S3xE10: Primarily Undergraduate Institutions with Iris Howley

May 1, 2023
S3xE10: Primarily Undergraduate Institutions with Iris Howley

Episode Summary

Join us in a conversation with Iris Howley from Williams College about Primarily Undergrad Institutions (PUIs). Where we talk about what a PUI is, the research and teaching expectations, what the interview cycle is like, and compare a PUI professor with a teaching track professor. The biggest takeaway from this episode is that PUIs exist, they don’t look like the school someone is getting their Ph.D. at, and they are an option post-graduation. More info is at http://bit.ly/cspui-jobs Finally, make sure to check the deadlines soon. They usually interview in the fall!

You can also download this episode directly.


Kristin[00:07] Hello, and welcome to the CS-Ed Podcast, a podcast where we talk about teaching computer science with computer science educators. I am your host, Kristin Stephens-Martinez, an assistant professor of the practice at Duke University. Joining me today is Iris Howley, an assistant professor at Williams College.

Iris[00:22] Hi folks.

Kristin[00:23] So Iris, first I’d like to start asking, how did you get to where you are today? I suspect that at least some of this story will involve our main topic.

Iris[00:33] Yes. So the short version is I never really knew what I wanted to do until a year or so after my Ph.D. But really, I just sort of followed doing what I like doing. And so, you know, in undergrad, I was a computer science major. I volunteered at a local elementary school, and that led me to take an educational games class. And that led me to apply to the Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon’s Human Computer Interaction Institute. I was there for seven years, and at the end, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. So I interviewed with a couple of industry options, and that didn’t really, our sort of priorities and a way of doing education research internally didn’t really align, so I ended up doing a postdoc at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education with Candace Thille and George Siemens.

Iris[01:24] Near the end of my postdoc, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, partially because I knew industry wasn’t going to be a great fit for me. And also because, you know, I had only ever been at research institutions, so I had only ever seen how research institutions or sometimes what we call R1s, how they approach teaching and research. And so it wasn’t until, like a month before the deadlines started happening that I took this workshop at Stanford on how to sort of approach the academic career. And in that workshop, I was able to read other people’s application materials, and I could read application materials to primarily undergraduate institutions. From there, I basically fell in love with the opportunities of a primarily undergraduate institution. So less than a month later, I was applying to jobs.

Kristin[02:19] So it was a very last minute like, oh, this was a thing that I did not know existed.

Iris[02:24] Yeah, it’s. Well, most of us. I mean, Ph.Ds, you get your Ph.D. at a research institution because those are the institutions that produce Ph.Ds. So if you didn’t attend a primarily undergraduate institution, you’re not going to be as familiar with them as an option. And your professors also aren’t going to be as familiar with them as an option.

Kristin[02:45] That makes so much sense. And it’s like I’m having this funny moment where I’m learning a lot more about computing history and how history influences the computing that we have. And this is kind of one of those moments also like if you don’t understand the history of things such as if a professor is at an R1, that’s all they know so clearly obviously, they’re not going to be able to help their students get out of an R1 and do something else, but still stay in academia. So the bias is not clear until the history is more understood and known.

Iris[03:20] Exactly. And, you know, a whole bunch of the professors in primarily undergraduate institutions, we can all get together and share very similar stories about, you know, our R1 advisors and their thoughts about what I’m going to call them PUIs from here on out because it’s a very long mouthful, but primarily undergraduate institutions. You know, we all have similar stories from our advisors about what they think about these positions in these institutions, and short story is nobody really knows until they’re there.

Kristin[03:52] Yeah. So this perfectly segues into our main topic, which is professor-ing at a primarily undergrad institution or PUI. And the main reason I wanted to talk to you was about kind of more getting the word out there so that grad students especially kind of better understand this option, given that they’re at an R1, because by definition, that’s where you get your Ph.D. And so they actually don’t necessarily have many people in that department able to talk about this topic with any sort of expertise. And so that’s one of the main reasons and motivators why I wanted to have this conversation, because I’ve actually talked to multiple grad students at my own institution who clearly seem like disenchanted with R1, but think that the only option now is industry. And I’m like, I don’t think that’s true, but I’m actually, I have no knowledge on how to be able to help you beyond saying, I don’t think that’s true.

