Humility in the academic job market (or, why you shouldn’t forget about BYU)

In a job interview, the rhetorical approach you are looking for is “I can solve all your problems for you”: increase enrollments, raise the department’s research profile, advise the student club, pull in outside funding, the whole enchilada. (Can you really do all this? Of course you can! You now have a Ph.D., right?) Now is not the time for false modesty. Humility, however, is an essential part of your job search.

When the job list in your discipline comes out, there will be positions that don’t appeal to you. There will be schools you’ve never heard of, far off the academic lecture circuit, with no graduate programs and heavy undergraduate teaching loads. Maybe you will tell yourself–or you will imagine your adviser telling you–that your research is too important to consider a position like that. That voice is not only unhelpful, but actually destructive: the fewer positions you apply for, the lower your chances of beginning or continuiung an academic career. While there are jobs where you would be a poor fit, or where the salary is intolerably low, the work you would do at those places is not beneath you. You are not too good for the students you would teach.

But, you might say, what about my research? What’s the point of a Ph.D. if I’ll be too busy teaching four sections of Comp 101 or Intro Lecture 100 per semester at Southwest Armpit State?

That voice is a combination of grad school myopia that can’t imagine life anywhere else, and pride, superbia, the idea that some people and places are insignificant compared to your profound ideas. Banish all traces of this attitude from your thoughts. The euphemisms are just as crass: “third-tier programs,” “schools not worth their salt,” “not a real university.” The people who work at such places have no patience for it.

The truth is that you can research, and publish, on a four-course load and without access to all the resources you’re used to at your graduate institution, although the kind of projects you can do will change. You will find colleagues just as smart as you are and who come from graduate programs every bit as good as yours and who are committed to being productive scholars. Think of it like this: would you keep the commandments wherever you were, or only if you taught at BYU and your job depended on it? Now ask yourself: are you so committed to your research that you would pursue it wherever you are, or only if your job depended on it?

So don’t forget about BYU because its focus is on undergraduate education. It has some great programs, and teaching there would give you the chance to work with some first-rate students [and continue your research with some first-rate colleagues]. It’s fine to aspire to work at a top-ranked research university with a manageable teaching load that supports and values research, but most positions will offer a combination of real opportunities and unavoidable challenges. Maybe you can tell in advance that you would be terribly unhappy working at a particular institution. Take a good hard look at any school you apply to–but never, ever, look down the end of your nose at any of them. You are not too good to teach there.

Sing with me now:

It may not be a job at the Y
Or off in the Ivy League,
It may not be a top-twenty SLAC,
Who’s willing to hire me…

How the song ends is up to you.

[Edited for clarity.]

48 comments for “Humility in the academic job market (or, why you shouldn’t forget about BYU)

  1. March 13, 2007 at 10:11 am

    But if I am lucky enough to go
    And study instead of teach
    I’ll soon be alone with my books and my docs
    While my colleagues are at the beach

  2. Jeremy
    March 13, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Another point to go along with Jonathan’s helpful post: you really can’t judge a school and anticipate what you’d be doing there just by glancing at the website and getting a school’s basic profile (large state school, community college, church school, liberal arts, etc.).

    The year I finished grad school I sent out about 35 job applications–one for virtually every posting in my field and area. These included applications to schools I had never heard of, in places I never wanted to live, as well as to large Research I schools (including one where I had been adjuncting). I discovered, quite to my surprise, that salaries, research possibilities, and teaching condistions in my field were not closely related to school size or prestige. I ended up at a very small school that I had never heard of before reading the job posting — a school that I very well could have written off as not a “fit” for me, and one that I might have assumed to have poor salaries and nil research opportunities. Also, it’s in a small town in the midwest (a place I had never considered living). My department only has 6 full-time faculty.

    And it turns out it’s worked out wonderfully for us. The salary is competitive (for my field, anyway, in which assistant professors often start below or at the national median income). To my surprise, my research funds are more than double what was offered full-timers at the Research I school where I adjuncted. We were able to afford a modest home within walking distance of campus and in a fantastic school district (whereas at the larger schools where I’ve taught and interviewed, the public schools are so-so and real estate within thirty minutes of school is far out of our price range). Smaller classes means more time for research.

    And I very nearly could have decided not to apply to this one at all, because of erroneous assumptions about school type, geography, etc.

  3. March 13, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Great post. Can’t add much, other than it’s timely as I’ll likely be applying for jobs in a year.

