New Faculty: Making the Transition from Graduate School to a Primarily Undergraduate Institution

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The vast majority of new college and university faculty members receive very little training for their jobs, and often very little training once they have their jobs. How can we support their transition from graduate school to a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI)?

An interview with Mark E. Basham and Pamela I. Ansburg by Sarah Seigle Peatman, Senior Research Analyst

Every year thousands of higher-education faculty members begin a job for which they have had little or no training. According to the Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education, over 88% of higher education institutions serve primarily undergraduate students. However, in most disciplines, Ph.D. training programs provide minimal preparation for a career at a teaching-focused institution. The truth is that the vast majority of college and university faculty members receive very little training about how to do their jobs, and often very little training once they have their jobs. This disconnect between the training provided in most Ph.D. programs and the skills necessary to thrive in most careers in higher-education can lead to frustration and job dissatisfaction.

…To explore the ins and outs of this issue, we sat down recently with Mark E. Basham (Regis University) and Pamela I. Ansburg (Metropolitan State University of Denver), who are in the process of writing a book in hopes of easing the graduate school-to-teaching institution transition for first-time faculty members. Here are some of their insights. 


Let’s frame the issue at hand to get started. What tends to be so difficult for new faculty members who are making the transition from graduate school to a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) for the first time?

Mark E. Basham, Ph.D., Pamela I. Ansburg, Ph.D. The overwhelming majority of Ph.D. training programs are at large, research-oriented universities and prepare trainees for a career focused on research. However, most academic jobs for people with Ph.D.s are at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) with a broader focus on teaching, advising, service, and research. This creates a disconnect between the training that a person has and the job they are hired to do. Few Ph.D. training programs offer instruction in pedagogy and most trainees get minimal practical experience as an instructor. The teaching assistantships that are common in doctoral training programs are usually limited to grading and some instruction but provide little practice in course development and overall course organization.

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