Monday, 2 August 2004

Load factors

Since arriving in Ann Arbor last week, I’ve had something of a curious reaction to the revelation that I have a job. The near-uniform reaction, after hearing the details of the position, is that it’s a “heavy” load—which, given that it’s three courses a semester (or “3–3,” in the lingo) and five* preparations over the year, I suppose is a fair assessment, although it’s something of a godsend compared to the 4–4s at complete backwaters (“Research support? That’s your desk.”) I interviewed for, and the load itself doesn’t account for the relatively small classes or the generally engaged undergraduate student body. It’s enough to put something of a damper on my enthusiasm for starting my job in the fall.

Now, it’s possible that these folks just aren’t attuned to the realities of the academic job market, or perhaps just don’t recognize that for many potential scholars, taking a job at a non-Ph.D.-granting institution is a necessity rather than a preference. But it’s also possible that they’re on to something; is it possible that several years’ training as a researcher and methodologist is pretty much wasted if most of what I do the rest of my career is teach “textbook” political science and bivariate regression to undergraduates? Should I really settle for teaching three classes a semester when I could go elsewhere and teach three courses a year, if the research expectations for tenure are such that I’d end up doing the same amount of work anyway, especially when you account for the lack of graduate assistants?

The decision may, in the end, be made for me—if this past year’s experience is any guide, serious research institutions aren’t exactly clamoring to hire graduates of lower-tier (or even middle-tier) Ph.D. programs. But I suppose it’s something I’ll have to bear in mind this fall.

* Actually, it will be closer to six, because I thoroughly despise the textbook I’m using in the fall for American government and plan to change it to another in the spring.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

Careful. I happen to be very well acquainted with a fellow with a 4–4 and more preps than you can shake a stick at

I am also well acquainted with the reactions that those with 3–2s and 2–2s

And it is possible to publish and be active with a 4–4, althought not as active if one has a 2–2.

The upside: tenure doesn’t require a book published by Yale University Press.

The even upper-side: it beats not working in the academy at all ;)


Steven is also acquainted with someone who teaches three classes a semester and advises three student publications while taking three PhD classes at a whack. ;-) (and now with three kids – a trifecta!)

All in all, it sounds a lot like the people you are talking to spend too much time reading the Chronicle First Person series.

For an alternative to their pessimism, read the Invisible Adjunct archives and be thankful that you’re heading for full employment.

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