Iris[04:51] Yeah, you and those grad students are certainly not the only ones who are in that exact position.

Kristin[04:58] Yeah. So pretend I know nothing, which is kind of true. Tell me more. What is a PUI? What’s the differences? We’ll go with general, and then probably I’ll interrupt with questions as we go.

Iris[05:10] Sure. So the first thing I want to start out with is that all PUIs are different. All academic institutions are different. So, if you hear me saying something like, you know, PUIs are X, understand, there’s a lot of variability there.

Kristin[05:28] There’s always nuance in the details. Do not imagine a single point. Imagine a bell curve, something like that.

Iris[05:35] Right, exactly. And so, really, the first thing to be aware of with PUIs is that there is much more emphasis on teaching. And teaching is much more important for your tenure case as compared to an R1. And so this will vary. Right. This is going to be a theme of this. But there are certainly institutions, PUIs, where, you know, teaching is the most important thing. At my institution, Williams College, they like to say 50/50, 50% research, 50% teaching. How you measure that is a different, different story. But basically, the primary difference between PUIs and R1s, aside from the fact that they usually only have undergrads is that they have much more emphasis on teaching.

Iris[06:24] And we should sort of mention there are other levels of Carnegie classifications of institutions that give Ph.Ds. So there are R2s. Which I don’t have very much familiarity with, but they also grant Ph.Ds. So they’re not a PUI. But even still, the difference between PUIs and R2s is the same thing. Much more emphasis on teaching. But, you know, the emphasis on research will vary quite a bit.

Kristin[06:47] So what is the teaching like? Because, in some ways, by definition, PUIs are also smaller schools. But I imagine there’s more to it than just the classrooms are smaller.

Iris[07:00] Yes. So it’s the classrooms generally are smaller. Although lately, the crush that computer science has been feeling across the country, PUIs also feel it. So there are more students than we’ve ever had before, but the classrooms are still generally smaller than at larger institutions.

Kristin[07:18] So I think sometimes it’s important to give numbers because, depending on your context, smaller and bigger are not necessarily the same number. So at your institution, what is a typical size class versus a small class, and how often do you teach those particular sizes?

Iris[07:36] So a single section of an upper-class elective is usually limited at 24 students, and they’re usually full. Our intro classes, CS1 and CS2, are usually limited around 32 to 36 students. And those are always full as well. It’s worth noting we have at Williams, we’ve got about 2,000 students, which is common for a lot of small liberal arts colleges. Around 2,000 students total. And we get right now around 50 to 70 computer science majors per year.

Iris[08:11] It used to be 15. So the senior faculty in my department talk about how there were 15 majors a year. I’m like the size of the classes then would have been like 4 to 10 students tops, which is delightful, but we do not have that luxury anymore.

Kristin[08:26] So, given the size of your classes, how many classes do you teach a semester or quarter?

Iris[08:34] So this is one of those things that actually varies considerably across PUIs. Usually, the fewer classes you teach, the more expectation there is for research. So, I have what we call a 2/1, which is I teach two courses one semester and one course another semester and all associated labs. But you can certainly find schools where you get a 3/2 or 3/3 or even higher. Williams is going to be the lowest teaching course load out of probably all of the PUIs, would be my guess. So that means that it has some of the highest emphasis on research output out of them.

Iris[09:17] But things to remember here is we don’t have graduate teaching assistants. So who is doing the grading? It is me. I am doing a lot of the grading. My undergrad TAs are very, very, very helpful. But the college limits how much of a percentage of a student’s grade they’re allowed to grade for. So, you know, I am required by the school to grade 90% of each student’s assignments.

Kristin[09:46] So, what is the difference between a PUI and a teaching track R1 position? And I feel like we can, we can talk about that because that’s what I am versus what you are.

