A Day In the Life of PUI Teaching Professor

 In careers, PhD/Postdoc Blog

One of the best ways to get to know what something is like is to talk to someone who does it. Informational interviews are a great way to do this. I’m personally interested in teaching at a primarily undergraduate institute (PUI), so I talked to some individuals who have been working at PUIs.

PUIs are universities where there is less of a focus on research and a greater focus on teaching. Professors at PUIs will often teach 2-5 courses a semester, whereas professors at research-intensive schools may only teach one or part of one course. PUI professors may still run research projects, but they are usually small and involve mostly undergraduate students.

Teaching at a PUI is a great career option for scientists who really enjoy teaching and want it to be more of an emphasis than research. I came up with a list of some of the biggest questions I had and sent them to three professors at two local PUIs (Nazareth College and Roberts Wesleyan College). I summarized the questions and responses below, and I hope that you’ll find them useful.

Do you need post-doc experience to teach at a PUI?

Required? Probably not. It might be a good idea though.

Of the three professors I interviewed, only one had postdoctoral research experience. The answer to this question may also depend on the job market at the time. A post-doc position may help make you more competitive, and it also may serve as a way to buy some time if there are limited positions available. The answer to this question might also be one of personal preference. One of the professors I talked to wishes that she had been able to do a post-doc simply for the increased exposure to different research techniques.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?

By far, all of the professors loved the interactions with their students. Seeing students grow, learn, and discover more about who they are and what they want to do is something that all of the professors mentioned enjoying. Most of the professors indicated that grading was their least favorite part of the job. It is time-consuming and not particularly exciting.

Do you really have winter and summer breaks?

While from a student’s perspective it appears that professors have lots of time off in the summer and winter, it’s actually not the case. Many undergraduate professors have to finish grading at the start of each break. Then there is also quite a bit of prep work for the next semester that they need to do. The prep workload depends on the courses that they are teaching; new courses require the most time as the professor usually has to start from little and build the course. Older courses will usually require less time, but they may need to be updated. Some professors also have administrative work or summer courses that they teach. PUI professors also use these breaks to do research. So while they do have some time off, they get much less than many people think.

Do you have flexibility to design and teach special topics courses?

All of the professors responded saying that there is flexibility in the courses they teach. While they all have core classes, they are highly encouraged to teach special topics courses. They are also allowed the flexibility to adjust courses based on student interest. One of the professors even co-created a course with a student.

Do you need to have research projects available for students?

Conducting research projects is usually expected of PUI professors. There is less of an emphasis placed on research because they are at a PUI; however, the actual amount of time the professors spend doing research varies greatly between institutions. It is influence by the amount of funding available as well as student interest.

Do you have any advice for those interested in teaching at a PUI?

The most common response to this question was to find a way to gain teaching experience. The experience itself, feedback from mentors, and the ability to put the experience on a CV will all help make a candidate more attractive to PUIs. One professor recommended reaching out to local PUIs and offer to give a research talk. This is a great way to gain experience and get feedback in a less time-consuming manner than teaching a full course. Co-teaching a course with your mentor or taking on a few lectures within a larger course can also be a great way to gain some experience.

In addition to my interviews, I also found some useful information from the links listed below. If teaching at a PUI sounds interesting, I’d encourage you to do some informational interviews of PUI professors in your area. If you’re unsure how to find PUI’s to look into, I would recommend using the search term “liberal arts colleges.” A great way to learn about careers you’re interested in is to conduct informational interviews. If you need guidance on setting up your interviews, Erin Gallagher, wrote an excellent blog post on the subject.

Useful Links:


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