching focused institution if faculty are
       responsible for the development and delivery of courses, and have liberties to design
       the course as they see fit?

  • The course must fit within the overall engineering program and the plan of study. Which
    means the course must be aligned with pre-requisites, following courses, and must
    prepare students to be competitive in the field.

24. How do I improve my professional network?

  • Conferences and professional organizations are good way to build a professional network.
  • Students should keep their current colleagues close. For example, a student’s research
    advisors and research community members should be a part of their professional network.
  • Applicants may contact people within their network that are currently or have been faculty at
    the particular institution to which they are applying to clarify any uncertainties about the application.

25. Are there any legal issues for international applicants?

  • There may be an issue with hiring an international applicant if the solicited faculty position
    is aligned with a government affiliated research project, otherwise, no.

26. Are there additional qualities search committees expect for international applicants?

  • There are no additional qualities for international applicants given that they earned their
    PhD from an institution in the United States. International applicants and domestic
    applicants are equal.
  • During the phone or SkypeTM interview the search committee screens for clarity in English.
    This may require additional preparation for applicants from countries where English is not
    the official language. Since teaching is a large component of a faculty member’s duties, it is
    very important that applicants have strong communication skills, regardless if they are
    international or domestic.

27. Do small teaching focused institutions hire spouses?

  • Yes, but be sure to ask early. It may be hard to do for some institutions. If you are wanted for
    the job, let the chair and the dean find a faculty position for your spouse. The departments are
    very small. If you and your spouse would both like to be in the same department, it may be
    challenging for you both to earn a faculty position.

28. Do a lot of teaching focused institutions focus on industry experience?

  • Industry experience is not always expected. If it is important, the applicant can explain how they
    have managed to be successful without industry experience and how they plan to work with the
    institution to gain industry experience if hired. The applicant should explain this in the cover letter.
    It is a part of the applicant’s narrative of who they are and where they are going.

29. Do faculty members ever conduct engineering education research or conduct research
      on new teaching methods? Is research mostly conducted ones respective engineering field?

  • Most faculty conduct research in their respective engineering field.
  • Faculty members may design in-class teaching assessments for the benefit of their students and professional skills. In addition,
  • faculty read papers from ASEE, articles from JEE, and may integrate valuable teaching and assessment methods found in these
  • scholarly works into their class design.

30. I want to transition from a faculty position at a teaching focused institution to a faculty 
      position at a research I university. How do I remain a competitive candidate for careers
      at research I institution while being a faculty member at a teaching focused institution?

  • A few years after an applicant is employed at a teaching focused institution they become less
    competitive as a candidate for a research I university because they are not developing skills that
    are as relevant for that particular career path. Faculty at teaching focused institutions looking to
    become faculty at a research I university should find multiple mentors at research I universities to
    maintain that competitiveness.

31. How does the tenure process differ between research I universities and teaching 
      focused institutions?

  • Research funding, publication expectations, and citations expectations are on a different scale
    (smaller) at teaching focused institutions.
  • At teaching focused institutions faculty that have failed to perform well as a teacher are unlikely
    to earn tenure. Course evaluations and student comments are considered in tenure review.
  • Faculty should have a "never stop learning" philosophy and should share findings that would
    benefit the students and the faculty community.
  • Being a professor is like any other profession out there; the field and position continuously changes.
    Faculty need to be involved in their professional organizations or community of practice and continue
    to develop within their profession to be good professor. The faculty member’s ability to stay current will
    affect their ability to get tenure; use the research to stay current.
  • Tip:
    There are three models: teacher-scholar model, teacher model, and scholar model.
            No school will give applicants an exact list. Applicants should know the school’s
            mission and clarify any questions.
    Tenure is a peer evaluation. Know what your peers want.
    Satisfy the goals and needs of your department, school, and university.
    Every school will be different, so be sure to ask during the interview, "How will I be evaluated for tenure?"

32. Do institutions have programs to help develop professors or do we have to
      figure this out on our own?

  • The small size of the engineering department at teaching focused institutions makes formal mentoring
    opportunities challenging but teaching workshops are offered. The department wants new faculty to be
    successful in the tenure process; they are investing in new faculty.

33. If there are 200 applicants for 1 position, yet the search committee is looking 
      for someone to teach core courses, how does an applicant make himself or
      herself standout?

  • An applicant stands out when they have done enough research to know the course number of the core
    courses offered at that institution (e.g. ME221 thermodynamics, rather than saying thermodynamics).
  • An applicant stands out when they have selected a textbook that they would use to teach a course.
  • An applicant stands out when they can discuss their research area and emphasize their strengths in
    that area with respect to the needs of the job position. Faculty teach 3 to 4 different courses a semester
    and will be responsible for 5 to 6 during the year. It is important that applicants discuss their strength to
    demonstrate their breadth of knowledge; flexibility and diverse skills are valued. Review the plans of study
    for the undergraduate degree of the particular engineering discipline at that institution to get a better understanding.
  • Applicants stand out when they understand the mission and vision of the institute. Applicants can find
    the mission somewhere close to the ABET accreditation information listed on the department website.
  • Tips:
    Applicants are good researchers; use those same skills to do research in an academic position.
    PhD candidates, at the time of their faculty position applications, have spent their time focusing 
            intensely on a specific area of study. When preparing for a faculty position, applicants should step
            back from their research and get an understanding of where their research is most applicable/valuable
            to a particular institution’s core courses.

34. Anything else I should know?

  • The review process is not perfect; applicants may be overlooked even if they are a good candidate. Their
    application may not stand out to the search committee. 
  • Academia is changing rapidly; applicants should look for positions that satisfy their needs
    (e.g. tenure track lecturer faculty, non-tenure track faculty).
  • Teaching focus institutions are also referred to as undergraduate focused  institutions.
  • Applicants should use GoogleTM to learn about the types of engineering courses that
    are offered at the particular institution. Most of these institutions are focused on teaching
    the core engineering courses.
  • Education is a "people" business. Deans are looking to hire good people and ensure they
    get to tenure. When faculty are going up for tenure they must state what they have done and why it is important.
  • Applicants should practice their SkypeTM (voice and camera) interview. Look up non-verbal communication methods.