Iris[09:59] Yeah. So what’s really nice is what looks like lately is that the teaching track positions have been becoming more and more attractive and have been seeming better and better. So I might be a little bit out of touch on exactly the difference, but one of the biggest differences is I am tenure track.

Kristin[10:17] Yes, that’s true.

Iris[10:18] So that’s one of the biggest differences. And then another one is probably the expectation of research.

Kristin[10:26] Yes, that’s true also. So like, teaching track positions are definitely still evolving, but I think because of the pressure of a lot of institutions wanting to hire teaching track, it’s becoming a bit more standardized. And only by a bit, though, because like, talking to some people going through the process and thinking back to my own, like if you’re applying to teaching track, be prepared to make a new job talk for every single university because every university has no idea what they’re looking for. So they make up their own criteria and say, this is what we want your job talk to be. And it’s different for every single school, which is very frustrating. In comparison, if you’re looking for a research track, like it’s kind of the same talk every time. It’s like spend 45 minutes telling me what you did for your dissertation in some ways, like that’s what that talk is. Teaching track, it’s all over the map. Sometimes they’re like, give us a teaching demo, and that’s all they want. Or you’re going to be a guest speaker in one of our classes, teach on this topic that’s supposed to happen that day, to spend 45 minutes telling us what you think a teaching faculty is. The whole gamut.

Iris[11:33] Yeah, some PUI positions do have teaching demos, but I only had to do one. So they’re not quite as common because I think a lot of PUIs sort of view your job talk as sort of the best teaching demo you can give. Right. And so, the job talk for a PUI is different from a research job talk, slightly. I mean, I applied broadly. So I interviewed at R1s, R2s, and PUIs, and I had two job talks. I had my one for like undergraduate audiences and one for research audiences. But yeah, I had one teaching demo that I had to do as well. So they can vary a little bit as well. But I suspect, in general PUIs have, these positions have been around much longer, so I suspect they’re a little more standardized across the board.

Kristin[12:25] Yeah. When you said that they use your research talk to get a sense of your abilities to teach. Like my immediate thought was like, no. Like a research talk is not at all how I would teach because the research talk has, you know, there’s a certain formalism, especially if you go to conferences of like what a research talk looks like, which is basically let me expound at you for 20, 30 minutes straight with no one interrupting me and then I’ll ask if you have questions. Well, if, I personally think, now we’re getting into, like my teaching philosophy of if I’m talking straight for 10 minutes, something’s wrong. Like, we should be having some active learning. I should be having you do something else. So part of me is like, I don’t think that actually would be a good demonstration of a person’s teaching, especially if they’re using the best practices of how to get a student actually to learn the material during a lecture. So. Huh.

Iris[13:25] Yeah. I do not disagree with this, but having been on numerous search committees at a PUI now, I have seen job talks that the first 10, 15 minutes or so might actually be interactive. So I would still not really do active learning in my research job talk. But I might make it a little more interactive than my research talks would normally be.

Kristin[13:51] Yeah, how would you make it more interactive? Like, the only thing I can think of is like, you know, you pose the audience a question that is not intuitive, that leads into the like, why you should care about my work. And that’s all I can think of, though.

Iris[14:03] Yeah, there’s that. But I have seen people bring worksheets and actually do sort of think-pair-share in the middle of a job talk at my institution, and successfully so I’ll say as well. So it is possible to think a little bit outside of the box. But you still need to spend the bulk of that time on being a research talk. So that’s why I keep bringing up the number 15. Because, if it’s a 45-minute talk, I basically approach the first 15 minutes with me teaching everybody why human-computer interaction is important. Because I am a human computer interaction researcher, human-AI interaction researcher. And so I had to spend the first 15 minutes sort of teaching the very basic, like it is just lecturing, but it’s a 15-minute little lecture that’s engaging to sort of convince people why your entire subfield matters. And it’s important. And what it is.

