For many aspiring academics, visiting professorship is a stepping stone along the road to a coveted tenure-track position. For Juan Burciaga, who just started his second year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics at Bowdoin, it has been his whole career.

Since completing his undergraduate and graduate work in Texas, Burciaga has moved around from school to school, most often as a visiting assistant professor at small liberal arts colleges. 

“I went to the University of Texas at Arlington, which was a small state school, and Texas A&M, which was a large state school, and by the time I finished my Ph.D. I knew I wanted to work at a smaller, more focused teaching environment.”

Having had appointments at so many different institutions—ranging from Mount Holyoke College to Colorado College, Vassar College and Bryn Mawr College—Burciaga has a unique perspective on different schools and their approaches to education.

“The process of visiting a new school and looking at how that school views education...I’ve found that very invigorating,” he said. “It really is nice to visit places all over the country, who have a definite idea that what they’re doing is important, that what the students will be doing is important, and that the best contribution they can make is to prepare the students.” 

By visiting different communities, Burciaga has learned a variety of approaches to education and applied them to his own research and scholarship. 

“My interests change quite a bit from place to place because my interests are not only in physics research but also in what we call ‘the scholarship of teaching and learning’—how students learn and how we teach. My projects have either been in physics, computational molecular physics, or in this area of scholarship of teaching and learning.”

Despite earning a breadth of experiences throughout his time at other institutions, Burciaga says being a visiting professor comes with a lot of challenges.

“I wouldn’t say there is freedom [as a visiting professor], because you’re not really free,” said Burciaga. “You’re tied to the job search.” 

“I talked to one of my colleagues who is a visiting professor, who has only been here for two weeks, and she is already starting to apply for positions and has already had a phone interview...That’s why I tend to look for multi-year positions when I can get them, because I can unpack and think seriously about my research before I have to start packing again.”

Related to the constant job search as a visiting professor, Burciaga highlighted the expectation that visiting professors have at least as large a teaching load as tenure-track faculty as a misstep by many institutions. Visiting professors are either looking for a new appointment or teaching for the first time, both of which are reasons that visiting professors should have lighter teaching loads than their tenure-track counterparts, said Burciaga.

As far as Bowdoin fares in its treatment of visiting professors, Burciaga says he has been very happy here. According to Burciaga, the College’s dedication to its faculty and students, as well as an expectation of excellence from the faculty have been very positive aspects of his time here. 

“I think for many visiting faculty, the question of what happens afterwards is a very common question,” said Burciaga. “Bowdoin’s respect for the faculty is a very powerful argument to stay here. Bowdoin’s reputation is another one. And the students are a very good one because ultimately we choose to come to a place like this because of the students.”