Small Departments

After 25 years teaching and directing undergraduate research in a small physics department at a state "commuter" university, I agree with Kathryn S. Brown ("The Key To Academic Bliss Can Be Found In Large Or Small Departments," The Scientist, Oct. 28, 1996, page 15) that this can be a rewarding career. However, given today's emphasis on cost-driven management and the shift to part-time students with heavy job responsibilities, I suggest the candidate seek accurate answers to the following quest

Paul Hambourger
Dec 8, 1996

After 25 years teaching and directing undergraduate research in a small physics department at a state "commuter" university, I agree with Kathryn S. Brown ("The Key To Academic Bliss Can Be Found In Large Or Small Departments," The Scientist, Oct. 28, 1996, page 15) that this can be a rewarding career. However, given today's emphasis on cost-driven management and the shift to part-time students with heavy job responsibilities, I suggest the candidate seek accurate answers to the following questions before taking a job in such a department, particularly at a public institution:

  1. Can the department's major program(s) attract enough students to be deemed economically viable by the administration?

  2. Does the department depend on large "service" courses (for example, required physics for engineering students) to subsidize a small major program? How secure is this arrangement? Might the administration decide to ignore the "subsidy" and terminate the major owing...

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