Faculty are Sometimes Like Bartenders (And 4 Other Insights From Our Panel on STEM Faculty Jobs Beyond Research-1 Institutions)

Author name
Jennifer Levy, Assistant Director Graduate Student Career Services, Duke Career Center

Curious about what STEM faculty roles are like at institutions beyond R1s (doctoral universities with very high research activity) and if they would be a good fit for you? Here are some takeaways from a recent panel discussion we held as part of Duke’s Academic Job Search Series titled, STEM Faculty Careers Beyond R1 Institutions.

We heard from panelists:

  • Jason Andrus, PhD (Microbiology), Professor of Biological Sciences, Meredith College
  • Meghan Blackledge, PhD (’11 Chemistry), Assistant Professor of Chemistry at High Point University
  • Lauren Lowman, PhD (’18 CEE, ’10 BA Public Policy), Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University

Top 5 tips:

  1. Faculty are sometimes like bartenders.
    One piece of advice our panelists all agreed on was that working at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) or small liberal arts colleges (SLACs) requires you to also be a mentor and advisor, typically working much more closely with your students. One person noted that faculty are sometimes like bartenders and that students may often share personal issues and situations with you. Some people may get great satisfaction from having closer relationships with their students while others may not feel as comfortable. If that type of role doesn’t sound appealing then you may want to focus on R1s or fairly large institutions. 
  2. Your relationships will be critical.
    All panelists agreed on the importance of networking and continuing to develop your relationships with faculty and also peers, especially for research purposes. One panelist noted that they still continue to publish with a former advisor, which contributes to their tenure and promotion. And another agreed that because of their connections with academic peers and industry professionals they have been able to obtain equipment donations and loans for their small lab.  
  3. Acquire additional skills now.
    In a small lab, you may be the only person training others, managing personnel, ordering equipment and even running the experiments. Consider getting some practice in a few of those areas while in graduate school, either in your own lab or possibly through a leadership role, Bass Connections project or other positions.
  4. Impress the search committee.
    What stands out to a search committee is the ability to talk specifically about your fit and interest in that institution and student population. Sure, you may be casting a wide net for jobs but do take the time to personalize your application materials and highlight why you’re interested in this type of role, with those students at that particular institution. And once you make it to a first-round interview show them that you are actually excited about it!
  5. Prepare for the interview.
    In addition to practicing by doing mock interviews, both online and in person, you should also be prepared for some unusual questions that may be asked. Back to the analogy of faculty as a bartender, they typically just want to see how you react to strange or stressful circumstances that may come your way as a faculty member, so don’t let that throw you off.

To hear more insights from this discussion, and others like it, check out previously recorded videos on the Duke Postdoctoral Services YouTube channel.

Duke’s Academic Job Search Series and Careers Beyond Academia series are co-hosted by the Duke Career Center, The Graduate School and the Office of Postdoctoral Services.