  4. Chris Grant
    March 13, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Perhaps this varies from department to department and from college to college, but despite its emphasis on undergraduate education, I think BYU *does* offer a manageable teaching load and *does* support and value research.

  5. Frank McIntyre
    March 13, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Chris, I think you are right that BYU values research and you are right that it varies (wildly) from department to department.

  6. Jim F.
    March 13, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Amen to Chris and Frank. If you come to BYU thinking that your commitment to teaching means you’ll not need to do publishable research, you are unlikely to be here after your continuing status (i.e., tenure) review. Like many other places, BYU expects both, though what that expectation means and what resources are available for research vary, as Frank says, wildly.

  7. March 13, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    So you want a job with an above average academic salary, a light teaching load that does not include undergraduates, where scholarship is valued, and you have excellent research support.

    Become a law professor. Best job in the world…

  8. Frank McIntyre
    March 13, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Nate, having to teach law students can hardly be considered a perk over undergraduates.

  9. Ugly Mahana
    March 13, 2007 at 4:18 pm


    As a former student of yours, I have to ask if it is any better to teach undergrads destined to become law students.

  10. Ana
    March 13, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan. I’ll be sending this on to my husband, who is a year away from a Ph.D. in environmental engineering (says the impatient wife) … Fortunately he is already way over the whole research snobbery that seems to prevail among many of his counterparts. He is a born teacher. I can’t wait to see where he ends up.

  11. Jonathan Green
    March 13, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Njensen, the last line doesn’t quite scan, but thanks for the contribution.

    Jeremy, I’m very glad you described your situation. It’s a point I was hoping someone would make. Opportunity lurks in a lot of different places, and not always where you expect to find it.

    Chris, Jim, Frank: Yes, I agree completely, and I should have worded that paragraph a bit more clearly. The mistake I was addressing in particular was the one that sees BYU as something less than a real university because its focus is not primarily on research and graduate education, but it would be just as mistaken for someone to think they could chuck their research program out the window because they had settled for a job at BYU, or just about anywhere else these days. In this year’s job list in my field, I think I’ve seen one position of the “research welcomed but not expected” variety, which seems to be on its way to extinction.

    Ana, good luck to your husband.

  12. Jack
    March 13, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    Let me say, as one who doesn’t have a college degree (or a real HS diploma, for that matter), that what little undergrad-schooling I did get (the equivalent of 2 years over an 8 year period) was a wonderful experience. Wonderful, because at a lowly junior college where tuition was a mere fifty bucks a semester (for residents) I was instructed by a first-rate music faculty most of whom could have easily found a position at a prestigious university.

  13. Frank McIntyre
    March 14, 2007 at 12:15 am


    I think yes, because they aren’t as uppity yet. Also, I have this theory that law school encourages you to talk a lot even if you don’t know what you are saying…

    And now you should tell me which one of my students you were and what you are doing now.

  14. Janet
    March 14, 2007 at 2:17 am

    I LOVED my brief guest stint as a visiting instructor at the Y–the students exhibited a dedication, enthusiasm, and work ethic I encountered elsewhere, but not in such high numbers; and the other instructors seemed to value both publishing and teaching. I wish the teaching load facilitated research since I highly value both and fear that a tenure-track gig at the Y might beg corner cutting somewhere, but my experience there made me quite happy. The Y strikes me as an excellent choice for those of us who both love our research AND our students.

  15. Jeremiah J.
    March 14, 2007 at 3:25 am

    It’s odd to hear you talk about BYU as a place where you’re teaching like crazy and where the school does not emphasize research. It does not have a 4 course load, the funding support for research is good, and you have TAs and RAs (at least in the departments and situations I know of). I think it’s a fine research university, and the majority of people in my field I imagine think the same thing.

    “What’s the point of a Ph.D. if I’ll be too busy teaching four sections of Comp 101 or Intro Lecture 100 per semester at Southwest Armpit State?”

    I wouldn’t put the question quite that rudely, but it’s a good question, and not one motivated just by myopia and pride. I’ve worked at a place like that–I liked my colleagues and definitely respected them, and yes, some of them managed to publish, too. And I’ve always had respect for the university and its mission. But it’s not myopia to conclude that you cannot fulfill certain research ambitions when you have 4 courses and 150 students per semester, with no TAs and no RAs. That teaching load is not beneath me, but neither is bailing hay or delivering pizzas. It’s just not what I signed up for and trained for years to do. It is legitimate to ask why you’re basically dealing with high school-level problems in the classroom when you trained for 6 years at a top ten PhD program. It is possible to ‘settle’ and for that to be a bad decision.

