Research at small colleges and part-time science


There are two articles I read today that I wanted to share. Both deal with career options for scientists within academia that are less traditional – and that I am definitely considering chasing after myself when it comes time. The Chronicle recently featured an article called Big Research, Small College on an area of academia that I am intensely interested in learning more about: doing research at small colleges.

When scientists at small colleges and universities seek research grants, they often run into challenges not faced by their colleagues at major institutions. It is, nonetheless, possible to maintain a research program at a small institution — if you have a great deal of passion and a little ingenuity.

Although there are definitely some difficulties, the description of research at a small college doesn’t sound too unlike research in a small, poorly funded lab group that is not receiving much help from the university – use undergrads wisely, look for small grants for seed money, cultivate relationships for collaboration with other researchers in academia or in industry, and be willing to do some bench work yourself.

Another interesting article is from Science magazine’s December 2007 issue: Part-Time Science in Perspective. I imagine this trend is rather sparse so far, but I hope that it continues. A part-time science job is one of the most appealing opportunities I could imagine. The article states:

Data and anecdote show otherwise. According to the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) 2003 Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), 4.7% of doctoral-level scientists and engineers who conduct basic research work part-time. Several funding agencies offer opportunities to people who want to work part-time or have that flexibility built into their policies. And universities are recognizing, as industry has for years, that to be competitive and attract the best scientists, they need to offer flexible work policies.

Definitely go check them both out, and let me know what you think! Do you know anyone who works in one of these situations?

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5 thoughts on “Research at small colleges and part-time science

  1. Worked in an undergrad lab at a small college. We had one small grant. Every faculty member had between 1 and 4 students; college offered research grants for the summer. There are actually a fair number of grants for which this kind of small lab is eligible- it just seems to be such a small amount to R1 people. But we did fine research, including organic synthesis, which is not especially cheap. Everyone shared a lot. We were frugal. I washed my own dishes. The standard was, 1 paper gets you tenure.

    Also, I wouldn’t call it ‘big research.’ 🙂

  2. That sounds pretty good to me. But I wouldn’t be down for it if I couldn’t get a reduced teaching load when I secured a grant, etc…I don’t want having a research group to require that I am working 80 hour weeks or anything, so I wouldn’t want to still have a 4/4 teaching load. Did your PI when you were an undergrad get a reduced teaching load?

    The lab group I am in is very small and at times poorly funded, so I don’t think it would be a very big change for me. And I care not at all about how “big” the research is.

  3. She didn’t get reduced teaching for mentoring research; nobody did. Neither she nor any of the female faculty had kids (in retrospect, a very bad sign) but it’s possible she could have gotten it in the event; sadly, it never came up. I think the standard load was 3/2 or 3/3 at the most though. I don’t think she worked 80 hour weeks either, it wasn’t really that kind of place.

  4. As a faculty member in a research university, I had undergrads working in my lab – especially during the summer. In the end, I prefered working with them than graduate students; they are less jaded. Even at this institution, I was unable to get much research done during the semesters even with a 2/2 teaching load. The problem was partly having the mental energy, what didn’t get used in teaching went into grant writing, and the fact that starting an experiment required a free day for set up and I was teaching every day at least for a little bit, usually in the middle of the day.

    I start teaching at a community college in the fall and I am half-planning on keeping my research going during off months. I’ll have to see how the teaching goes first – I might just be too exhausted after teaching a 4/4 load and need time to recover. I am determined not to get burnt out, this time round. I am also looking at how tweaking my research so that I won’t need so much time to set up.

    I have no problems with collaboration. In fact, if I find I cannot run my own research program, I will find a colleague who needs an extra pair of hands and work with them during the summers.

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