Day: November 15, 2017

Thoughts on Moving on the Tenure Track

lyra211 had a question after a recent post on moving in academia:

Do you have any sense of whether similar advice applies for lateral moves between liberal arts colleges? I genuinely do love my current department, and would be sad to leave, but there’s pretty much squat for job opportunities for my husband where we live, and I know there’s an impending retirement in a department at a similar liberal arts college in a more desirable geographic location — it would be a significant step up personally, and a lateral move professionally (there are pros and cons of the two institutions that more or less balance each other out). Should I talk to the faculty members I know there, let them know I’m interested, and ask them to keep me in mind? Is it better to wait until they have a job ad out (which will probably be after I have tenure, since I’m in year 5 now), even though it would probably be an ad for an assistant prof and I’d be associate?

There were some good comments after lyra211’s post, go check them out.

Here are some of my thoughts.

Is your department healthy and generally supportive of you? Do you feel they are invested in junior faculty? Are you certain that you’ll get tenure and that the department would work hard to keep you in the face of a competing offer?

Or do you feel that your tenure is uncertain, or that if they heard you were leaving, they’d say “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out”?

My department is of the former kind, and we really work hard to make sure junior folks are happy and productive. I can say for a fact that nobody would begrudge a well-performing faculty member for leaving, especially if there’s a personal reason. It happened a few years ago; a nearly tenured faculty member had to leave as there were no opportunities here for his wife, even after the department, college, and the provost’s office have tried everything under the sun. (In fact, there were options, but she wouldn’t settle for a career downgrade, and kudos to her, so the husband moved to the big city where she had plenty of business connections.) It was a bit sad, but everyone understood and was supportive in the end.

A few years ago, we brought a pre-tenure faculty member in from another institution. She did get a retention offer from her original place but didn’t take it. Both places went out for tenure letters for her at the same time. A few years later, a senior faculty member from the original institution wrote nice letters for awards for her. Successful people appreciate other successful people and understand ambition, as well as other reasons for which people move.

I’ve also been on searches where a current assistant prof applies because he/she wants to upgrade or get access to certain facilities or collaborators. It’s common in the cover letters of applications to ask the search committee not to disclose to the candidate’s current institution that the candidate is looking elsewhere  until or unless he/she becomes a finalist. I personally like to see applications of successful people on the tenure track, as they ideally already have some papers and grants under their belt.

However, if you feel that your department has ill-willed, vindictive folks in it, or that for whatever reason your tenure is not a shoo-in, it might be a good idea to wait until after tenure.

But, in any case, there is no harm in discreetly and non-committally talking with friends or trusted colleagues outside the institution about how your department is great, but that the opportunities for your husband are limited, and that in principle you’d be open to thinking about other schools somewhere down the road that would solve his career problem. You can also say that you are up for tenure and don’t want to jeopardize that, but who knows what future holds. I am hoping they’ll get the hint. I don’t think anyone is naive enough (although maybe some are evil enough) to go ask your current colleagues about you unless you’ve given an OK to contact them.

Overall, it really depends on how the department culture and your standing within it are.

If you are a superstar, the department is healthy with many successful people, then they’ll see your desire to move as a natural career step. They will try to keep you because you’re a valuable colleague and an asset to the department, but people should not take it personally, as some sort of treason, that you have your own life and decisions to make, which might take you elsewhere.

If the department has a cult-like feel (you must belong… or else…) or for whatever reason you are made to feel that your tenure isn’t certain, I’d wait till tenure (since you’re already close) and then promptly split. You probably don’t want to stay in this type of department longer than necessary anyway.

But other people should know to be discreet, or should if you explicitly tell them; if they are not, they are most definitely not your friends.