    Of course you cannot always do everything you ever dreamed. But that’s a matter of finding a way to be reconciled to your opportunities and options, and makng the most of your situation, not usually a moral issue of whether you’re humble enough.

  16. Jonathan Green
    March 14, 2007 at 6:59 am

    Again, nothing in the original post was intended as a comment on BYU as a research institution. Janet, I think a 3-3 or 3-2-1 teaching load does facilitate research, compared to the alternatives (4-4, unemployment, etc.). It’s possible to feel like there’s not enough time for research when you have only two courses, or one, or none at all. Every situation requires compromises, and every position requires one to prioritize how you use your time.

    Jeremiah, I don’t know who the intended “you” is of your first line, but I certainly never said anything like that. I’m sorry if what I did write was unclear. About your next point, however, I disagree, although it may be simply a matter of different experiences. The question I asked myself before teaching 4-4 for a couple years was, “Will this entail all the disadvantages of an academic job with none of the perks?” I understand the frustration with high-school level behavior. (On the other hand, the graduate reading courses I’ve taught weren’t always free of that kind of thing, either.) The level of resources and teaching load required different approaches to research and to teaching. But–that job with a 4-4 teaching load brought me much closer to my professional goals than anything else I could have done (like hanging around my grad program an extra year, or, as you mention, delivering pizzas), and not just in terms of sustaining a career or finding a stepping stone to something better. Even while I was teaching 4-4, I was able to research and publish. Your situation was different from mine, however, and not all institutions are alike; maybe your position really was intolerable. I fundamentally disagree, however, that six years in a top 10 program does not train you to teach undergrads. That idea will hurt your chances of beginning or continuing an academic career if it keeps you from applying for positions for which you would be qualified.

  17. March 14, 2007 at 8:27 am

    ” I fundamentally disagree, however, that six years in a top 10 program does not train you to teach undergrads.”

    I think this is quite obviously incorrect, Jonathan, at least if you mean by it what I think you mean.

    My own experiences, plus my own observations, plus numerous reports that have appeared in The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed, have all repeatedly hammered home this point: most graduate schools–whether top 10 or top 50 or top 100–do not teach their PhD candidates how to teach, and they especially do not usually teach them how to teach the real world student populations which will be found at colleges and universities that lack graduate programs (or that otherwise lack the kind of elite criteria–financial, religious, etc.–that signficantly narrows down the demographic and intellectual diversity of the student body, as is the case, for example, at BYU). The stories of newly minted PhDs emerging from fine program and being completely overwhelmed by the intensive, time-consuming, hands-on (and often hand-holding) teaching demands of a Southwest Armpit State are legion and well-documented.

    Now, if all you meant to say is that there is nothing about graduate training that makes one incapable of teaching undergraduates, even poorly prepared undergraduates, I completely agree. It’s called learning on the job, watching the successful teachers around you, making adjustments. And moreover, I also completely agree with your claim that faculty with heavy teaching loads and lots of committee work at financially strapped institutions can still do good and important research, if they need to or are so inclined; it’s simply a matter of acknowledging one’s priorities, making use of available opportunities, and integrating one’s teaching obligations and research agenda. (Which, obviously, isn’t going to be possible in all cases, but that just means, as you observed Jonathan, that “the kind of projects you can do will change.”) And I especially agree that the new PhD needs to humble themselves so as to recognize the fine service and scholarship and smarts which will surround them at practically any institution they may get a job at. As I learned how to do that–mostly between my first and second years at Arkansas State University–my life as an academic became immeasurably more happy and more rewarding. So really, I agree with the bulk of your post.

    But the notion that top 10 programs are churning out fine undergraduate instructors, well prepared for the real world? I have to say, I think that is simply untrue, and/or complete wishful thinking. Graduate school turns us all into elitists; given the socio-economic reality of America today, it can hardly avoid doing so. If you or anyone else comes out of graduate program with a PhD and the enthusiasm and ability to reach out to and teach all undergraduates anywhere, than it is due in all likelihood to your own character and talent, and not due to anything that graduate school or the teachers there actually did. (In fact, I would very surprised to hear any honest graduate advisor claim otherwise.)

