Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching, Research, and the Job Search

Each year, we ask our workshop participants to identify their top questions about a career in academia, specifically in the areas of teaching, research, and the job search process. Below are a few of the most frequently asked questions with links to web pages with the answers.

Jump down to questions about research or the job search process.


How can I engage students, especially non-majors, in learning geoscience?

What research tells us about learning science is that students need to actively participate in the learning process. One very accessible way to engage students in their own learning, in classes of any size, is to make your lectures interactive, using simple techniques such as conceptests. It is also important to consider the affective domain, and particularly what motivates students to learn, when developing lectures, labs, and assignments. See more engaging teaching methods from the Starting Point collection.

How do I teach large classes?

Large classes can be daunting to teach and come with a unique set of challenges, including engaging students and dealing with assessment on a large scale. It's such a popular topic that we have a "site guide," or list of links to relevant SERC web resources, specifically for teaching large classes.

How do I design a course from scratch?

The idea of having to design a course from scratch can be overwhelming, especially if you're new to an academic career. This is such an important topic that we have a course design tutorial to walk you through the process from start to finish.

How do I design and/or teach courses outside my area of expertise?

Whether a course is in your area of expertise or not, the place to begin the process of course design is the course design tutorial. Presumably, you will also have to do some research into the topic in question. If it's a topic commonly taught within the geoscience curriculum, you'll find many helpful resources on the topical pages linked from the On the Cutting Edge website.

How do I prepare lectures and how much time should be spent on this?

The Daily Class Planning web page offers useful tips and a worksheet on how to plan effective lectures efficiently. The usual rule of thumb is that you should spend no more than two hours preparing each one-hour lecture.

What are effective methods for assessing student learning?

There are many effective methods for assessing student learning. Observing and Assessing What Our Geoscience Students Are Learning provides an excellent overview of this subject, including pages on various assessment tools and assessment in large classes.

How do I incorporate research into teaching?

One way to engage students in lecture material and to show real-world applications for course material is to incorporate research into the classroom. This can range from simply describing the results of current research to discussing journal articles on current research to having students conduct research as part of a course. Greg Hancock, at the College of William and Mary, also has an effective way to incorporate research into his teaching. It may also be useful to incorporate teaching about the process of science into your courses.

How do I teach students who have weak math skills?

Our "site guide" (list of links to relevant SERC web resources) for teaching quantitative skills, thinking, and reasoning has links to many resources that tackle this subject.


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How do I come up with new research project ideas?

Advice on moving beyond your dissertation is available, and includes tips on bringing your research to a new setting and links to resources about how to develop new ideas for research.

How many research projects / grants / publications are enough?

For almost any question about how much is enough, the answer varies by institution. There is no one-size-fits-all answer; you'll have to ask your colleagues, particularly members of the Promotion and Tenure committee on your campus.

What should I expect in terms of start-up money?

Information about negotiating start-up funds is available from the Negotiating web page. More specific advice from Tim Bralower, from Pennsylvania State University, based on a presentation given at the 2005 Preparing for an Academic Career Workshop can be found on the Negotiation Advice web page.

Where and when do I begin looking for research funds?

Funding your Research provides tips and links to more detailed information regarding how and where to look for research funding. For more general information, see Developing a Research Program.

How do I set up/start a lab from scratch?

Setting up your Lab guides you through the process of starting your lab and obtaining equipment. In addition, Moving your Research Forward provides a helpful starting point for finding information about how to move beyond your dissertation research.

How do I increase my writing/publishing efficiency?

Tips for writing efficiently and effectively and getting your work published are available on the Getting Published web page as well as Publishing your Work web page.

How do I balance time between teaching, research, service/outreach, and a personal life?

Some useful resources for managing your time without burning out are available from the Finding your Balance web page. Also see Making Time for Research.

Job Search Process

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Where and when do I start looking for a job?

Beginning your Search provides a starting point for answering these questions and beginning your job search. The page also includes a list of common places to look for ads.

How do I know whether academia is right for me?

One way to answer this question for yourself is to read career profiles for academic geoscientists and for people in education, outreach, and public affairs careers.

If I don't fit the job description exactly, should I still apply?

If you think you are qualified for the position described, you may as well apply. If you're not sure whether you meet the requirements, you can contact the chair of the search committee for clarifications of their expectations.

How can I make my application stand out?

An application for highly qualified candidates who fit the school, program, and job description will stand out the most. However, one important thing you can do to is to follow the directions in the advertisement. For information on each piece of your application, see Assembling your Application.

What should I expect during the interview?

Our web pages on interviewing include extensive information on preparing for an interview, advice on preparing research and teaching presentations, examples of interview questions, and more.

How do I know which institution will be a good fit for me?

Beginning your Search includes a section of links to resources that can help you choose what kinds of institutions you are likely to enjoy.

What should I expect for salary, start up, and benefits, and how do I negotiate?

See the web pages on Negotiating.

How does one deal with dual career issues and the two-body situation?

See our collection of web resources for Dual Career Couples.