Research and Teaching in the Chemistry Department

What’s it like to be a visiting faculty member in the Chemistry Department at Williams College?

Frequently Asked Questions

Teaching

What if you didn’t get much teaching experience in grad school or a post-doc?

It’s pretty typical in the sciences that you won’t have gotten a lot of direct teaching experience in grad school or as a post-doc, and we understand that. What we’re interested in are candidates who are passionate about teaching, pedagogy, and working with students. Even though you may not have had full responsibility for a course, you may have had some experience working with students, running recitation sections, TAing a lab section, or perhaps mentoring an undergraduate in a research lab. You may also have taken advantage of workshops or training available at your school’s Teaching and Learning Center. We’d like to hear about all those experiences, and what you’ve learned from them, or what you think you’d like to accomplish as a teacher.

What is a normal teaching load?

The normal teaching load in the Chemistry Department is one lecture and 2 lab sections each semester (and we’re on a two-semester academic year). Depending on the course assignment, the labs might or might not be for the same course. That is, you might be asked to teach an upper-level elective course that doesn’t have its own lab, in which case you’d most likely be asked to teach a couple of lab sections for one of our larger introductory courses. Another possibility is to teach two non-lab courses in a semester.

We also have a January term (called Winter Study). Visiting faculty are not expected to teach a Winter Study, and it can be a great time to work on scholarship and spring course preparation.

Do you teach in the summer?

No, we don’t teach regular courses in the summer. However, most of us have research students in the lab then, and it’s a great time for us to work on our scholarship. There is internal funding available to support summer student stipends.

Who teaches the labs? Are there Teaching Assistants?

Faculty and lab instructors teach all the lab sections. We have undergraduate Teaching Assistants who help in lab sections, but they don’t run them.

How many students are in a class? A lab?

Class sizes vary. Our introductory courses (covering general chemistry, organic chemistry) are typically run as two lecture sections, so they can be 30-50 students. Most of our upper-level courses are quite a bit smaller, and can be anywhere from 3-4 students up to ~40 students. Lab sections are limited to 16 students, and in upper-level courses are often limited to 8. The student:faculty ratio on average at Williams is 6:1

What kind of support is there to learn how to teach?

We have several resources available from the Dean of Faculty’s office through NetWorks. There are many opportunities to meet with other faculty, both within the department and outside of it, to discuss challenges, ideas, and strategies for teaching all different kinds of classes. You can visit another faculty member’s classes, you can get help with syllabus design, and/or you can work in smaller groups over the course of a semester with other faculty who are interested in particular pedagogical challenges. In the Chemistry Department, you’ll find many colleagues who will be willing to share resources from previous classes with you. Our IT department can help if you want to implement a new technology in service of your teaching.

What departmental support is there for teaching?

In the Chemistry Department, we have a departmental administrative assistant, a stockroom manager, two technical assistants, and an instrumentation specialist. So, there is excellent support for preparing teaching laboratories, assembling and distributing written material, and preparing lecture demonstrations. Larger courses may have undergraduate teaching assistants to grade problem sets (with the caveat that no more than 15% of a course may be graded by teaching assistants). Professors are responsible for preparing assignments, problem sets, exams and answer keys, as well as for grading the bulk of this material.

What are some of the best things about teaching at Williams?

You’ll get to know your students really well. They’re hard-working and engaged, and they’ll push you to become a better teacher. Teaching is recognized as an important part of our jobs, and it plays a significant role in reappointment and tenure decisions.

What are some of the challenges about teaching at Williams?

Williams students have high expectations of faculty members. It takes a considerable amount of time to prepare for classes/labs, to grade student work, and to answer students’ questions outside of class. Students are busy too, so it can be difficult to schedule office hours, extra help sessions, and meetings with individual students. It also takes time to write letters of recommendation for current and former students. Managing teaching time effectively while also pursuing your research can be a challenge.

Research

Since Williams is an institution that values teaching, what are the research expectations?

Williams values both research and teaching highly. Just as we have lots of resources to help you develop as a teacher, we also have lots of resources to support you as a researcher and scholar in your field. As a visitor, we ask you to contribute to our vibrant research community by actively involving students in your work.

What kinds of resources are available to visiting faculty?

You will have your own dedicated laboratory space (~600 sf) and modest funding for supplies. We have a lot of major shared equipment in the department and across the Science Center, so the major instrumentation that you’re likely to need may already exist here at Williams. You can consult the “Facilities” link on our department’s webpage to get a sense of what we have.

How do I pay for research students?

Faculty pay for summer research students in a number of ways. The Chemistry department has endowed funds that support a number of students each summer. We have a very vibrant summer research program at Williams, typically with ~200 undergraduates doing summer research across all science disciplines. In Chemistry, we often have 30 students engaged in research activities.

You might also have students who work in your lab during the academic year or during our January Winter Study periods. They might be receiving work-study pay, or they might be receiving academic credit, or they may simply be volunteering their time.

What are the best the things about doing research at Williams?

Working with the undergraduates! As in the classroom, our students are motivated, engaged, and fun to work with. Also, you’ll have great colleagues among the other faculty. The atmosphere across the sciences is very collegial, and you’ll get to know faculty from other disciplines quickly.

General

Who are your students?

We have ~2000 undergraduates and we typically have ~35 chemistry majors in each graduating class. Williams is a need-blind institution, which means that we admit students based on their ability and commit to meeting their full financial aid needs. Williams has focused particular efforts on recruiting underrepresented students, international students as well as low-income and first-generation students. Please visit Williams Fast Facts for more information.

Who are your faculty?

We have 296 tenure track faculty of whom 46% are women, 27% are US minority, and 5% are international. The faculty ranks also include senior lecturers, lecturers, instructors, artists-in-residence, athletic coaches, and many short-term appointees including postdocs and visitors.

More information can be found at Fast Facts for Prospective Faculty.