Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 5)

Moving from the RESEARCH TRACK to the TENURE TRACK…

There is no delicate way to talk about moving from the research-track to the tenure-track. Many institutions have Assistant Professor for Research positions (on the non-tenure track, also sometimes called Assistant Professor(R) and may be similar to Instructor positions). These are useful positions, because typically they allow you to write and submit your own grants, but in reality they are glorified post-doc positions in many cases. These are generally soft-money positions- meaning that the institution doesn’t contribute much (if at all) to the salary of these employees. Different institutions have different requirements for giving these titles, and different policies about how the salary gets paid. I am not trying to be overly negative about these positions (I had one myself, after all)- because actually they give you something you didn’t have as a post-doc- the ability to write/submit/and hold a federal grant…. And this is enormously valuable prep and pay for if and when you seek a tenure track position.

Make no mistake though- a tenure-track position will not be handed to you as the next step up in the department where you are non-tenure track faculty. You will have to go out on a national job search, and probably get a written offer from another institution- before the institution where you are non-tenure track faculty will offer to put you on the tenure track. Why? I hear you cry. It’s pretty simple. Departments like to hire candidates that they think are competitive in the market, and that are going to be able to successfully get federal grants. They have to use their judgment in many cases on that second part- but as for the first part- how can you possibly be considered competitive in the market if you apply for only one tenure-track job…. In the department where you are currently non-tenure track? Right- you won’t be.

I have met a whole lot of two-academic-science-career couples where ½ of the party is in a non-tenure track faculty position… usually the woman. From personal experience I know that these fine and capable women will NOT be offered a tenure track role without a going on a national job search- even if the tenure-track (or tenured) part of their party is federally funded, a great colleague etc. Unfair, maybe- shortsighted, probably- and in fairness there are lots of reasons for this that would take me pages and pages to elaborate upon (note both PP and Drug Monkey’s comments). So- if you are in a non-tenure track position and have aspirations for a tenure track one (regardless of your situation) don’t WAIT for a tenure track job to fall from the sky, and don’t wait for one HOPING that somebody notices how hard you are working and how valuable you are. YOU MUST ACTIVELY GO ON A FULL FLEDGED JOB SEARCH, even if what you want is to convert your current non-tenure track position into a tenure track one…

Ok, gotta go- getting questionable sideways glances from other soccer moms… plus I have twice almost gotten hit with the soccer ball while writing this. It’s a sign.


14 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 5)

  1. Wow, I never would have thought that a complete job search would be needed in that situation. Thanks for the insight!

  2. As you say, the rules vary by institution – and also likely by mentor and mentor’s influence, if relevant. I moved from non t-t to t-t (at least nominally) after landing an R01 – see the point made about ability to apply for such; but even than I needed to go on the market to get a ‘real’ t-t job (elsewhere). The fact that I was coming *from* a t-t position, though, made the search much more productive, I think.

    Unless you manage to get _independent_ funding, I’d be amazed to see a move from non t-t to t-t in most cases. Which is too bad for many folks who frankly deserve the shift, given that they are the ones running the lab and doing the work!

  3. Academic- Its complicated, and most people don’t realize this until they are in the middle of it-… unless, of course, they have some really fine mentoring.

    Ewan- You are quite right on both points. The mentor’s influence can be very important in moving one from a non t-t to a t-t position, after all they have some influence with their colleagues..

    And on the second point- and I wanted to make this point in the post but didn’t because the soccer balls were flying… it’s even difficult to move from non-t-t to t-t in the same institution WHEN YOU HAVE A FEDERAL GRANT OF YOUR OWN (this is not without problems of its own as you point out). I have, in fact, met someone who had two federal grants (R01 AND R21), and the department/institution was reluctant to promote this person to t-t (which frankly, during this climate seems odd). So you’re point is well taken use some of your time as non t-t to get a grant… then you may still have to go on a national search.

    The bottom line is that you won’t make the move from non-t-t to t-t unless you actively pursue this promotion in all the right ways- and even then, chances are slim… not none- but slim.