Kristin[15:05] Well, we’ll totally touch on that in a minute. But like I want to go back real quick to how does someone make think-pair-share in the middle of their research talk work. Like, I’m curious about this, and then we’ll go back to the HCI part.

Iris[15:19] So let’s see the way I’ve seen it happen. Well, it depends. It depends on your research area. And I don’t mean to imply that you have to use think-pair-share in the middle of your PUI job talk.

Kristin[15:35] Yeah. I’m curious on the mechanics really, I was like, how do you make it effective?

Iris[15:42] Yeah, well, in introducing a more complex topic, you have to start with something a little more simple. Because our research is going to be very complex. But the research, the talk audience is a whole bunch of undergrads and a handful of professors who are not anywhere near your area of expertise, usually. So you have to give the audience something to hold on to. And you can do that by having a simple version of the problem you’re about to solve. Now you don’t have to do a think-pair-share with that. You can just sort of introduce it and ask rhetorical questions and then sort of add layers of complexity. Or you could opt to actually make people discuss the simplified problem with their partner and then, you know, try to answer.

Kristin[16:31] Okay. Like I think one of the funny things is this is definitely a moment of not recognizing the differences between our situations because, at R1s, generally, what I’ve seen at job talks is it’s just faculty in the room and, like grad students. You don’t really have undergrad students there in the room as well, but it sounds like a PUI job talk. The undergrads are there and actively participating in this in the interview process.

Iris[16:59] Not only that, but we actually ask for their feedback on the candidate. And we have a group of students who go out to lunch. And resounding negative student feedback can sink a candidate. But to be honest, if the students are that negative, they won’t be the only ones who feel that way generally. But we do read the student feedback on job candidates. We read their feedback. We read their words and their feelings and their scores, and their open-ended responses. Because, you know, this is who you’re going to be interacting with, largely, for most of your teaching job, at least. And their feedback is important.

Kristin[17:38] But it sounds almost like the equivalent of when we try and include grad students into the interview process. Like the grad students have a meeting with the candidate. Sometimes it’s the grad students that are walking the candidate between buildings, but also, you know, that walk is an opportunity to also talk about various things also. So we do include our candidates that way. It’s just, like, there’s different kinds of students at an R1. The undergrads don’t get as involved as much in comparison to the grad students.

Iris[18:06] Yeah. Giving a research talk to a bunch of undergrads is a different audience than I think a lot of us are used to.

Kristin[18:15] Yeah, because, like you can assume, oh they, they’ve probably gone through, you know, average two years of computer science. And so if you know that that’s your audience, you will definitely hopefully explain your talk differently, given that you can’t assume that the person has basically a master’s degree worth of computer science in their head.

Iris[18:37] Right. They might only have four classes. They might only have two classes. And that’s why I talk about that 15 minutes of sort of introducing and laying that groundwork to really give the context of what you’re going to be talking about because most of the people in the room haven’t even taken like programming languages or anything much past data structures.

Kristin[19:02] So something else that I’m curious about the differences between your kind of position and mine is so for teaching faculty, usually that emphasis is very much on teaching, and then they, kind of tack on the, but you can’t just teach, you have to do something else. And that something else could be research, but it could be something else. It could be outreach. Like for me, I’m doing research and this podcast, which counts as my outreach and like all of that kind of thing. So, for a PUI professor, what is the spectrum for research expectations versus other things? Like, could you potentially do, like, no research, but you’re very active in outreach? Or is there still clearly like a you need to jump over this hurdle that’s labeled research?

