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Teaching in college with a Master's

  1. Jun 22, 2011 #1
    Hi,

    A question for all of the college/university teachers out there: Do good, full-time teaching positions for someone with only a Master's exist at the college level? If so, how rare/difficult to obtain are such positions? Does one have to be willing to relocate often?

    I currently hold BS degrees in math and physics and an MS officially in math -- mostly math classes, but physics research, so I consider myself qualified to teach either subject. However, I cannot see myself in a tenure or tenure-track position doing research, grants, and the like. I just want to teach (and earn a decent wage doing so). And I'm not sure whether I want to spend 4+ years on a PhD if I'm not going to be looking for postdoc/tenure positions (I've made another post on that subject).

    So, is there anything out there for folks like me? Your insight is greatly appreciated! =)
     
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  3. Jun 22, 2011 #2

    Pengwuino

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    There exist full-time teaching positions for people with MS degrees. I suspect it's far more prevalent at state schools and departments without PhD programs. I can't say if they're good or not, it depends on your definition of good.
     
  4. Jun 25, 2011 #3
    As a data point, our state flagship university has 3 lecturers in physics: none of whom are full time, and all of whom have PhD's. I'm not sure about math. Some of the lower level math classes are much smaller... so they employ more. But whether or not those classes will stay small in a poor economy?

    Also, whether or not any university will hire full-time in a poor economy? Full-time means benefits-expenses in terms of heath care and retirement plans. I think there are lots of hiring freezes and plans to replace full-time with part-time (or not replace at all) -- especially with regards to staff and "term hires" (which include teaching positions). This is how a lot of universities are making up budget shortfalls (which hit state institutions harder than private).

    Not that your full-time teaching chances improve much with the PhD. Very small, marginal schools, perhaps those who programs aren't really accredited. Generally even liberal arts schools will want you to have some research program. Maybe you can get a job running the departments educational labs. But even then, good luck. Generally the really old-guy faculty member presently supervising the labs will supervise those labs until he dies. (Sorry about that crass statement. I normally don't do that, but it was too tempting...)
     
  5. Jun 25, 2011 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    Another data point- my university (large public state school) requires a PhD (or equivalent) for any tenure-track appointment. Non-tenure track appointments (i.e. instructor/adjunct/part-time/lab supervisor, etc) have no such requirement.

    In our school (Science and Health Professions), the majority of non-tenure positions are filled with non-PhDs. I don't know the specifics, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of those folks had MS degrees.

    Given that, are there full-time, non-tenure track teaching positions? At my institution there may be a few, but the overwhelming majority of non-tenure track teachers are part-time or on short-term (3-5 year) nonrenewable contracts. There are full-time non-tenure track "permanent" positions, but those people are skilled laboratory staff- lab managers, techs, machinists, etc.

    I know a little about our local community colleges, and my understanding is that a PhD is not required for *any* position- however, I do not know anything about the employment contracts at those colleges.
     
  6. Jul 3, 2011 #5
    I work at a community college and many of the faculty members have masters degrees. Many work part time but I know of at least one individual with a masters degree who is both tenured and works full time. From the school website I can see that others are on this track as well in a variety of subjects.
     
  7. Jul 15, 2011 #6

    bcrowell

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    I teach physics at a community college in California. Three out of four physics instructors have PhDs. The percentage is about the same in other natural sciences.

    I've been on several hiring committees for full-time jobs at my school. Having a PhD is a huge advantage, but we do still sometimes hire people with a master's.

    Currently, in California, your chances of getting hired full-time at a state school are zero, regardless of whether you have a PhD or not. It's just a matter of the state budget.
     
  8. Jul 16, 2011 #7
    While I can understand that it is a simple measure to use for hiring, is there any evidence that someone with a PhD would (on average) be a better teacher than someone with a MSc? For courses at community college level I am assuming there is no research involved in the teaching position and the courses would not be higher than 2nd-year material. Is this off the mark?

    Perhaps it is different in Mathematics, where a masters degree isn't seen as a "failed PhD" the way it sometimes is in Physics.

    Just curious...
     
  9. Jul 17, 2011 #8
    My school (4 year uni) has a few lecturers in both math and physics with only a masters that have been here a while. I'm not sure if they are tenured or not. However the physics lecturer only teaches elective level physics, a class for non-physics majors similar to what you might have as a first high school physics class. The math lecturers generally teach calc 2 and below, usually college algebra or precalculus. So in conclusion they only teach what you could or should have taken in high school.
     
  10. Jul 17, 2011 #9

    bcrowell

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    One thing I can say is that when we interview people for community college teaching jobs in physics, the interview questions show that an amazingly large portion of the applicants have just awful knowledge of freshman physics. For instance, one of my favorite interview questions is to ask the candidate to give an example of a student misconception about Newton's third law, and explain how they would overcome that misconception. Roughly half the people we interview give answers that show that they themselves have those misconceptions (e.g., that the third law has something to do with equilibrium). We can't ferret out every detail of a candidate's physics knowledge in a job interview, and someone with a PhD is far less likely to have such serious shortcomings.

    You also have to realize that we typically get about 100 applicants when a full-time position opens up. Why would we bother interviewing people who don't have a PhD when we have dozens with PhD's to choose from? Of course other factors can come in, which is why less than 100% of our faculty have PhD's.
     
  11. Jul 17, 2011 #10

    Andy Resnick

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    That's sort of a loaded question, because there's no guarantee that a person with a PhD will be a competent teacher in the first place.
     
  12. Jul 17, 2011 #11
    Hmm. Might this be because of the hard barrier of quals that a masters degree may not replicate? Most thesis research doesn't strike me as very connected to teaching 1st year physics or math.

    I am not disputing that differences exist. I am just trying to speculate on why...
     
  13. Jul 17, 2011 #12
    Maybe those with masters have less experience as TAs? Do people spend one or two years as a TA if they are only getting a masters in physics? Theorists in my department spend many summers teaching since funding is more difficult, and even some experimentalists may end up with more than two years funded primarily as a TA.
     
  14. Jul 17, 2011 #13

    bcrowell

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    I don't even have data to demonstrate that there is a correlation between level of education and competence with freshman physics. It just seems plausible to me. Any cut you put on the applicant pool is likely to increase quality somewhat in every measurable respect.
     
  15. Jul 18, 2011 #14
    That could be a solid reason.

    Maybe I am wrong, but this doesn't seem to stand up to statistical analysis. If the cut you make has no correlation real to the attributes you want, you are just as likely to end up with the same distribution as you started with, no?

    Now, preferring a PhD over a MSc hopefully has a non-random selection effect for teaching ability...
     
  16. Jul 22, 2011 #15
    Wow... so it seems that it varies by school and location, eh?

    Thank you for the variety of perspectives. I'll be adjuncting as a math teacher at a CC in the fall, and in the meantime looking (in both academia and industry) for something full-time.

    On the degree vs. teaching ability question... I'll throw in that at my school, we had 2 lecturers in freshman physics who only had master's degrees, and they were very good teachers. That said, they both moved on (one to get his Ph.D. and one to something else), and were replaced by Ph.D.s...
    Also, one of the best teachers in the science department at the CC I attended had only a Master's, and no industry experience as far as I recall. (She teaches chemistry.)
     
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