  18. Jeremiah J.
    March 14, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Jonathan, sorry if I misunderstood you about BYU; I was trying to make sense of your discussion of heavy teaching load schools and then your statement: “So don’t forget about BYU because its focus is on undergraduate education. ” Now I’m not really sure why you say all that stuff in a post entitled “why you shouln’t forget about BYU”.

    I didn’t say that my program didn’t try to or wasn’t supposed to prepare me to teach undergrads–where did you get that idea? My grad school actually happens to do a decent job in teaching instruction and support (better than the heavy teaching load colleges I know of), relatively speaking, though I think what Russell says is true in general. Personally I’d feel pretty snubbed if I could never teach undergrads (though I admit I do not have as Russell puts it “enthusiasm and ability” to teach ‘all undergrads anywhere’). But no highly trained person, including a PhD, should feel bad about wondering whether their training is being put to good use (or whether their job is meeting reasonable expectations). Some people got a PhD in order to get a certain kind of job, which combines the reasonable opportunity for teaching and research. And I think those aspirations would still exist even if they weren’t snobs. So I don’t really see what pride and humility has to do with it. It’s just a point about the job market. I happen to be on the market this year, and I applied for just about everything. And gratefully accepted interviews at liberal arts colleges. Everyone I know approaches the market that way–if they don’t then they probably can afford to, or they get a rude awakening fairly quickly.

  19. Jonathan Green
    March 14, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Nope, Russell, that isn’t what I meant. I meant “train” not in the sense of “provide practical experience before assumption of full responsibility,” but rather in the sense of “establish as a goal or expected outcome.” This usage is, for all I know, misleading and incorrect, and I mostly agree with what you say about teaching. (Although most people in my discipline have 5+ years of teaching by the time they finish their degrees from many programs, and a lot of them are capable teachers in some areas by the time they hit their first job. This still leaves them with a lot to learn about teaching the full curriculum, though.) There are a lot of things one has to learn on the job in the first couple years, including–but not limited to–how to teach the particular undergraduate population of a given school. That doesn’t mean that your career has gone off track if you find yourself teaching freshmen right after finishing your Ph.D.

    I can, if it would help, be more precise in my disagreement with Jeremiah. Namely, that teaching undergrads certainly is one of the things one has signed up for with six years in a Ph.D. program from a top 10 program. As far as I can tell, faculty at schools outside the top tier do not come from lesser graduate programs. Or does it work differently in other fields?

  20. Jonathan Green
    March 14, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Jeremiah, some people look down on schools outside the “top tier,” whatever that’s supposed to be. Some people look down on BYU, sometimes for similar reasons. The point is that both attitudes are counterproductive for people who want an academic career. People should forget about working at BYU because it’s the only university they can imagine themselves working for, but they shouldn’t rule out applying there (or anywhere else) because it doesn’t match the level of prestige they want in an employer. If you’ve never run into either attitude, good for you and all the people you know.

  21. TMD
    March 14, 2007 at 11:34 am

    I’m not sure that I agree with the statement that
    “Namely, that teaching undergrads certainly is one of the things one has signed up for with six years in a Ph.D. program from a top 10 program.” At least that’s not true in my field. Frankly, for me it’s either a program with a good rep and living conditions, or I’ll go the think tank/gov’t/private industry route. Teaching undergrads just doesn’t get me up in the morning most days.

  22. Jeremiah J.
    March 14, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    “some people look down on schools outside the “top tier,” whatever that’s supposed to be. Some people look down on BYU, sometimes for similar reasons.”

    I understand what you are saying. You’re right that this feeling exists in some places, but you understand that I don’t feel that way. I guess the PhD program I went to makes a difference. We’re middling in a way–we’ve had a good hiring record, but we don’t regularly get hired at top 20 schools (in fact rarely do we). So I’ve not seen a lot of the snobbery you’re talking about, though I know it exists. If I ended up at BYU both I and my program would feel pretty proud. But I never went to BYU and I’m not from the West, which maybe is why I never thought of myself as destined to be there (I just now read your other post, where you explain the other side). In fact I’m shocked when I see people who feel that no matter what they’ll find a way to teach at the Y, even when they know how academic hiring works.

    The start of the career is a time of reckoning, which I think is something you’re getting at. I’m no different than anyone else who has to come to terms with options available, aspirations, and revisions of those aspirations.

