Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Is it possible to climb from visiting assistant professor to TT assistant professor?

Yeah, I can make that jump -- or can I?
Credit: GamersInfo.net
A longtime reader asks:
[What is the likelihood that you could go from being a visiting assistant professor to a tenure-track assistant professor?]  
I learned that the department would be hiring a tenure-track position to start 2013 and started to strongly reconsider. If I got my foot in the door, helped them in a pinch, performed at or above expectations, I'd have to be a strong internal candidate for the upcoming TT job, right? I'd take a dip in pay for one year, and then once TT kicked in, I'd be back up to ~$65k (estimated from other schools in this system where a friend received an offer). Compared to what I hired in at in industry in an area with a higher cost of living, compensation might be a wash. And I'd be ~2hrs away from family instead of 12. YMMV, but to me that means an awful lot. 
A little more homework and I saw that there were already some post-docs and visiting faculty on staff, some of whom were teaching the lab sections of the courses I would be covering. Could I get suckered by an even stronger (or at least, a more entrenched) internal candidate? My guess is probably not - if the department was really happy with them, they'd be teaching the courses of the new opening and presumably the department would spread out the overload.... 
I know a lot of people feel like a visiting position is "settling" but if you ask around, maybe it's a way to get a foot in the door? Also, after successive visiting appointments (like our Quantum Leap lecturer), at what point are you unemployable in any other capacity?
While I'd like to believe otherwise, I think it's unwise to view academic departments as acting in anything other than their self-interest. I suspect that visiting assistant professor positions are more-or-less viewed as substitute teachers, and in an altogether different class from (i.e. never considered for) tenure-track assistant professors.

But I don't really know, and I am basically talking ex recto. Readers (especially knowledgeable ones?) 

10 comments:

  1. Unless you're a Lui, Bertozi, etc.; never do a post-doc at a place you desire to become TT faculty, and definitely don't do a visiting faculty stint. What they care about is your ability to bring in funding and attract students. As VF, you will not get grants and no research to help secure future grants. Hopefully you still have a good relationship with your doctoral advisor and they will let you know this.
    It is a buyers market for the universities and CCs. To many chemists, to few jobs. Unless you can bring more in grant money than they give you to start in your first five years, don't bother. FYI- funding is getting tight.

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  2. YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary? (Acronymically Impaired)

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  3. Judging by the salary range, it looks like the reader is asking about R1 schools, maybe second tier research schools. Unfortunately, they never ever hire visiting faculty for TT. Why would they hire (in their view) a teacher for a research position?

    The mentality of the visiting faculty member is "...if they really, really like me..." but there is so much more going on under the surface than your teaching chops. Don't read anything into the fact that post-docs and visitors are not being invited to teach these new openings - it is probably nothing to do with teaching quality. For true TT positions, the annual feeding frenzy for the 10 candidates coming out of the predictable 5 groups (you know the ones) will continue regardless of how many positions are actually open. Don't get the one you want this time? Just hire some disposable visiting "faculty" member to teach the GenChem/Orgo shortfall for now and wait until next year to hire a TT.

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  4. Hi guys - I'm the reader that wrote CJ.

    My guess was that such a transition would be something of a pipedream, which is partly why I ended up not pursuing the opportunity. Still, it seemed like the best-case scenario if such a transition were ever to take place.

    I can add a few relevant details that may address. First, the hiring university is a satellite campus of the state school system where I got my Ph.D a little over a year ago (from the flagship campus). Apparently, this kind of affiliation does quite a bit to the pay scale, even though the satellite campus is still a PUI.

    Secondly, to give you an idea of the size/nature of the department, the visiting prof would cover the analytical chemistry lectures that the dean of natural sciences himself taught. This opening was created because he left the university over the summer for a similar dean-level position with another state school system.

    Lastly, I was encouraged that I would get equal consideration for the TT position when I contacted a member of the search committee and he suggested I apply to one or both positions (visitng and TT). I took a job in industry right after my Ph.D., so I thought the visiting stint would put some teaching experience on my CV for the TT application.

    Hopefully that clears up the circumstances and details of this example. Thanks for those of you that have commented thus far, and thanks CJ for the forum.

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  5. Anon
    Tread very carefully. Committee members say visiting profs get equal or better consideration because they want to get the best visiting prof that they can get. I've seen this happen. If you've got a good job, keep it. Otherwise the odds are REALLY stacked against you, even if it is a PUI.

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  6. Thanks Anon 11:40.

    I was about to add in my original comment that, as CJ pointed out, this committee member could be stringing me along for the benefit of the dept. That being said, the PUI where I did my undergrad hired in a pchem prof as visiting faculty due to budget issues, but promised him a TT position before long. I'm glad to say that story has a happy ending (he has since gained tenure), but wasn't sure what outcome would be considered most "typical".

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  7. Just from my limited view:

    Off the top of my head, I know of two people who took visiting professorships (one was for two years, and the other was for one year), and when the schools hired to fill the permanent positions, those people didn't get them. However, they did get TT positions at other schools that fit them well.

    I think that taking a visiting prof position with the hope of getting a TT position at the same place is not a good approach. You should accept it for what it is, even if someone hints that it will help you get a permanent position there. You will still have to compete with the same large pool of talented applicants for the TT position that you would if you were taking a visiting position elsewhere. I do not know of anyone off the top of my head who took a visiting position and ended up at a TT position at the same institution.

    FYI the areas of focus I saw this happen in were organic, organometallic, or inorganic.

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    Replies
    1. FYI this is a different anonymous person than has previously posted in this thread or blog.

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  8. Assistant professors are hired to bring in financial support and to teach. Visiting professors are brought in to cover teaching needs, and possibly do the research of a tenured/tenure track professor on the side. Being a VP does not qualify you in any way for a TT position with a research component. If anyone at your current institution is suggesting otherwise, then they are either misinformed or untruthful.

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