Iris[19:50] Right. So this will vary a lot from institution to institution. And as I said, Williams is at one extreme of this really for a PUI. And so, like, as I said earlier, teaching and research are really 50, 50%. 50/50 for Williams. And then there is a service component. I think it’s very comparable to the service component at R1s. It’s like there’s a committee you’re on, and you have a departmental thing that you usually do. Maybe you’re involved with women in computing. And there’s usually little one-off duties here or there that it’s good to volunteer for. So at Williams, It’s very structured. I can’t swap out one for another, Although I could probably swing a little bit and say, like, well, you know, I’m 60% research, 40% teaching. Or reverse that, and I’m 60% teaching, 40% research. But that it really it’s still balanced. But I’ve definitely spoken with people at other institutions with maybe like a 3-2 teaching load, and their research expectations are like, we expect you to continue to be engaged in your research community, but that might just be by attending workshops and occasionally writing a workshop paper. And at a place like that, service might become more important. But I think when we’re talking about really low course loads, we’re going to be talking about research is going to be very important. The higher your course load becomes, I think the more wiggle room you might have for things like service and research.

Kristin[21:23] Okay. So is that a reasonable way to vet an institution to get a sense of like how much things are split between teaching, service, and research?

Iris[21:35] So yeah, I mean, I would ask, what is the teaching course load, and what are the research expectations, and what are service expectations? It’s hard to actually get a real answer about what the research expectations are because these aren’t defined anywhere. Right. And it’s different. It’s determined on a case-by-case, subfield-by-subfield basis, but like you might be able to get something like what I just said, maybe, you know, participate in workshops, or we expect a handful of publications per year maybe. So, if you can interpret those research expectations, that should give you a lot of sort of insight into how the institution approaches the balance between teaching, research, and service.

Kristin[22:22] Okay. So are there any other questions that you think they should be asking both to themselves versus those at the PUI institution and any other like frameworks of approaching the hiring job market process?

Iris[22:39] So, some of this depends on your priorities and what’s important to you. So if research is still an important part of your academic identity, there are a series of questions you can ask related to that. So things about research support. This includes a grants office. So you know, Williams just hired a grants person, which is fantastic. But people at R1s will be like, well, who’s been editing your grant? Who’s been reading through your grants? And no one’s been editing my grants or reading through my grants. They take a quick look through my budget in the past just to make sure I’m not lying. And then, you know, we submit the grant. So we just got a grants person, a dedicated grants person. And that’s useful. As I said, we just got one. So it’s not, like, critical to doing research. I had a grant before we had this person. You could do it. Startup, so what are startup packages like at these institutions that will also give you some insight into how much research is supported. And then, if we’re concerned, if we think about teaching, asking about how teaching is evaluated is actually really insightful as well. You can say teaching’s important, but if all the institution does is look at quantitative student feedback scores, then there might be some sort of misalignment in what they’re saying, what they’re doing.

Iris[24:05] Another good one I like to think about, or I thought about a bit on the job market, was how are students supported in research. And this is sort of where both sides come together, for me. Right. Like, it’s not just teaching. It’s not just research. It’s teaching undergrads to do research. And so a lot of institutions will say, you know, this is important to us. We really want to get student research. But if they don’t support it with funding, then once again, there’s some kind of misalignment there. So asking how students get involved in research, how funding for undergraduate students in research happens will give you a lot of perspective on how that institution views student research.

Kristin[24:50] Okay. Yeah, there’s definitely obviously also differences in the undergrad education out of PUI versus at an R1. And to me, it sounded a little bit like one of the advantages for a student, at least at a PUI, is that they’re able to really connect with a professor, and there’s more likely to be expectations around doing a research project or something like that because the ratios actually make it reasonable and the odds are much higher that that student could get involved in something like that. Is that impression true?

Iris[25:27] Yes. At the primarily undergraduate institutions that also emphasize research. So, I can give some different numbers here. So at Williams, generally, the student-to-faculty ratio is 7 to 1. In our department, it’s more like 30 to 1, but we’re working on that. But still, even with these large numbers, one of Williams biggest selling points is the access to student research. It is well funded, particularly in the sciences, for students who want to do science research. I have never been denied for having a request for having an undergrad do research with me. So, yes, your sort of insight there is definitely true for these research emphasizing undergraduate institutions. There’s some nuance here, because even at my institution, you’re not required to work with undergrads in your research. But if you don’t want to ever work with undergrads in your research, there might be a sort of culture fit or priorities mismatch there. So it’s certainly fine to, you know, not work with students every summer. But if you never want to work with students, I would say. I’m not sure what institution you would fit at, actually, because everywhere you have to work with students or interns. So, that is outside of my purview because I love working with students in research.

