Experiences Applying for a Unit 18 Lecturer Position

I’m finishing graduate school with an MS degree this year, and I’ve spent a large chunk of the year looking around for jobs. Given that I’ve spent all my years in undergrad and grad school teaching, looking for a CS lecturer job seems like a natural career path, but finding a lecturer job without a PhD is easier said than done. It’s also forced me to ask myself some questions about what I’m looking for in my long-term career.

Disclaimer: I’m writing this to offer the perspective of someone who’s right in between graduating from school and starting their first job. If you’re in a similar situation, you’ll almost certainly get better advice by talking with others who have more experience than me and can actually speak to what the lecturer job is like after years in the position. There’s no way I would have made it through this process without the advice of all the faculty members I was able to ask for advice and guidance.

Why Not PhD?

There’s no question that having a PhD opens up many more teaching opportunities, so I imagine that this is something I’ll have to keep answering for the rest of my life. At the moment, the short answer is: I don’t think I’m cut out for another 4-5 years of research. Maybe this is because of lack of involvement with the larger CS education research community (I still haven’t attended SIGCSE yet), or because I don’t have a long-term project at the moment that I’d want to commit 4-5 years to. This could certainly change after a few years, but I’m pretty content with my decision to not pursue a PhD right now.

Unit 18 at Berkeley

To me, the most obvious position I could pursue was a teaching position at Berkeley. Unit 18 (non-tenured lecturer) positions don’t require a PhD, and I already have a lot of experience with the teaching community at Berkeley. It also helped that Berkeley had a couple teaching positions open from some recent departures, so I knew they were looking for lecturers.

Applying within Berkeley was less about the formal application process and more about talking to people around the university about my interest in a Unit 18 job. I made at least three distinct pushes to communicate my interest to the relevant people:

  • In late 2021, I discussed the possibility of joining faculty to help offload some teaching load of other lecturers and prevent burnout from one person teaching the class too many times. Understandably, there was no budget to hire a new lecturer who wasn’t filling an immediate teaching need, so this fell through.
  • In early 2022, there was a need to cover a large class in Fall 2022 that was missing an instructor. I hadn’t taught this class as an instructor before, but I offered to help teach the class, thinking that it could at least help me get my foot in the door for future teaching positions. This attempt didn’t entirely fall through, but it also didn’t result in me getting hired. My guess is that they were still exploring their options and hadn’t committed to anything yet.
  • Around February 2022, Nick Weaver announced his intention to leave Berkeley, which left a gap in the classes he usually teaches. These are the same classes I’ve been teaching for the past few semesters, so a proposal to hire me as a replacement for Nick was presented. I’m really grateful to Nick and the other instructors of these classes for putting in a good word for me. The combination of filling Nick’s teaching load and covering the aforementioned large class in Fall 2022 was a strong enough need that the department offered me a Unit 18 position to cover these teaching needs for the next year. (This hire isn’t official yet but hopefully will be made official in the next week or so.)

Interviewing Elsewhere

During the Berkeley hiring process, I also looked elsewhere for teaching positions just in case the Berkeley job fell through. I didn’t interview too widely, as staying in California is a relatively high priority for me at the moment, but I still learned a few things (perhaps obvious in hindsight):

  • Strong recommendations make a difference. The one university that interviewed me and made me an offer was one where I had been recommended by someone. Places where I didn’t get around to submitting recommendation letters never even got back to me.
  • Finding places that will hire people without PhDs is hard. This is made even harder when your only prior teaching experience is as a TA (technically I also had summer instructor experience, but that’s not really a faculty position either). I’m thankful for all the other MS-only educators who offered advice on how to find these positions, and I’d suggest reaching out to others if you’re in a similar position. Berkeley luckily got back to me before I had to start widening my search too much, so I don’t have as much experience yet with this part of the job search.
  • Experience in other places is important. Talking with faculty from other schools and learning about how other schools work was really eye-opening, and it does make me wonder what I’m missing out on by staying at Berkeley for now.

I’m grateful for the other non-Berkeley school that made an offer; this university wasn’t in California, which made my decision to stay at Berkeley pretty easy.

Why Not Industry?

I interviewed for several industry jobs with little success. I can’t really say which job I would have taken if I had gotten both industry and teaching offers. At one point, I considered a part-time teaching job and a full-time industry job so I wouldn’t be totally disconnected from the teaching community.

I’ve talked with a lot of people with great advice on many of the points in this post, but at the end of the day, I think the choice between industry and teaching is a question that you had to answer for yourself. On paper, taking a teaching job over an industry job comes with some clear sacrifices, most notably salary and benefits, so it really came down to whether my own interest in teaching outweighed the financial and career incentives associated with industry.

Some assorted thoughts that have been on my mind throughout this whole experience:

  • Getting paid to do something you actually enjoy doing seems like a rare privilege in life, and it’s an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.
  • The tech industry embodies many of the worst traits of the late-stage capitalist dystopia we live in, and I don’t know if that’s the kind of industry I can spend a career contributing to in good conscience. (Not an indictment of all tech companies here, of course.) Education seems to me like the space where I can at least try to affect some meaningful change.
  • I’m in a privileged position where a teaching salary is enough for me to get by–I don’t have a family to raise, I don’t have student loans to pay off (thanks to teaching all the way through school), etc. I can’t say that I won’t miss the salary difference, but I’m lucky enough that it’s not make-or-break for me.
  • Going into industry interviews with mainly teaching experience was a real fish-out-of-water experience for me (and perhaps this is a topic for another post). The job application process has made me think that maybe I belong more in the teaching community.