  23. March 14, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    “Namely, that teaching undergrads certainly is one of the things one has signed up for with six years in a Ph.D. program from a top 10 program.”

    This, Jonathan, is I think a lot more accurate than your original formulation. Some graduate programs give a lot of attention to undergraduate instruction and make it incumbent upon their grad students that they get experience in doing such; others don’t do either. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a graduate program that is so utterly disconnected from academic reality as to allow its students to believe that they aren’t going to have to give at least some consideration to teaching undergrads in their career. No doubt there are graduate advisors that are so disconnected; we’ve probably all heard of advisors who have dumped PhD candidates because they didn’t think they were on the elite research-track, and didn’t want to have their name associated with someone who will end up teaching 4-4. But I’m unaware of such attitudes ever polluting a whole program. So yes, I’ll agree with you this much: if you’re a grad student, then you shouldn’t presume that there is anything in your training that justifies you in ignoring a future of teaching undergrads.

    “That’s not true in my field. Frankly, for me it’s either a program with a good rep and living conditions, or I’ll go the think tank/gov’t/private industry route. Teaching undergrads just doesn’t get me up in the morning most days.”

    Well, TMD, you have the virtues of both honesty and self-knowledge. Most of the rest of us kept flipping back and forth between possible futures as we went through our education and the job market. I certainly did–in fact, at a certain point, I was forced to realize (to my long-term benefit) that my flipping hadn’t been broad enough. All that being said, please note that your first claim–“that’s not true in my field”–isn’t supported by your subsequent comment. You’re talking about your own personal incompatability with or dislike of undergrad teaching, not the absence of any presumption whatsoever on the part of your discipline that somebody needs to teach these undergrads. (I will qualify this statement if it turns out that your field is medicine or law.)

  24. TMD
    March 14, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    RAF: my field is international relations. Many people enter with no intention of ever teaching. Many who do enter with the intention of teaching end up in DC or elsewhere.

  25. Frank McIntyre
    March 14, 2007 at 12:46 pm


    “Frankly, for me it’s either a program with a good rep and living conditions, or I’ll go the think tank/gov’t/private industry route. Teaching undergrads just doesn’t get me up in the morning most days.”

    Bless you, it’s people like you who prop up my salary.

  26. March 14, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    “Many people enter with no intention of ever teaching. Many who do enter with the intention of teaching end up in DC or elsewhere.”

    That’s true; but there remains the fact that there are international relations scholars who write textbooks for and teach courses to undergraduates. I am assuming that they aren’t flukes, but rather are products of the same sort of program that you’re pursuing. Have your instructors communicated the idea that their program isn’t designed to be at all relevant to anyone who wants to teach undergrads? I wouldn’t know, as world politics was only a minor field in my PhD education; my suspicion is otherwise, but I suppose maybe IR-heavy programs really do operate on different presumptions than most other graduate programs others do.

  27. Janet
    March 14, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Jonathan–I didn’t mean to imply that one couldn’t manage BYU’s teaching load and still publish quality scholarship; it just might be a wee bit more difficult than at the schools where my friends have a 2-2 teaching load. They have more time for individual student mentoring AND for scholarship. That doesn’t mean I find BYU a poor choice–quite the contrary. As I said, I loved it. And they even gave me student runners to make copies for me! And they delivered my library books to my office door! Plus, mint brownies in the cougarette could sustain many a late-night research foray :).

  28. TMD
    March 14, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    Of course there’s an expectation that someone needs to, but if you let it be known that teaching is not what you’re in for, they’re perfectly ok with that and will mentor you for those other options.

  29. Ben H
    March 14, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Like for Jeremiah J., the move from “no job is beneath you” to “BYU is not beneath you” was rather jarring for me. BYU is swanky compared with a whole lot of jobs out there. I agree, no one should see a BYU workload as beneath their dignity (at BYU or any comparable institution).

    But to say that no academic job is beneath someone with a PhD is to deny the grim realities of the current regime in academia. Some jobs are seriously underpaid/undersupported, or would just be miserable for you (which ones depends on who you are). I say apply widely, including to some jobs which superficially look like jobs you would not take. If you’re applying at all, you already have the materials together, and can put together a few more apps easily for questionable positions. You may be surprised. But look carefully at what the job entails, and what you want out of life, and be prepared to say “no” if the job is really bad. Maybe you would be better off in another line of work, where the balance of supply and demand in the job market is more reasonable.