Kristin[27:02] All right, so let’s, given our time, let’s segway more into the hiring process. So what is it like? What should your plans be if you’re a Ph.D. student thinking about going into this? Should you at all consider your research area when you are applying to various things, like tell me more about that.

Iris[27:23] So one of the first things to be really, really, really aware of applying to primarily undergraduate institutions is that the deadlines work on a completely different, I’d say, planet from the R1 deadlines. So when I applied in 2016, I could actually apply to some R1s at the same time that I was applying to PUIs. That is almost definitely not the case now. So PUI deadlines start in about September. They end usually before December 1.

Kristin[27:58] That feels so early. Most of the deadlines I’ve seen are more like the earliest is mid-November, and the more common is somewhere between, like beginning or mid-December is what I normally see. But most of the deadlines that I’m aware of are from like top 50 R1s. If I had to guess a number.

Iris[28:21] Yeah. And it used to be if you were someone like me who didn’t know that they wanted to be a PUI professor right off the bat. I could explore. I can visit different campuses all at the same time as part of one job process and figure out what was working for me and what doesn’t. But yes, so planning is really important there. Basically, like if the deadline is before November, they’re usually trying to get their job offers out by Christmas. So it’s a, it can be a pretty fast cycle.

Kristin[28:56] And that’s like a completely different cycle than R1s because our ones are like, yeah, we’ll invite you during the spring semester at some point, and then we might not give you a job offer until May or June.

Iris[29:07] Yeah. No, no. No, there’s almost no overlap these days. So I feel really sad for your listeners who are like, is this for me? Because you can’t explore both at the same time. But if you think PUIs might be for you, definitely recommend looking at the deadlines, like before August. Because those deadlines, I guarantee you they start in September, and they go all the way to maybe December 1, sometimes with a couple after that. So yeah, that’s the first thing to keep in mind.

Iris[29:43] So then we’ve got some other things to think about. When I was a Ph.D. student, I had a lot of people tell me things that were just sort of flat-out wrong about – they call them – teaching institutions. Right? And so we don’t use that term so much because there’s just so much variety, and teaching institution implies that all we do here is teach, and that’s not the case. But people be like, oh, teaching institutions don’t want to hire someone from Carnegie Mellon because they’re afraid that if you go there, you’re just going to you’re just in sort of a holding pattern. You’re staying there until you get the job you want at a research institute.

Kristin[30:16] Okay. Okay, I can see why someone would say that.

Iris[30:21] These are things that have actually been said to me when I was a Ph.D. student, and just on the other side, it is completely and totally wrong. Now, there are certainly institutions which are leery of people who have very well-known university names on their degrees. I have also had, you know, an institution reach out and be like, are you really actually interested in this job? And that would be an opportunity for me to say, oh, well, I have family in the area. So yes, I am really interested in this job. But by and large most PUIs are very, very happy to hire people from whatever institution. Like it really does not. They have to hire people from R1s.

Kristin[31:05] Yeah, especially if they require a Ph.D. Like, by definition, that’s where you get your Ph.D.

Iris[31:12] Yes, they’re happy too, very happy to hire people from R1s, even the big-name ones. I am a very classic example of the big-name universities. So that’s another thing. Don’t listen to the haters because they’re just, if they haven’t taught at one of these places, they haven’t been at one of these places they don’t really know. And then the other thing that we should talk about is how some PUIs might view computer science education as your main research area. I’m trained as a human-computer interaction researcher but also as a learning scientist. But I would generally not talk about being a learning scientist when I was on the job market. Because if I frame myself as a computer scientist who works in a domain of computer education or online learning is actually more my area, then it’s much more generalizable to lots of different departments and what they might be looking for. So some institutions, you’ll basically be instantly disqualified if you are a computer science education researcher.

