POSITIONING YOURSELF FOR THE JOB MARKET
IN SCIENCE EDUCATION
by David Rudge
Although you've only just entered a doctoral program in science education, it's never too early to start thinking about where you would like your career to head. The following short document shares some advice about making the most of the time you spend here at Western Michigan University before you go on the job market. A longer document upon which this is based (Suggestions for the Job Market in Science Education) gives specific advice about navigating the job market.
Science Education is a very heterogeneous discipline, composed of professionals who run the gamut from teachers and administrators to policy makers and academics. If you choose to pursue science education in an academic setting, there are two discernable directions your career might lead. Some people choose to pursue positions in science departments, others choose to pursue positions in colleges of education. It is important that you start thinking early in your graduate school career which path you will take, because there are many things you can do as a graduate student that can enhance your success on the job market, some of which are more important for those who pursue a career in a traditional science department, others of which are more important for those who want to wind up in a college of education. Perpendicular to this distinction, some positions are more research oriented, some more teaching oriented.
Science education position in a science department
In general, if you are preparing for a science education position in a science department, the search committee will be particularly interested in your background in that science. They will expect an MA/MS in the science or evidence you have successfully taken a significant number of graduate courses in that science. They often have expectations for science educators based upon conventions in their science, e.g. they will be particularly interested in your grant writing experience and numbers of publications. They will also want to see a clear connection between the dissertation problem you have chosen for research in science education and learning/pedagogy issues in their particular discipline. In most science departments it is increasingly uncommon for individuals to step into faculty positions right out of graduate school and almost unheard of to hire someone A.B.D. A post doc experience, particularly one that involves work on a grant that leads to publications, is particularly helpful for individuals pursuing this path.
If you choose this path, candidly review your credentials in your chosen science discipline with your advisor. Consider taking graduate level courses in that science and perhaps even a masters degree.
Science education position in a college of education
In general, if you are preparing for a science education position in a college of education, the search committee will be particularly interested in your K-12 teaching experience. Most positions will require you to be certified or eligible for certification to teach in the state you are being hired. Search committees will, of course, be impressed by a particularly strong science background, but it is fair to say their interest will be the breadth of your science coursework over several science disciplines rather than one in particular. They will also be particularly interested in your graduate level preparation in methods and pedagogy courses offered through the College of Education.
If you choose this path, candidly review your K-12 teaching experience with your advisor. To enhance your K-12 experience, look for opportunities to work in K-12 settings, in-service opportunities for teachers, and state or national level development work. Consider also taking graduate level classes in education to supplement your credentials.
To shore up your credentials as a researcher, in general, you should make a point of attending and presenting talks at professional conferences while you are in graduate school. While attending any science education related conference is helpful, it is fair to say that some conferences are dominated more by individuals who hold positions in colleges of education than others (e.g. AETS). Conversely, you may find that many science conferences have sections devoted to teaching and learning issues (e.g. AAAS, American Chemical Society). Attending a conference is a great way to learn about current research and perhaps identify a potential dissertation topic. It is also an opportunity to start networking.
Likewise, publishing in the general area of science education in any forum as a graduate student is a very prestigious feather in your cap. But again, some journals are better known for work done by researchers in colleges of education, others for work done by science educators in particular departments. Getting involved in grant work is also helpful in establishing your research credentials.
To shore up your credentials as a teacher, in general, you should make a point of teaching during your graduate career. When hiring, most academic departments want evidence that you can teach more than one course, because in all likelihood they will need someone who is flexible and capable of teaching a variety of courses. Take advantage of opportunities to teach several different types of courses when you can, and when you can't, consider taking graduate level courses in topics individuals who pursue your career path will be expected to teach. Those who go on to careers in science departments should concentrate on shoring up their teaching repertoire with regard to courses in a particular science, those who plan to go on to a position in a college of education should teach/take advanced courses in pedagogy and methods.
Finally, take advantage of the numerous workshops WMU has to offer graduate students throughout the year, devoted to teaching and learning issues, surviving graduate school and completing the dissertation.
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Last modified 15 Nov 2005