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Is doing research with a student considered to be good for a dossier? Is it okay to have few research publications but a lot of student projects? I am finishing up a grad program and am looking at tenure track jobs at both big and small schools.

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"OK" for what purpose? You might really want to be more specific about what sort of schools you're interested in. – Ben Webster Sep 22 '10 at 2:51
What will get you tenure varies at different institutions. A CV with mostly supervised undergrad work won't get you tenure at an R1, but it will be highly valued at a liberal arts school. Your goal should be to find a school whose mission aligns well with your values/talents. One way to get an idea of what is necessary for tenure at a specific institution is to go to the univ webpage and look at the CV's of mathematicians who have gotten tenure recently (or not so recently -- just cut off papers written after promotion, though many places have increased their requirements as time goes by). – Andy Putman Sep 22 '10 at 3:57
@Andy: I want to temper your answer about liberal arts schools. Everyone likes the idea of undergraduate research, but I cannot promise that administrators will value it equally (my original answer was written with the perspective of looking for a job rather than applying for tenure, since it seems this is what the OP is currently doing). Also, people who are thinking about directing UG research in a new job should be aware that opportunities to do so will vary from school to school. Students' other extra-curriculars have a knack of getting in your way. – Thierry Zell Sep 22 '10 at 4:59
Wouldn't it depend most of all on the quality of the work, in an objective sense? I wouldn't imagine that having an undergraduate co-author could be any worse than having a colleague as a co-author (and would be distinctly better than having a superior as co-author), if the results were as interesting or important in either case. It seems natural to distinguish between mentoring/working with an undergraduate in a problem you (and other mathematicians) are genuinely interested in, versus a problem that's somehow off to the side, or not your main focus. – David Jordan Sep 22 '10 at 12:58
@David: in most places, undergraduate research is first and foremost a form of education for the student, not about research. I've had only one serious foray in UG research so far, and it did lead to a paper, but the result was minor and my understanding is that even having a paper is far from typical. (It appears to be true even for REU's where students are carefully selected.) – Thierry Zell Sep 22 '10 at 13:08

Doing research with undergraduate is currently very valued: at small schools, as JSE points out, because it helps improve the educational experience of your students. At larger schools, bringing in outside undergraduate students in the summer is a great way to advertise [recruit for] a graduate program. Including a solid undergraduate project always improves a grant application.

At the same time, undergraduate research cannot take the place of your actual research. I think that most people who are serious about UG research would agree that UG research in math should be primarily about the student's experience and growth, which means that more often than not the actual science will have to take a back seat to making the student a better mathematician.

It sounds like you're afraid your CV has too much of that. You can rightfully boast about this, but (in an interview) I would make it clear that you don't intend it to be your whole research program.

Addendum: This is only marginally connected to the original question, but I thought I would mention a few useful resources for those who want to look into the what and how of undergraduate research.

  • Pretty much every year including 2011, Aparna Higgins and Joe Gallian offer a minicourse, Getting students involved in undergraduate research at the joint meetings. A lot of what they do is to explain what to expect and how to get started. A lot of people seem to have unrealistic expectations (I imagine our OP does not since he has a track record).
  • The UG poster session at the joint meetings is a good place to get an idea on what people are doing. Plus, they always need more judges! ;-)
  • Remember though that the joint meetings poster session represents the cream of the crop, so check out your regional meetings, they usually have a poster session too.
  • Check out the NSF REU site
  • Here is an example of a non-REU program I'm familiar with. I'm sure there are more.URSI (Vassar)

This is in no way meant to be exhaustive of course!

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It's also worth mentioning that the NSF likes it. It's a "broader impact." – Ben Webster Sep 22 '10 at 2:52
In my last grant application, two reviewers specifically mentioned (in a positive sense!) the fact that I included potential undergraduate research projects. – Dan Ramras Sep 22 '10 at 7:10
I had the same experience as Dan with my last grant proposal. But for a standard research grant (as opposed to an REU grant), undergraduate projects definitely won't get you a grant by themselves. Instead, they may help move an already strong proposal from the large "good enough to be funded if only we had more money" pile to the smaller pile of actually funded proposals. – Mark Meckes Sep 22 '10 at 15:30
Another non-REU program: – Qiaochu Yuan Sep 22 '10 at 16:12

A former student of mine in a tenure-track job at a liberal-arts college tells me that publishing research papers with undergraduates is highly valued there.

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I agree. I have a close friend who has long been on the liberal arts college circuit. Over the years, I have watched his publications shift from mostly singly authored on the topic of his thesis to mostly coauthored with undergraduates, on rather more accessible topics. A few years ago, after many temporary positions he landed a very nice tenure track job. This leads me to think that some (rather good) liberal arts colleges distinctly prefer research in which undergraduates can be involved. – Pete L. Clark Sep 22 '10 at 6:11
Liberal arts colleges focus mainly on teaching,so this emphasis on publishing relatively low level papers with undergraduates makes sense.It'd be interesting to check to see if Darthmouth-a top-notch school which in unusual among the power schools in that it has long emphasized teaching focus-has a similar slant among it's faculty. – The Mathemagician Oct 1 '10 at 19:07

One should also be aware (or beware!) that what a college's webpage or promotional materials advertise may be different than what a promotion and tenure committee values which may in turn be different from what an individual department values. Within a department faculty members may also have widely differing views on the value of undergraduate research (as UG research -- most people want good papers no matter who the authors are.) At some schools, like my own LA college, the research of a tenure candidate is evaluated mainly through letters written by people in related research areas. These people are likely to evaluate you solely on the basis of the (perceived) quality of your publications. Thus, if one has to make the decision between fewer or weaker publications with undergrads and more or stronger publications without undergrads, you really need to take institutional structure and personalities into account. It may be impossible to do this without reading the faculty handbook and without knowing the individuals in the department. I suspect most people find themselves constrained and guided by circumstances and don't actually choose one or the other.

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