Kristin[32:21] Yeah. So my Ph.D. is computer science. My area was computer science education, but I actually graduated with my degree as systems and data mining. Like that’s actually what was like on my check all of the boxes, this is her major, this is her minor, and such. But one of my professors that was mentoring me explained it as like computer science hasn’t yet fully accepted HCI is computer science research, and education is even further back in that timeline of acceptance. And I was like, oh, I get that. That’s frustrating, but I know I can’t change the world. So I guess this is the world that I’m in. And so then I trot out that part about, like, no, my degree is in systems and data mining. It just happened to be in the context of education, and my main contribution in my dissertation was more, oh, well, look, you can use these techniques in this education data thing. And I used it to find out if maybe students will learn better in this context. And that’s kind of like how I made my way through the process of graduating.

Iris[33:27] Yeah. And I think that’s a perfectly fair approach. That’s very similar to sort of my approach. You know, I’m a human-computer interaction researcher who, my research area is on, you know, designing interfaces for online learning, or that was what I used to be. So I’ve, I’ve shifted a little since I started because the resources are different, and that’s pretty common as well. I would think very carefully about how you present yourself as a researcher when you’re applying to places because it might matter significantly how you do it. And just because they prioritize teaching doesn’t mean they want you to have your research be teaching as well. We call it at Williams, like disciplinary education research. So even if we were chemistry education researchers, we might not be able to get a job at the chemistry department. So you just want to make sure that you are not shutting doors, I think. And it can be a little tricky being a CS education researcher. There are certainly ways around it. As I said, you just talk about the computer science parts as the focus and then look at education as the sort of domain or location where you’re doing this work.

Iris[34:41] It’s just a matter of how you tell the story. And like I talk to my students who are thinking about Ph.D. programs and like learning to tell a story, several different kinds of stories, is one of the most important skills you should be getting from your Ph.D. And this really comes into play when you’re on a job market is what kind of story can you tell about yourself? I can tell an R1 a completely different story about my research than I tell a liberal arts college that emphasizes certain things, and it’s just important to be aware of that. Neither of these are lying. I have to tell my students this. I’m not lying. I’m just emphasizing and de-emphasizing and omitting things, and like you, just sort of carefully because you can’t talk about everything, and it’s the same as for all when you’re on the job market.

Kristin[35:26] It’s a case of like you’re trying to, like you’re telling a story while emphasizing the pieces of information that your audience most wants to hear and what they value more than other things that you’re kind of skipping over, which is perfectly fine because technically we do this all the time. It’s in that like this feels a little shady because shouldn’t I be 100% authentic and show everyone everything about myself. I’m like, yeah, but you don’t have that kind of time. So since you don’t have that kind of time, you got to pick and choose and might as well focus on what the audience wants to know and values most.

Iris[35:59] Yeah, and a 45-minute talk sounds long, and it is long when you have to practice it, but it is not that much time to tell your whole life story.

Kristin[36:08] Yeah, and no one really wants to hear your whole life story.

Iris[36:11] So, thinking back about research area, this relates to some other topics we could have touched upon, but I can’t really tell you, like if you look at a faculty list and they already have someone in your research area, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to hire another person in your research. So like, we’re talking about small departments, right? My department has 13 people in it. Usually, two of them are on some sort of sabbatical at any given time. So we’re anywhere from 11 to 13 faculty. And you know, we have people who are kind of in the same area. Although I am the only HCI person, we do have a programming languages faculty member who does some HCI stuff using Mechanical Turk and the like. We have some connections, but if you are asking, oh, I do this research, or are they looking to hire me? The only real way to know is to apply or to have someone in the department who can tell you. Even if the job ad says we’re looking to hire HCI people, that’s not necessarily the only people they will look at. We would much rather hire someone who is amazing that’s in an area we might already have some coverage in than to hire someone who is less than amazing in the area that we actually want.