    Is this a comment on the value of the undergrads at Armpit State? No. They are human beings, each of infinite worth. But you can serve your fellowmen, including the poor and downtrodden and merely less than brilliant, in many ways.

    I am at an institution that has a pretty uninspiring website, and clearly emphasizes teaching over research. I wasn’t sure what I would find when I went to interview. The grounds and facilities look a little on the shabby side compared with Notre Dame (where I did my PhD). It is a very different track from some I had imagined while working on my PhD (e.g. the research post-doc I was a finalist for . . .). Now that I’ve gotten to know it, I really like this place, and it is hard to imagine where I would be happier. I could tell from my campus visit the faculty are wonderful, the atmosphere is very much what I think a school should be, and there is good support for research.

    If in doubt, apply (if you’re not too behind on sleep). Don’t try to guess too far in advance if you would like the places, since you may never even hear back from them. But after interviewing and getting to know the place, remember you are a volunteer. You don’t have to take a job you really don’t want.

  30. Jonathan Green
    March 14, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Jeremiah, one nice thing that’s come out of these posts is a look at how different things can be in other disciplines. In my own field, probably 90% of the graduate programs would consider themselves top 20, and the question on everybody’s mind is not placement into them, which as often as not seems to happen at the advanced assistant stage, but if graduates are getting a job at all, and I understand that some high-prestige programs have had to rethink how they’re preparing their students.

    TMD, it’s interesting that there’s such a healthy non-academic job market for IR Ph.D.s. I would have assumed otherwise. It bears repeating that my perspective is strongly colored by my experience, and decreases in relevance the farther one gets from the MLA. (Then again, the academic job markets for accountants is supposed to be wonderful, but the one academic accountant I knew was in the middle of a fairly crummy experience on the job market. There seems to be enough crumminess to share, even with people who don’t need it.)

    Janet, you have exposed a glaring error in my argument: the mint brownies are sufficient reason to aspire to teach at BYU all by themselves.

  31. Jonathan Green
    March 14, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    Ben, you offer excellent advice. Markets are a form of communication (right, Frank?), and the one way to communicate to an institution that its salaries are too low is for their offers to qualified candidates to be repeatedly refused. I’ve done it before.

  32. bk
    March 14, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    I apologize if I’m repeating points made earlier in the thread. I didn’t read all of the earlier comments.

    Some jobs are seriously underpaid/undersupported, or would just be miserable for you (which ones depends on who you are). I say apply widely, including to some jobs which superficially look like jobs you would not take.

    My advisor cautioned me at one point NOT to apply to jobs that I knew that I wouldn\’t be interested in taking. This is partly an ethical issue. Schools spend a lot of money, time, and other resources in recruiting new faculty, and to waste those resources merely to \”give it a look\” or (worse) to get options that you can use to play off other potential suitors seems a bit shady. That doesn\’t mean you shouldn\’t apply to places where you conceivably might have an interest in working, but I think there\’s a fine line between playing the job market and actually testing the waters. The former might get you a bad reputation and have future negative consequences for your career.

    Markets are a form of communication (right, Frank?), and the one way to communicate to an institution that its salaries are too low is for their offers to qualified candidates to be repeatedly refused.

    This may work for most universities, but BYU has purposefully positioned itself to be outside the market, especially at later stages in faculty careers. There is a point at which BYU will simply not raise salaries even if you are a potential Nobel candidate. Several top administrators have said that BYU does not believe in the \”star system\” (their words, not mine). If you think you\’re some sort of star, then either sacrifice for BYU by taking a lower salary (e.g. Lavell Edwards) or go be a star somewhere else. I should note that most of BYU\’s departments compete very well at the junior faculty salary level, but BYU\’s senior faculty are notoriously underpaid compared to their peers.

  33. Frank McIntyre
    March 14, 2007 at 5:49 pm


    I think Jonathan’s point about conveying a signal is still sound. Even if I decide to be 20% below the market, I still end up moving with the market. BYU’s senior faculty salaries may be below market, but are likely still to be responsive to market movements in salary.

    On your point about not wasting resources by interviewing where you’d never go, I completely agree, as long as (of course) it really is a waste of resources because you know you won’t go there.

