Tuesday, August 27, 2013

VAPs? A professor comments

Shawn (an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic) comments on visiting assistant professor positions:
In a tight job market, it is hard to condemn postdocs from taking VAPs since a job is better than unemployment. If an individual aspires to a tenure track or industrial position however, I recommend remaining a postdoctoral researcher as long as it is feasible/tolerable. Even a second postdoc may be a better stopgap measure than a VAP. Even though there appear to be problems aplenty with VAPs, other job seekers may find them less problematic. Retirees interested in a second career are likely less sensitive to long-term job prospects, uncertainty and compensation issues associated with VAPs. I know several people in this category, and all bring a unique perspective to teaching that has added value for their students. Laid off workers from industry may have similar problems to postdocs breaking out of academia once they have taken VAPs, however. This is a catch-22 in reconciling present realities with future opportunities.
You should read the whole thing to get a sense for what he says to say about the positions (a lot, really.) It's worth your time. Also, in the comments, an even more pointed statement against VAP positions from someone who appears to be a full professor at UC Irvine:
I too can cite examples of VAPS being a dead end or, at least, a ticket to endless more VAPs. In fact, a friend at a prestigious primarily undergraduate institution told me the following. "To hire VAPs, we dangle the possibility of giving them the inside track for tenure-track jobs in front of candidates. But the truth is that we conduct a full search for tenure track positions, and the VAPS really don't help them. We view a VAP the way any future employer does, as a lesser position indicative of some weakness in their employment history." 
(There's a more pie joke in here somewhere!)

(What would the VAP system look like, if it were fairer? Would it be full of mid-career chemistry professionals? or retirees? In an ideal world, would postdocs be allowed to apply for VAPs?)


  1. Isn't this just adjunct professor positions under another name?

  2. The 'visiting' part should be the giveaway, no? You're only visiting, you don't live here!

  3. When are we going to stop blaming unemployed people for their own dilemma? It feels like once someone is unemployed (through bad luck, bad choices or whatever) they become persona non grata. It's disturbing.

  4. The academic job market is by no means tight. Look at Chembark's list of recent hires and moves. Just about every major chemistry department has or is hiring and that is not slowing. This site is supposed to be moving towards a "quantitative understanding" of the market. Any data?

    1. Anon6:12:

      I'm not sure who you might think is referring to a tight academic job market (or lack thereof). I suspect that Prof. Burdette was referring to the overall Ph.D. chemist job market (both academic and industrial) that postdocs would be entering.

      Regarding a quantitative understanding, yes, I have projects in the works, but they're, um, in the works.

      Anon, what would you like to see?

      P.S. Do you really think the Chembark list is a sign of the health of the academic chemistry job market?

    2. New & Improved STEM™August 27, 2013 at 8:00 PM

      "The academic job market is by no means tight."

      I'm looking forward to reading that blog, cause that's the funniest thing I've read all day.

    3. Matt Hartings e-mails to comment:

      "...that while academic hiring seems to be OK (from a national uni and dept level), we've got a SERIOUS glut on the labor side. Let's say it's a good year and we've got 100-150 openings ... how does that compare with the number of postdocs JUST at Harvard (or MIT/Caltech/Stanford/etc). That's not a healthy market."

  5. I was in fact referring to the job market as a whole as Chemjobber suggests. The academic market isn't terrific, but it does appear to be "healthier" than pharma and other traditional employers of chemists. I believe the the availability of TT positions has always been limited relative to demand. There always seem to be more people interested in that career path than there are available positions (get involved in a TT search and you will see hundred of apps that don't warrant serious discussion). From that perspective, things probably aren't that much different, although there do seem to be more adjuncts/VAPs/etc. hired to do jobs that could go to TT. Those losses may be offset by increases in departments who have started/expanded graduate programs.

  6. After a few years of watching some graduates jump from one VAP to the next, I agree, they are a dead end. If I got stuck as a VAP, I would just start training for another type of profession on the side. Have people gotten to the tenured world from one? Yes, but it involved some serious moves and personal sacrifices.

    Higher education is a ponzi scheme, but education is a religion now, so no one is allowed to question any of its practices, costs or outcomes. They are all sacred and work in mysterious ways...