Kristin[37:29] Yeah. And this reminds me of one of the things that potentially we should touch on before we wrap up. Since the faculty is much smaller, and so each one, in some ways, is kind of you’re all more spread out from each other than what you would typically see at an institution that has many more faculty. How does that work in terms of classes? Like, who actually teaches the CS1? Because like I would assume that no one is the does research in CS1 at most PUIs. So who teaches that, and how do you spread the courses out.

Iris[38:02] Well, the answer here is everybody, really. You either teach CS1 or CS2. And so I have taught since CS1, I might someday teach CS2. I also teach a course for, what I like to say, people who are not yet majors. So I teach an electronic textiles course as well. But everyone has to teach one of the intro courses, basically. And then we have, this is getting into our curriculum a little bit, but we have about on top of those two intro classes, we have four core courses. And then there’s two electives. And so electives everyone teaches an elective, but there’s four core courses. Our department has to make sure we have coverage on those four courses. Some of them are currently being offered like two sections a semester, but they’re offered every single semester. All of them right now. And so sometimes when we’re saying, oh, we’re looking to hire someone in AI, we also actually need them to teach algorithms, too. And so one of the things to be aware of is the smaller the department, the more computer science classes you’re going to have to teach. So you may only be an HCI researcher, but if you’re in a faculty of three people, you are also teaching, you know, systems architecture, operating systems, like you’re teaching whatever needs to be taught. Now, one of the benefits of what we, like 13, the 13 faculty in my department, this is one of the largest PUI departments around, basically, and so that does give me the freedom to be like I haven’t actually taught any core courses and I might not teach any of our core courses until after I get tenure.

Iris[39:48] But I might be taking on a heavier introductory course load, which is a lot of work in a similar-ish way. And so yeah, when you are putting together your application materials, I would say it’s critically important for you to also mention core courses that you’re interested in teaching. So if you’re going to talk about in your teaching statement, oh, I could teach this elective, this elective, this elective. Depending on the department size, you might only ever teach one, maybe sometimes a second elective. So, really, you also have to think about, okay, am I open to teaching both of the courses? What of the core courses am I interested in? Excited to teach about? Which ones am I competent? And which ones could I teach if given a year and some time to observe? So it is really important to think across the computing curriculum when you’re trying to apply to places with more emphasis on teaching.

Kristin[40:46] So let’s wrap up with too long, didn’t listen. What would you say is the most important thing you would want our listeners to get out of our conversation?

Iris[40:55] So really, the most important thing is that every institution is different, every PUI institution is different, every R1 is different. And so that earlier statement of, you know, you can never say, well, PUIs don’t want X or PUIs are looking for Y, it’s generally not true. And so really doing your homework is the main lesson here. Have sort of an open mind because there aren’t these constraints we expect there to be. And lately, there’s been just a whole boom in resources about being on the CS academic job market and even being on the CS PUI job market. There’s some really, really great resources and people to reach out to who are happy to talk about this.

Kristin[41:41] And we should plug in right now the resources that you manage, which is how I found you. And your link, it’s a bit.ly link. What was it again?

Iris[41:51] So, I maintain a list of resources for those interested in these CS PUI jobs. It is bit.ly/cspui-jobs, all lowercase. So cspui-jobs.

Kristin[42:06] And we’ll put that in the show notes as well. But I want to make sure we least said it once during this recording because I realized we did not say it all this whole time.

Iris[42:14] No, I haven’t. And that’s just stuff I’ve been picking up over the past couple of years, because when I was on the job market in 2016, there really wasn’t very much, but there’s a lot more now. So you can be informed. It’s easier.

Kristin[42:28] Yes, because one of the questions when you said do your homework, my question was going to be, but how do you do your homework for something like this? And at least there’s more resources now, and they can start with your resources as well. So thank you so much for joining us, Iris.

Iris[42:42] Thanks. It’s been great talking.

Kristin[42:44] And this was the CSEd podcast hosted by me, Kristin Stephens-Martinez, and produced by Amarachi Anakaraonye. And remember, teaching computer science is more than just knowing computer science, and I hope you find something useful for your teaching today.


Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts.