Teaching in Chemistry

What’s it like to be a 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.  But we understand that.  What we’re interested in are candidates who are passionate about teaching, about 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). Faculty are expected to teach a Winter Study course every other year. In the Chemistry Department many of us take extra research students over Winter Study, and we can count that as meeting the Winter Study course requirement.

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.

Who teaches the labs? Are there TAs?

Faculty and lab instructors teach all the lab sections. We have undergraduate TAs 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 single lecture sections, so they can be as large as ~100 students. Most of our upper level courses are quite a bit smaller, and can be anywhere from 3-4 students up to ~50 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 7:1

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

We have a lot of resources available from the Dean of Faculty’s office through “Networks for Faculty Development” and “First 3”, both of which you can find on the Dean of Faculty’s webpage. There are lots of 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. We will expect you to establish yourself as an independent scholar, to publish in peer-reviewed journals appropriate to your field, and to develop a research program in which students are actively involved.

Is it possible to set up a state-of-the-art lab program?  What kinds of resources are available to new faculty?

You will have your own dedicated laboratory space (~600 sf) and in order to equip that lab Williams is able to offer start-up funds to new faculty. The exact amount and duration will depend on your particular needs and discipline of course, but the department and the College will work with you to make sure that you can do the work that you need to do. Having said that, you should recognize that your needs at Williams are likely to be different than start-up needs for a new faculty member at a larger research-oriented institution. That is, since you’ll be running a lab with undergraduates rather than graduate students, you won’t be paying graduate students and post-docs salaries (and tuition and benefits), so start-up packages at Williams reflect that. 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.

What other kinds of support are available?

Williams has a very generous sabbatical program, including an assistant professor leave, which typically is taken in the 4th year. For the assistant professor leave, faculty typically get a year’s leave at 75% pay (with the other 25% available either through external grants that you may have secured or through a supplemental salary program at the college if you haven’t). Post-tenure, faculty earn sabbaticals at the rate of 1 semester sabbatical for every 6 semesters taught (though some faculty choose to wait and take a year’s sabbatical after teaching 6 years.)   It’s important to know that unlike at some institutions, our leaves and sabbaticals are not “competitive” – that is, you’ll be able to take a regularly scheduled sabbatical or leave whether you have secured external funding or not.

Williams also provides annual funds to each faculty member to be spent on any professional needs. You’ll automatically receive $2100/year that you can use to cover travel to conferences, books, professional society memberships or anything else related to your scholarly work. Modest additional funding for laboratory research supplies/equipment is available via application to the Divisional Research Funding Committee.

Am I expected to get external funding?

We hope all faculty will establish a research program that will eventually allow them to secure external funding (grants). That said, having secured a grant is not a requirement for tenure in our department, and there’s no dollar amount that we’ll expect you to have brought in pre-tenure.

How do I pay for my research students?

Faculty pay for summer research students in a number of ways. You might fund some students out of your start-up funds, through external grants that you’ve applied for and received, or through our Divisional Funding committee, which has funds that are distributed across the sciences to cover things like summer student stipends.

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 40 students doing research here in the summer.

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. In the sciences we have a weekly lunch where all science faculty can get together and talk about their work.

What are some of the challenges associated with doing research at Williams?

You’re likely to be in a smaller department than you’ve been accustomed to. This means that you won’t have as many colleagues with whom you can discuss your research in detail. You’ll have lots of interested colleagues certainly, but few who are expert in your area. This means that your professional relationships outside the college, your network of peers and collaborators, will be very important and you’ll have to be sure to nurture those relationships.

General

Who are your students?

We have ~2100 undergraduates. 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. These efforts have transformed Williams: women now make up more than 50% of Williams’ enrollment, and American students of color account for 37% of students, with under-represented minorities (URM) accounting for 20% of total enrollment. Low-income students (i.e., those from families with annual income below $60,000) account for 22%, and first-generation students, 17%, of the current senior class. International students, who now make up 8% of Williams’ student body, represent a significant investment by the college in terms of financial and academic support. More than half of the international students admitted to the class of 2018 were awarded financial aid, with average awards of nearly $55,000 for the first year.

We typically have ~35 chemistry majors in each graduating class. Our majors in recent years have included 51% women, 21% first-generation students, 15% US URM and 5% international students.

Who are your faculty?

We have 267 tenure track faculty of whom 44% are women, 21% 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.

What are some other things I should know in considering a career at a small liberal arts college?

Participating in faculty governance is an important feature of life at a small college. In your second and later years, you’ll likely be asked to serve on college-wide committees. It can be a challenge to balance the demands of this kind of college service with your teaching and research. At the same time, this kind of service represents an opportunity to have an impact on how the college makes decisions.

Do you consider international candidates?

Yes, and if you’re hired, the college will assist you with your visa requirements.