Teaching Careers (for Statisticians) at Liberal Arts Colleges and Research Universities

Rewards and challenges of teaching careers in higher ed

higher ed
for professors

August 26, 2020

This blog post is now published in Amstat News. To cite it:

Dogucu, M. (2020). Teaching Careers (for Statisticians): What You Should Know. Amstat News, (521), 32-34.

At the beginning of the month, I was on a panel titled Teaching Focused Careers in Colleges, Universities, and Industry. The other panelists were Garrett Grolemund, Rebecca Nugent, and Katie St. Clair. The panel was chaired by Beth Chance. For those who were at JSM 2020 but were not able to make it the recording of the session is available until the end of the month. I will summarize a few points that I made during my talk.


I have always been interested in teaching careers. I have taught at liberal arts colleges and research universities. Despite my interest in teaching positions, I knew very little about them during my graduate school years. I will share some misconceptions that I had.

  • Teaching-focused careers are only at small liberal arts colleges (SLACs). I had this misconception mainly because I went to a liberal arts college. I only applied to SLACs in my last year during PhD. After finishing my PhD, I then met other statistics educators in different kinds of institutions. I now know that teaching-focused careers are possible even in the industry.
  • Research universities only have teaching positions that are non-tenure track. I had this misconception because at my PhD alma mater this was the case. I know that is not true because the position I currently hold is a tenure track one. Even though tenure-track teaching positions are not as common in research universities, there are other positions that are long term (e.g. Duke University’s Professor of the Practice lines).
  • Teaching load is higher in research universities for teaching faculty. This may or may not be a misconception from a statistics perspective. I do not have any data on this. However, in my case, my teaching load has stayed almost the same between SLACs and research universities.

What does the job look like?

I teach at the University of California Irvine which is one of the 10 UC campuses. We have about 36,000 students and about 30,000 are undergraduate students. About 45% the undergraduate students are first-generation. I teach in the Department of Statistics. We do not have a bachelor’s degree in statistics but we do have a bachelor’s degree in data science. We are on a quarterly system, and my teaching load is 2-2-2 pre-tenure. This would be equivalent to 2-2 teaching load in the semester system. In case, you are not familiar with the term teaching load, it is essentially the number of courses one has to teach. A 2-2 teaching load would mean 2 courses in the fall and 2 in the spring.

My typical work week mainly consists of teaching and preparing for teaching. I spend a lot of my time preparing materials, (now) videos, assignments for my students and share them on my course websites (e.g. introdata.science). I hold office hours. I also hold teaching office hours where graduate students and faculty come to ask me questions related to teaching. On a weekly basis I attend meetings: with my TAs and graders; weekly department meetings; and with my collaborators. In order to meet with my collaborators, I have to work on tasks related to our projects.

Rewards and Challenges

As I had the chance to teach both at SLACs and research universities, I have been able to make some comparisons between different experiences of teaching at different institutions. I have found both SLAC teaching and research university teaching to be fulfilling in their own ways. Some of the experiences I share may be unique to my own experiences.

Small class sizes SLACs have smaller class sizes. I even have taught a course for 7 students at a SLAC. At my current job, I taught a class with 220 students. Small class sizes have given me a great opportunity to get to know my students and witness their process very closely. This has been a very rewarding experience.

With the small class benefit of SLAC, however, comes a bigger demand for time for students. I had much longer face time (now it would be zoom time, I guess) with my students. In SLACs, there is an open-door policy where students and other faculty can walk in to your office at any time. It feels great to be part of such a community. However, this left me with limited time for my own projects.

Large class sizes Teaching large classes can be very challenging from a course management perspective. I should also note that not all classes that I currently teach are large classes. For instance, I teach a Bayesian course and that is always capped at 30. Teaching large classes will always be a challenge but it is also possible to learn teaching methods and tools to teach more effectively in large classes. Teaching a large class also means teaching with a team of Teaching Assistants (TAs) and graders. For instance, at SLACs I spent a big chunk of my time grading which I very rarely do1. Working with a teaching team also provides me the opportunity to learn from graduate students. Also being in a department with graduate students (which is very rare in SLACs) gives me the opportunity to work with graduate students on pedagogical projects.

SLACs cherish teaching and most faculty members are evaluated with similar expectations when it comes to teaching and research. The culture around teaching usually is a positive one. In research universities, on the other hand, research faculty are bigger in number and thus the culture around teaching varies greatly from department to department. Thus having to explain yourself, your projects, your research which may be different than what other faculty define as research can be challenging depending on the department.


I want to recommend few resources that I hope would help anyone considering a teaching-focused careers.


  • Section on Statistics and Data Science Education Mentoring Program This program matches a junior statistics educator with a senior statistics educator colleague. When I was a graduate student I took part in the program twice and had Jeff Witmer and Jo Hardin as my mentors. I have learned a lot from them!
  • Preparing to Teach Workshop teaches how to teach and prepare for the job market for teaching-focused careers. The workshop usually takes place during major conferences such as JSM, eCOTS, etc. Keep an eye out for the next one.
  • Isolated Statisticians Interest Group which is essentially a listserv with members mainly from SLACs.
  • Preparing to Teach National Network which is not related to the aforementioned workshop. This is a program that runs in many universities and matches a graduate student with a mentor at a SLAC. Check if your university has this program, my university had it and I was a Preparing to Teach fellow at Denison University. I have learned a lot about academic careers by enrolling in this program.
  • Antiracist Statistics Educators a Slack for educators where resources are shared and conversations on race and social justice in statistics education are held.



You may want to follow these blogs because they are created by statistics educators and may give you ideas about teaching, job market, and statistics.

Tips for the Job Market

In this section, I try to provide tips that I seldom see. So some of them may seem unusual. I wish someone had told me about them when I was on the job market.

Before Getting on the Job Market

  • Teach! Even if it is an hour-long workshop.
  • Get some pedagogical training. Check your school’s education courses or certificates in college teaching.
  • Have a website.
  • Be vocal (beyond statistics networks as well). There are jobs outside of the statistics departments (e.g. in business schools, medical schools, etc.) that may be well suited for statistics educators.
  • Make connections at JSM, USCOTS, and at other conferences with statistics educators, not only for the job market but because you may want to share ideas and conduct projects in the long run.
  • Prepare your job application materials (at least as a first draft) the summer before. This gives you an organized frame of thinking about your experiences and what you would like to do in your future job. Having this in an organized manner on paper, and on your mind will make talking to others at conferences and elsewhere much easier.

While on the Job Market

  • Reach out to the person who emailed/posted the job ad or the person whose name is provided as the point of contact in the job ad. Knowing more about a job has helped me either 1) decide not to apply to a job because it was not what I wanted to do with my career or 2) make my application stronger because I knew what they were looking for.
  • Ask what is considered “research”. Faculty are evaluated by their teaching, research, and service. However, each department/school interprets “research” differently for statisticians and statistics educators. Where does pedagogical writing (e.g. textbook) fall under faculty evaluation? What about collaborative research?
  • Ask about tech infrastructure and support. Your innovative teaching will be highly dependent on it.
  • Be emotionally ready to meet faculty who look down on teaching or simply do not care about teaching. You will also meet such faculty in your career as well. It is a challenging situation to handle during job interviews.
  • If you feel comfortable, ask about dual-career support. Asking early will give the time to plan for your partner as well. This way, finding a job for your partner does not have to happen within a week after receiving the offer. This is my personal view on the topic.

After Getting an Offer

  • Teaching load for the first few years may be negotiable.
  • Ask about funds after tenure even if it is minimal support. The offer letter you receive will most likely have a start-up fund that you can use pre-tenure. In SLACs where faculty are not always expected to bring in grant money, there are funds available to faculty for tech products, student hiring, etc. Ask!
  • If you are an immigrant, it is your right to ask what immigration support the employer provides.
  • Moving is more costly than you think it is. If your offer letter does not include moving costs you can ask. If it does, check with moving companies/options to see if the funds would be enough.

Last notes

Best of luck to anyone who is currently on the job market. I finished my PhD three years ago and since then had three faculty positions. I even made the hard decision to quit from a tenure-track job in the past. I feel settled at UCI where I work with colleagues who value teaching and hope to be here in the long term. I am sharing this because the pandemic may bring temporary jobs to many people on the job market. I hope you will find the strength in knowing that there are many faculty out there who have changed jobs, and institutions and then were able to find more permanent jobs.

If you are currently working on your teaching statement, feel free to read a previous post on teaching statements. Also, feel free to check out these job openings.

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  1. When I was an undergraduate student I used to work as a grader at my SLAC so it may be possible to have a grader in some SLACs↩︎