Academic Job Search in Canada: Don’t Overlook Small Schools

Academic Job Search in Canada: Don't Overlook Small Schools

  • Wednesday January 11th, 2017
  • 7,146


If you are the type who prefers an intimate restaurant where the owner and the regulars greet you when you come in, a smaller college may be the perfect work place for you.  Even those of you who are accustomed to larger institutions may still find a strong comfort level in a setting you can get to know in a short time.

So what benefits might you gain from working in these more modest institutions?

  1. If you are the type who likes to feel you really belong to a group, these schools provide the size and interactions you are seeking.
  2. Most are located in smaller urban centers so your sense of belonging extends to the local community as well as the institution. If you like to bike or walk to work, that is bonus.
  3. In smaller centers, the school and its people are a highly respected part of the community. Your opportunities to be treated as a valued resource are much higher than in a large city.
  4. In the teaching area, you may have more flexibility and breadth of experience.
  5. There is way less bureaucracy – no need for 3 committees to decide if you truly need a file cabinet.
  6. Your chances to influence the direction of your department and your institution are considerably higher than they might be in a larger school.

What  challenges should you consider?

  1. Because of their size, these schools have limits which larger schools may not. They rarely offer PhD’s so you may not have the opportunity for student support with your own research.  Similarly, they may have stricter limits on other resources such as conference attendance or the latest equipment.
  2. Intimacy can breed collegiality— or, it can breed unhealthy competition.
  3. Sometimes, you just reach a point where you want to grow.
  4. If you are from a minority group, you may face a less diverse environment.

So, what is right for you?  Maybe both.

Many educators start on a smaller campus and move to a larger institution for either a teaching or research opportunity.  The occasional person moves in the other direction to get away from excess administration.

The critical element in any decision is what you most value in your work life.  Browsing through profiles of Canadian universities, you find that the profilers are now ranking values such as student engagement.  While these rankings are often focused to students deciding on an alma mater, they also matter to faculty.  When you are starting your academic job search, make a list of the things that matter most to you in an academic workplace: eg. collegiality, respect from the administration, the opportunity to control a research agenda, interactivity with students.  Then pare it down to three or four you simply cannot live without.  This becomes your shopping list; and, you may well find that more small universities and colleges offer them than do the larger institutions.  It’ s your choice.

Erin Bailo, Career Advisor.
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