I’ve been a math postdoc at University of Calgary for two years now, and I’ll be here for at least one more year. The teaching environment is very pleasant, and the resources are abundant. Nonetheless, there are a few non-teaching aspects of it that bothers me. The way that the teaching is handled in the mathematics department for postdocs is that we are hired as a sessional instructors, with a no strings attached for the teaching. A course is assigned to us, with a fixed number for the pay. There are no benefits coming with it, and no pension associated to it. However, after 1 year of being a sessional instructor we can apply for $200 reimbursement in professional development activities.

During the first semester that I was here, I didn’t have a teaching duty, but I was offered to teach a course for extra pay, which I took it. However, by the end of semester I realized that I haven’t been paid for my teaching at all. It turned out that it was an error of the accounting personnel of the department which hadn’t put me on payroll (teaching salary is separate from my postdoc salary). Eventually, I got a lump sum for my Fall semester teaching in the following February. A year later when filing for taxes, I realized that getting paid all of it in February wasn’t a good idea, since it resulted in my paying about an extra $1000 in taxes for that year. The case isn’t resolved yet. Well, to be honest, I still don’t know how to even go after fixing this!

Let me tell you a little about how our department counts teaching. Each “regular” course (whatever that means) in a semester counts as one “half course equivalent”, which means a sessional instructor gets paid about $6250 for teaching it, and it counts as “one” teaching duty for a full time faculty member. It turns out that the department counts teaching, for example, a Calculus 1 course (Math 249 or Math 265) with up to 180 students as 1 “half course equivalent” for the faculty, and up to 240 students as 1.5, and up to 360 students as 2 “half course equivalents”. That is, if you are a full time faculty here with teaching load of 2 for the Fall semester, all you need to do is to teach a Calculus 1 course with 360 students in it. The weird part of it is that you don’t get to know any of these things by default, and I couldn’t find any documents in the department talking about this, maybe for lack of trial!

What I have experienced here as a postdoc (sessional instructor) though, is that all of the courses that I’ve taught with 240 students still counts as 1 “half course equivalent”, that is I get paid about $6250 for it, and also I am supposed to run one of the labs for whatever course I teach. I haven’t had any concerns regarding this so far, until there came up a situation about my teaching duties next year. It all started with a simple confusion, in my postdoc contract I was supposed to be teaching one course as part of my responsibilities. So, as I said above, the way that this is handled is that they reduce my negotiated pay by around $6250 and then hire me as a sessional instructor and then pay that amount to me via a separate series of pay checks. The confusion was that the associate head of teaching of the department thought I am supposed to teach two courses as part of my duties, he then scheduled me for one large section (360 students) of Calculus 1 (Math 265), which my new postdoc supervisor objected, as it will consume too much time from me, hence I won’t be able to spend enough time on my research. After a few emails back and forth between people (I wasn’t involved here) I was told that I will be teaching the large section and get paid for two half course equivalents, and even as an “exception” they’ll drop the lab for me! It sounded like an awesome deal. So I agreed.

Until last week that they sent me the contract to be signed, which said I’m getting paid for one half course equivalent. Upon inquir”es” it turned out that the department has decided that “it is pretty fair” if I teach a large section instead of a small section + lab. I’ll probably take the offer, but it leaved me with this question that why there are such double standards segregating the faculty and sessionals, and why the policies in the department are not transparent.