  4. I have, in fact, met someone who had two federal grants (R01 AND R21), and the department/institution was reluctant to promote this person to t-t (which frankly, during this climate seems odd). So you’re point is well taken use some of your time as non t-t to get a grant… then you may still have to go on a national search.

    The reason for this is very simple. The institution/department is already getting the benefit of a t-t faculty member–including indirect cost allocation–without having to bear the cost of using up a t-t “slot”. Why on Earth would they spend the opportunity cost of giving up a t-t slot to a person they already have who is bringing in grant money, when they could use it to bring in an additional person from outside.

    This is why only a genuine credible t-t offer from another institution will give the current institution incentive to promote: they then are forced to weigh the cost of losing the non-t-t person and associated indirect costs.

  5. PP-

    Yes, of course. So to convert to t-t from non t-t while staying in the same department… best to:

    1. have a federal grant, and
    2. show the current department that you are aware of where the door is and have one foot outside with your IDCs and a plane ticket in hand…

  6. Two additional brief observations.

    1) familiarity breeds contempt. Really. This is stupid and sad and all that but I have seen case after case after case. It is not just the fact that the institution already has you at non-TT cost and without losing a TT slot. The fact that you are already there decreases your value despite the fact that a similar level institution is delighted to have you and your own department will turn right around and hire your clone.


    2) if you are going to pull this national-job-search thing, you have better be ready to actually leave town. Meaning your spouse is also searching and ready to leave with you for dual-careers.

  7. Ah yes, the weirdness of departments about internal hires – one of the many reasons that I didn’t elaborate on… and as for the two body problem-

    Yes absolutely- you must be prepared to actually really and truly get on that plane…

    And Yes– BOTH members of the 2 academic-career couple should be committed to the other location…

    All excellent points.

  8. I have a non-tt position and I think the key, as you and others have pointed out, is recognizing the huge variance in these positions. My department has a fairly large number of non-tt faculty, many of whom have their own semi-independent research programs and NIH funding. The most important determinant of whether a non-tt position ends up being a glorified postdoc is, I think, whether the PI/department chair is committed to furthering the non-tt faculty member’s career.

    As for switching from non-tt to tt, I completely agree that a full job search must be performed. But it’s definitely doable, and I even know a non-tt faculty member who transitioned straight into a tenured Associate Professorship.

    A while back, I wrote a couple of posts on various PhD-level “tracks” that are available in academia, and their relative advantages and disadvantages. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send you the links.

  9. yikes! I’ve been told that an outside offer is essential for getting a tt inside position (and been pursuing jobs elsewhere w/o success – interviews, no offers); but my alternative strategy was to get an R01, show the higher ups how valuable I am and then they’d offer me tt…but I see your point about that perhaps I’m deluded…sigh. Guess I also have to prod spousal unit to go on national search with me next season…

  10. neurowoman, it is not impossible that your institutions would offer you tt. I am fairly familiar with at least two research units/depts/institutions in which historically a whole LOT of appointments were made the way you described. The offers were fairly explicit- get a grant funded and you can have a t-t appointment. It is also the case that a whole host of my closest peers got appointed in what appear to be a similar fashion although I don’t know the institutional details in those cases.

    to toot the DM horn a little bit, you may want to take a gander at:




  11. Mad Hatter-

    Nice posts all. Very informative. My institution is significantly different than yours in terms of non-TT appointments- perhaps this has to do with the established ‘culture’ toward non-TT people and women… or perhaps with the fact that the rules are less defined… or even that its a youngish place compared to many so there is not that much experience dealing with these kinds of positions….

    But… I’m the only one of two in the sciences in the institution that suscessfully went from non TT to TT. Perhaps I will tell an abbreviated and anonymized version of my own story at some time in the future.

    Drug Monkey- It’s becoming clear to me (as my closest collaborator always says) how very nice a few extra IQ points would be for keeping up with you 🙂 .

  12. Drug Monkey- It’s becoming clear to me (as my closest collaborator always says) how very nice a few extra IQ points would be for keeping up with you

    very funny. It’s the PP that has the towering capacity, not me. I’m just a humble plodder…

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