i've gotten some conflicting advice on taking a "starter job"; what do you guys think? I.e., taking a Job at an R2 or similar, with the expectations/hope that you will be going on the market next year, or two years down the road. One trusted mentor says this is a terrible idea, that it is better to take another postdoc then to take a job that you don't see yourself in forever, because going on the job market every year cuts into your productivity, and it creates bad blood to take a job only to leave it. Another trusted mentor says that because most people switch positions at some point in their career, it's not a bad idea to take a position in which you might be perfectly happy for a few years, particularly if you think you can stay reasonably productive. I'm trying to decide if I should take another year of postdoc at a top University in my area, or a tenure-track position at an R2 (which was the best offer this year). I do think that the tenure-track position would be fine (and I'm grateful for it!) but does taking a position in a less prestigious University cut me off from pursuing a similar position at a top-tier University later on?
Date: 07 Feb 2015 03:02
Number of posts: 8
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How long have you been a post doc? There is also the danger of being a post doc for "too long". Some universities might wonder, essentially, why you haven't yet gone to a job or they might want someone closer to their graduate training for whatever reason. In my discussions with folks, it has always seemed like 1-3 years postdoc is great, 4-5 is ok but pushing it, and 5+ is worrisome. I am sure different SCs will be of differing views on this matter, but this is what I've heard from at least a few different sources.
Also, I was highly disappointed in my advisor's advice on the job market when I was looking for jobs. She was of a prior generation, when jobs were easier to come by, and thus made it seem like this "easy" endeavor. I didn't expect a cakewalk, but my entire dissertation committee thought my application would be highly competitive at R1s and it simply wasn't given the steep competition. In other words, be careful to take into consideration that there are many many great candidates out there, and there is definitely an aspect of luck to the job search — or "fit" as SCs always like to call it.
If it were me, I would take the R2 TT job so that you at least have some job security and — who knows — maybe you'll love it. At the very least, it'll relieve pressure on the job search in years to come. Apply to dream R1s along the way if you so desire, but I'd have a hard time saying no to a good bird in hand.
Ultimately — go with your gut!
I've thought about this very thing when I was on the market several cycles ago. I do know of some prominent, current, psychologists who started out at even regional universities or mid-range SLACs and worked their way up to top-notch research universities. It doesn't seem common, but it happens. That said, I'm a bit wary about the prospects even more than landing any TT position to begin with.
If you've never worked as TT faculty, your first year is going to be rough, and your research productivity is likely to take a hit. In my experience, if you have a 2/2 load as a new faculty member, you can keep enough research and writing going to knock out some publications your first year. Things get sketchier, research-wise, the heavier the load gets. Unless you have research that involves very easy data gathering and is "hot topic" enough to warrant easy publication, once you get to a 3/3 load or so, I'd be hesitant to expect much for publishing during your first year unless it's merely wrapping up manuscripts you already have in progress. Things get more brutal if you'll be teaching classes you never taught before (new preps) or need to update old preps to use a new textbook (using the same textbook but a newer edition is seldom a big problem).
I share this because three things will be decisive factors in getting hired at a top-tier university: 1) do you bring-in big grant money, 2) do you land publications consistently in top-tier journals, and 3) do you knock out a ton of publications each year? Your teaching load and access to internal funding for research will really impact all of this. It takes money to get a great research program off the ground. If your institution doesn't fund you to setup snazzy equipment, pay research assistants, and travel for collaborative work, you might struggle a bit. And, the teaching + service expectations will be a huge factor.
So, my advice is to consider what the R2 offer you have involves for teaching, offers for internal research and travel funding, and especially teaching load. I used to think that I could still knock-out a ton of research with a 3/3 load or 4/3 load. Wow, was I wrong. Couple such a teaching load with service expectations and putting out 1 to 3 good publications per year is an accomplishment. Unless you land something revolutionary, such a publishing record probably won't get you to the top.
Hope this helps!
You should take any TT job assuming that the most likely thing is that you're there forever. If you think that you'd like the R2 position just fine but you just WANT something better, then you should take it (probably). But if you know you wouldn't like it and it would be purely a stepping stone, a postdoc might be a better choice.
It also depends on your exact teaching load, the specifics of your startup package, research releases (that you get with your package or that can be applied for pre-tenure), pre-tenure sabbatical, and whether/how much undergraduate students (or grads!) taking independent study or senior thesis from you can "count" as part of your in-load teaching. Also whether you can have a lab meeting that is a course that counts in your load. Two more factors — how many new teaching preps you will expect (total within the first 3-4 years, and unique preps per semester), and whether or not you do undergraduate advising (and how much). All of these things will have a huge impact on your ability to produce. If it's a hard 3-3 load that has no releases for research, lab meetings, independent studies, etc, you will never move up to an R1 (but could to a good SLAC, maybe). If it's a flexible 2-2 then that's good, especially if there are small classes, or a lab that counts as double, or a lab meeting class. Also, that sounds like more of the type of position you'd be happy in longterm anyway, even if you can't "move up."
I first took a job at a school that I knew I'd like permanently, but that I didn't WANT permanently. I left after three years for a location upgrade and slight school upgrade. I got the sense that I was a much stronger applicant and could have gotten a major school upgrade, given the rest of the activity I got on the market that year (but preferred to prioritize location). It was a PAIN applying for jobs. But I knew I made the right decision not to continue with a post-doc. Part of that was made easier because I did like the first place where I was.
The question is- if you take a second post-doc and never get another tenure track offer how would you feel? The job market out there is tough. Are you very confident that you are and would be competitive for an R1 school? Remember too that starting over at a second post-doc will delay your productivity, right when you need publications.
Many great post-docs end up at large public schools with 3/3 teaching load or R2 universities.
Some advice for future applicants: If there's any chance that you'd prefer staying a postdoc over accepting a particular faculty job, don't apply in the first place.
I agree with others above. If there's absolutely no chance you'd consider staying long term at the faculty job, don't take the job. Imagine how it will feel to be at a job you really don't feel committed to. Those I know who've done that have been miserable and they've had a hard time staying productive and giving themselves any real shot at developing a liking for the faculty job, connecting with their colleagues, etc. The job market is also time consuming. Looking every year can get in the way of productivity.
It also depends on geographic limitations. Are you open to moving around the country, or are you looking at a specific area? If you are restricted geographically, the job market will always be tough.
If you take the job, be prepared to go in with an open mind and give yourself every intention of staying. Treat it as if you will stay there long term. Having that mindset will allow you to know if you really do like the job. You can still keep up your research productivity to give yourself opportunities to leave if you so choose.
Regarding comment above: Yes, some people start out at regional schools and move up. But not many. It's good to be optimistic, but it's not good to count on beating the odds — especially when the odds are so stark.
Not mentioned above: How sure are you that you want to stay in academia? Are you sure you'd rather be at an R2 school than in industry?