  34. Jonathan Green
    March 14, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Unfortunately, the low-pay jobs with toxic working conditions are not often clearly labeled as such. Maybe 1-3% of all job announcements in my field provide the starting salary range. While you can usually rule a few places out early on, it’s hard to say in September which positions you won’t want in March if they’re the only option you have at the time. Of course it’s only courteous to withdraw from a search once it becomes clear that you wouldn’t accept an offer, which is usually merely the consequence of accepting a job offer elsewhere and not a comment on what you think of the program you’re spurning.

  35. Ben H
    March 14, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    bk, you are quite right that in making an application you are making work for people on hiring committees, and when they interview they are giving up the chance to interview someone else, so it is important to sincerely think you might take a job there when you apply. I know this because I just got done serving on a hiring committee, and it wore me out. But as a new PhD at the stage of submitting an application, you most likely have no idea who is actually going to offer you a job (I’m in the humanities, so ymmv), and you know very little about any of the programs you are applying for. So sure, if you happen to know that you would never take a certain position, you shouldn’t apply, but unless you have a better offer in hand, how do you know? Usually you don’t. If in doubt, I say apply. If you get a heap of interviews from clearly better places, you can always bow out.

  36. Sterling
    March 15, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    bk is right about the salaries for senior faculty at BYU. This was mentioned in BYU’s latest accreditation report. BYU expects faculty to take a sacrifice in salary after about 15 or 20 years, since they will no longer have to pay for children at home.

    I wonder whose standard for teaching is being used in these discussions. What is the quality of teaching like at BYU? Are student evaluations a good indication of the level of teaching at BYU? How many of the teachers at BYU are involved with SoTL? What do teachers at BYU lose, in terms of knowledge and skills, if they mostly teach undergraduates and rarely or never teach grad students? Are these teachers likely to stay current in the literature or in the findings of their field? Or is this mostly true for BYU teachers who find ways to involve undergraduate students in their research?

  37. March 16, 2007 at 1:25 am

    bk: “BYU’s senior faculty are notoriously underpaid compared to their peers.”


    Sterling: “bk is right about the salaries for senior faculty at BYU. This was mentioned in BYU’s latest

    It is true that BYU’s salaries for senior people are below the market. I’ve seen data on that on a number of occasions during the last 32 years, and even when steps have been taken to do something about it (which has happened several times), within a few years, those steps cease to have any effect and the difference comes back. However, I haven’t seen any evidence that we are “notoriously underpaid compared to [our] peers.”

    Less? Yes. Notoriously less? I doubt it.

  38. bk
    March 16, 2007 at 1:39 am

    Okay, I was being dramatic. Just underpaid, not notoriously underpaid.

  39. bk
    March 16, 2007 at 1:49 am

    One more thing – I think the real test of how low BYU’s salaries are for senior faculty comes when you’re looking at someone who is a real star in the discipline, someone who could find a job at the UCLAs or Harvards. How much do those stars make compared to their peers at those elite schools? Granted we don’t have as many of those star senior scholars at BYU as we’d like, but if we don’t it may be partly because they’ve already left BYU before their salary became seriously deflated below expectations, or they never came to BYU in the first place. If there is a selection effect of this type (meaning that the best LDS scholars don’t work at BYU because they can get paid better somewhere else) then the potential salaries at BYU are even lower than we currently think they are. BTW, I don’t know if the best LDS scholars are outside of BYU. It’s just a hypothesis.

  40. Jonathan Green
    March 16, 2007 at 5:32 am

    It’s worth pointing out that salary stagnation is a complaint I’ve seen from a lot of places, not only BYU. Some places seem to regard an outside offer as the only convincing proof that someone needs a raise. I suspect that the motivation at BYU is somewhat different, although perhaps with similar results. The usual problem is that this leads to salary compression or even inversion, with recent hires earning nearly as much or even more than senior faculty in some cases, leading to much resentment; again, I have no idea if this occurs at BYU.

  41. March 16, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Jim F., when “the steps cease to have any effect and the difference cames back,” what is happenning? Do other schools raise salaries even more than BYU? Does inflation erode one-time pay hikes at BYU while other schools make annual cost of living adjustments?

  42. Sterling
    March 16, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Some of you may find President Samuelson’s explanation of the salary structure helpful in answering your questions:

    See also the “Salary Equity” discussion on the last page of this document:

    For some hard data that compares BYU faculty salaries to national norms, open this page and search for the phrase “salaries for full professors.”

