Transitioning from One Type of Institution to Another
Responding to a Question in Office Hours
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One of our dear readers reached out to pose this question in Office Hours:
What suggestions do you have for someone transitioning from an R1 to a teaching university? Though there are no expectations of me to do research/writing I still WANT to. However, at an R1 it is more acceptable to put teaching/students on the back burner, but at a SLAC there are different expectations in regards to teaching time commitments. Any advice/thoughts you can give around this and the split of time in relation to your type of university would be appreciated and interesting.
First and foremost, I'd like to emphasize that the heart of your question is balancing what you want in your career (i.e. more writing time) with what the institution wants (more teaching-related work). This is exactly the right question to be asking as you transition to a new role at a new university.
There are several factors to consider here. To begin, many SLACs, but not all, have high research and teaching expectations for tenure-track faculty members. Some SLACs hire lecturers who also conduct extensive research and writing, but not all of them. In my opinion, it is critical to acknowledge that there are generalized stereotypes about various types of institutions (R1, R2, SLAC, etc.), but those stereotypes do not always hold up in the ways we expect.
ChatGPT defines these various US institutions as follows, and I believe this is how most people think of them:
R1 universities are characterized by their intense research focus and substantial research funding, engaging in groundbreaking discoveries and technological advancements. They offer a wide range of academic disciplines and emphasize graduate education. R2 universities, while still involved in significant research, may have a slightly lower level of research activity and may prioritize regional engagement and community outreach. SLACs, on the other hand, primarily focus on undergraduate education, providing a broad-based curriculum with a strong emphasis on the liberal arts. They typically have smaller student populations, prioritize faculty-student interaction, and foster critical thinking and well-rounded education. While research may be present in SLACs, their primary mission is undergraduate teaching and mentorship.
But not all schools exactly fit their categorization neatly, and it depends on your role at that institution. For example, I was first hired as a visiting lecturer at my current R1 institution, and each year I could be evaluated in my performance reviews in two of three categories: teaching, research, and service. Since teaching was my primary role, that had to be one of the categories, but they also evaluated my research output each year I was a lecturer, so research mattered even though I was in a teaching-first role.
I taught at an R2 during graduate school, and many of the faculty had research outputs comparable to R1s while teaching more credit hours than their R1 sister school. I also interviewed at SLAC, which had a heavy teaching load for its tenure-track and tenured faculty as well as a heavy student advising load, but the faculty were all publishing at a higher level than you might expect for a teaching-first institution.
With all of this in mind, I have two pieces of advice.
First, I recommend speaking with faculty at your new institution to determine what is expected of your rank in terms of teaching and/or advising. How are you evaluated? When? By whom? Does research "count" even if it isn't formally part of your job?
Secondly, after taking into account how you are evaluated, consider what is important to you. If research and writing are more important to you than your institution, then how can you do well enough at your job while doing the work that is meaningful to you? I have a whole post where I write about this very thing that I recommend you read as well: