Friday, October 5, 2012

A Missionary Scientist?

  What do we think of religious colleges and universities?  Hmm, that's a broad question. How about, what do we think about working as professors in the biological sciences at religious colleges and universities, perhaps of a different denomination? I've been thinking about this specific question after two job postings (in locations I love) crossed my computer screen.
One was for a small, evangelical college and one was for a mid-size Catholic university. Now, I realize that institutions have a range of affiliations with religious institutions and that many 'non-religious' institutions began life affiliated with a religious denomination. I've realized that the degree of religiousness affects whether I want to apply, in combination with the institution's academic reputation. For large institutions with high-profile research programs, the religious affiliation may not matter as much. But for smaller institutions, it seems to me that religion would play a larger role in the day-to-day operation and overall atmosphere. I also wonder how much one's personal beliefs and affiliations would be used as a hiring criteria. In particular, a good friend recently was hired at a small protestant college, and their pastor was contacted as part of the interviewing and hiring process. Honestly, I might not make that cut.
  And yes, I think about how controversial topics in biology might be received, from evolution to stem cell research to the vaccination debate. A good biological sciences education is important no matter what institution you attend, and good professors should help students think critically about research no matter what the implications. Though that all sounds good, I'm not sure I'd be up for spending my career debating with every student or colleague about these topics (ah, conflict avoidance!).
  That's where websites are pretty dang useful. In debating whether or not to apply (I still haven't decided about those two jobs), looking at the prominence of religious language and the wording of an institution's faith statement gives me an insight into how comfortable I'd be at an institution. For example, this statement would give me faith (hah) that I'd fit in: "At the University of _________, no matter what you believe, you will be engaged, inspired, and welcomed."  Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're what was once called "R1".

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