    There is potentially some good news. The accreditation report noted that “BYU will have replaced over 50 percent of its faculty during a 12-year period, from 1995 to 2007.” This now means that a disproportionate percentage of BYU professors are junor faculty. Since BYU does not have to pay them as much as senior faculty, there is a chance that BYU can soon afford to give senior professors a raise.

  43. Chris Grant
    March 16, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    A reasonable counterpart to the principle that people shouldn’t apply for jobs they’re not really interested in would seem to be that institutions shouldn’t let people think they’re eligible for jobs that they’re not. Our department has been informed that any request to hire a non-Mormon either temporarily or permanently will be denied (so applications from such individuals get circular-filed), yet we’re not permitted to say anything in our job ads stronger than that BYU has a “preference” for hiring Mormons. In 2004, the Faculty Advisory Council overwhelmingly approved a recommendation to allow departments to at least use wording like “strong preference” in job ads, but the administration rejected the recommendation.

  44. March 16, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Sterling (#43), thank you for those links. I appreciate having the official explanations available. In the first link, I find quite interesting the explicit mention of taking care of junior faculty at the time when they are trying to buy a home, have young children, have student loan debt, etc. as one reason for lower-than-average salaries at the senior level.

    BK (#40), wouldn’t comparing BYU salaries to those at UCLA or Harvard require some serious adjustments for cost-of-living? Especially for scholars with families, it would take a pretty hefty raise to afford a home in the cities where many of these elite institutions are located that would compare with what’s available in Provo, so it doesn’t seem like direct comparison of salaries really gives the whole story.

    Chris (#44), is there a mechanism for distinguishing the applications coming from members from the applications coming from nonmembers? It would be a shame if a talented LDS scholar with no prior ties to BYU had an application circular-filed merely for not explicitly stating Church membership status, being unaware of the unwritten rules for applying to BYU.

  45. March 16, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    After looking around a bit more, I found an answer to my last question: the faculty application form explicitly asks whether applicants are Church members.

  46. March 16, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    XiGauss, that’s true, although one should note that with Utah maintaining such a robust economy the standard of living adjustments are more minor than they once were.

  47. bk
    March 16, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    XiGauss – When making those comparisons I’m sort of assuming that those adjustments have already been made. Besides, universities in high-density, urban areas aren’t the only places to pay top professors top salary. Off the top of my head, I can think of several LDS professors who work in places where the cost of living is very similar to Provo but who have salaries well above the amount BYU could offer.

  48. March 16, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    I’ve read this thread with interest, being eligible now for retirement for 5 years but not required to take it up. I taught my first class at BYU rather a long time ago, as a TA doing an MS. Then my mother said, “No PhD, get a job”. So I tried to get a teaching job – what else did I know how to do? I peppered every community college from Monterrey to Vancouver looking for a job where I wanted to live. Not a sausage. Must have PhD. But all I ever wanted to do was teach beginners, open doors for newbies, invite in the people who will do better than I, move the field along, take over when we’re gone. You don’t need a PhD for that, or they wouldn’t let the TAs do it.

    A college president phoned me while I was having dinner at a friend’s, introduced himself, and added, “You do remember applying here, don’t you?” Well, I lied and said yes, and I got my first teaching job. Somebody had died and they needed to replace him fast. It terrified me, but I loved it, and it bought me a sports car. It was in a place that shall remain unspecified, where it was minus 20 degrees for the first month I was there, it was 286 miles to the east to find a bit of “culture”, and if you wanted to take a train west, you had to drive north 100 miles first. Do research? I was too busy learning what was in those early courses that I’d whizzed through without studying and aced the exams by waffling well. And then there was a long period of raising six case studies.

    I got back into teaching almost by mistake, and it finally took me 40 years to get a PhD. I still love teaching beginners. And I’ve bought another sports car. I do get to do research now, do get time to write, it’s great fun, I love the adolescent experience of flying off to conferences, feel I’m actually doing something important in my field, and I do enjoy supervising research students, but I’d teach the beginners for nothing if I didn’t need to pay the electricity bill. I learned a lot of valuable things teaching in a place I didn’t want to be, including how to notice how many beautiful colours there are in miles and miles of dead grass. Loosen up the categories of what counts – there’s much to be gained from seeing things a slightly different way. Give the beginners a chance too, one of them will take over when you’re gone. Make sure they see excellence to aspire to while you’re there.

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