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Liberal arts colleges differ from research universities in some key ways:
˲ Liberal arts colleges focus on undergraduate education. A liberal arts college does not grant Ph.D.’s. Some offer
masters’ or professional degrees, but
these programs tend to be quite small.
˲ Liberal arts students learn many different ways of thinking. In a typical engineering program, major requirements
might constitute 60% of a student’s
coursework, or even more. At a liberal
arts college, major requirements typically comprise 25%–35% of a student’s
coursework, with the remainder spent
exploring other disciplines, and perhaps
developing depth in a second discipline
through a double major or minor.
˲ To earn tenure, liberal arts faculty
are typically expected to demonstrate
excellence in teaching, an active program of scholarship, and contributions to their institution and profession. Faculty might spend 60% of their
time on teaching, 30% on scholarship,
and 10% on service.
Teaching at a liberal arts college has
more in common with working in the
tech industry than you might think:
˲ The glamour. Silicon Valley is
glamorous, but liberal arts profs are
mini-celebrities among their students
and often in the towns where they
work. “Scientist” and “teacher” are the
fourth and fifth most-admired profes-
sions in the U.S. ( http://bit.ly/2gcVrzb).
Chances are good you’ll be the only lo-
cal expert on your research area, and
many other things besides. It’s a small
pond, but we are all big fish!
˲ The mystery. Most people don’t understand our jobs any more than they
˲ Working with smart people. Most
academics are pretty smart. Working
at a liberal arts college means nearly
all of your colleagues are not computer
scientists, which means you can learn a
lot just by talking with them.
˲ Meetings. We have meetings just
like you do. What a great opportunity to
learn from our diverse and thoughtful
colleagues! I’ve gotten to know some
really cool people by serving on committees with them.
˲ Making things. Teaching is all
about creating learning experiences.
I still write code: I write my students’
˲ Getting your hands dirty.
Undergrad researchers need supervision.
Chances are good you will find yourself working beside them, whether to
teach them how to do it right or figure out what they did wrong. You’ll
get to investigate bugs you never even
˲ Making a difference. I admit it:
nobody uses the things we academics
make. Except our students. Strangely
enough, students mostly do what we tell
them to do; they seem to trust our in-
Tech Industry Ph.D.’s:
Academia Can Be
Nicer Than You Think
October 21, 2016
Dear industry colleagues:
I understand some of the reasons
why you took your Ph.D. and ran: the
glamour and mystery of Silicon Valley.
The opportunity to work with smart col-
leagues on products that make a differ-
ence in people’s lives. The excitement of
a rapidly changing field. The opportuni-
ties to change jobs and take sabbaticals.
The hours. The perks. The paycheck.
And, being in industry means never
having to write a grant proposal.
I, too, recoiled at the thought of a
research career in which I would spend
my time writing grant proposals, managing grad students, and writing more
proposals so I can continue to support
my grad students, never touching a
line of code. I, too, considered a career
in industry, albeit briefly. Instead, I’ve
pursued a career teaching computer
science (CS) at liberal arts colleges,
along with a little research and more
administration than I ever thought I
would. Ten years and still going strong!
Liberal Arts Academia
Janet Davis makes a plea to CS practitioners
to consider even a short teaching stint.