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Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowships Print Email

Most postdocs seriously considering a career in academia understand that securing and maintaining independent funding during their postdoctoral years can be a valuable asset to securing a permanent position. Traditionally, the vast majority of postdoctoral fellowships have not provided funding with the purpose of developing the teaching skills of any postdoctoral fellow, only their laboratory research. However, there are increasing numbers of exceptions to this rule.

To explain what this type of program or fellowship entails; if you qualify for and obtain this type of funding as a postdoc, you are required to spend a portion of your time learning how to be an educator for the future. This will involve spending time with an assigned mentor planning, developing and teaching undergraduate courses, and can also involve attending education and instruction workshops and courses. Thus, applying for this type of fellowship requires serious consideration, as there are a lot of commitments involved that will restrict time at the lab bench. Having said that, if you are the type of person who knows early on that you want to teach, the rewards of this type of fellowship can be immeasurable, as you will finish your postdoctoral work fully trained in many aspects of teaching.

Private Foundations and Institutional Fellowships

Several private foundations provide teaching-oriented postdoctoral fellowships. The Andrew W Mellon Foundation is an incredibly generous provider of postdoctoral fellowships for colleges in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Many institutions currently have programs provided through the support of the Mellon Foundation for a number of postdoctoral fellowships, including Cornell and UPenn, to name just a few. Search for more at the Townsend Center for Humanities.

Many institutions run Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow programs. Some of these programs extend to cover many disciplines, and some others are more tightly focused. One example of a more general program is that co-run by UCSF and SFSU. This program includes both organized professional development courses for postdocs to attend, as well as the teaching of courses in the postdoc's own discipline. The Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia established a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellows Program in the College of Arts and Sciences, where they temporarily appoint postdocs as assistant professors during a training fellowship period of 1-3 years. An alternative to this teaching-intensive style of program is the offered by Princeton University, where the postdoc and a mentor jointly teach a course over a three-year period, gradually increasing the responsibilities and course load of the postdoc, to the point where the postdoc can assume full responsibility for the course if they desire. A similar style of program in Biomedical Sciences is run by Texas A&MNotre Dame runs a program designed to attract its graduate students to stay on as postdocs, with an internal fellowship supporting a fellow expected to teach two classes per semester in the College of Arts and Letters. Rice University's Sociology Department runs a generously-funded two-year program for postdocs, requiring them to teach one course per year. USC runs a program targeted at postdoctoral scholars in the humanities. And don't think that Humanities and Sciences hold the monopoly on teaching fellowships, either. Mathematics fellowship programs do exist, one example is the two-year program run by GVSU.

Obviously these fellowships are generally only open to postdocs at these institutions, but this list is a long way from being comprehensive. Even if a program is not advertised on your institutions' website, ask around. You'd be surprised what money is available to those people who are willing to ask about it. For institutions wishing to set up a program such as this, the information posted here gives a wide variety of the funding available, as well as teaching load requirements and organization of the fellowship, which do vary widely from program to program. One other thing to remember about this type of program, which I haven't talked about up until now: the commitment and contribution of the mentor is critical to the success of this type of fellowship. The involvement of the postdoc's mentor is much greater in a teaching fellowship than one entirely research-based. This usually involves regular discussions about teaching methods and techniques, and participation by the mentor at all stages of the postdoc's training. Some programs recommend that a second independent mentor be appointed as the teaching mentor to the postdoc, to assist specifically with their pedagogy. This avoids a potential problem of the research mentor committing too much of their time in the education and career development of one postdoc.

Many postdoctoral teaching fellowships are advertised right along with other fellowship announcements, but tend not to be focused on by many postdocs who want to consider research as the primary focus of their professional life. Good databases to start your search are ones such as the IRIS database, the NIH federal government grants databasePostdocJobs, and GrantsNet.

Government-sponsored Funding

The NIH and NSF have very specific programs to promote teaching among postdocs, in the form of teaching fellowships. The NSF has fellowships available designed specifically for scientists interested in K-12 teaching. On an institutional level, the NIH-sponsored IRACDA program (Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award) allows for institutional-based teaching fellowships for a set number of postdocs. Currently six such national programs with websites exist, each with its own unique acronym. SPIRE (UNC Chapel Hill), FIRST (Emory), PROF (UC Davis), PERT (U Arizona), the IRACDA (UCSD/SDSU), PENN-PORT (University of Pennsylvania) all currently award up to three years of support, and postdocs take part in an extensive, well-structured professional development program. Two other programs exist at the University of Kansas and Vanderbilt University. One final thing to bear in mind about this section: remember that all government-sponsored funding is only open to US citizens and residents. Foreign nationals on short-term visas are ineligible.

Finally, in terms of individual NIH funding, opportunities for career development fellowships with a teaching-based component are rare but they do happen - my only advice is to read the program announcements carefully at NIH Grants. One such was the K07 Academic Career Award, which required a commitment from awardees to develop skills in teaching, curriculum development and leadership as well as pursuing research. In general though, these types of awards are not that common, and generally designed for advanced level or specialist postdoctoral training.

 

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