Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How do pre-tenure professors switch institutions?

I don't know much about this, but I know it happens - how do pre-tenure application assistant professors switch institutions?

I know that such switches do happen. One imagines that most of them take place more or less out in the open, and some probably involve some kind of  backchannel discussions between the applicant and a search committee chair (and, I presume, the chair of the department.) I figure there must be a faculty visit of some sort, probably conducted out in the open? How do professors negotiate the confidentiality/privacy issues, yet still undertake the traditional seminar and question-and-answer sessions?

Anyone got any stories to tell? The e-mail inbox is open (chemjobber@gmail.com). 


  1. I was on a search committee this year, and several of our applicants were already in tenure track (TT) positions at other institutions. These applicants went through the same application and vetting process as everyone else, the major difference being that most candidates asked us not to advertise their seminars publicly. We were happy to oblige, as we often extend the same courtesy to the (small) applicant pool from industry. In my experience, pre-tenure faculty are interviewing for one or more of the following reasons (in no particular order):

    1) Leaving a toxic or volatile department (more common than most people might think)
    2) Poor alignment with values or goals (e.g. at a research school but want to be at a teaching school, or vice versa)
    3) Moving to accommodate spouse or significant other
    4) Moving to a preferred geography to be closer to family, hobbies, urban centers, etc
    5) Unlikely to achieve tenure at current institution (funding, student quality, politics, etc)
    6) Looking for leverage to negotiate a higher salary, more lab space, or an accelerated tenure decision at current school (less common)

    It's probably different elsewhere, but we don't usually have any kind of bias against faculty who are trying to leave for one of the reasons listed above (except 6), unless it becomes obvious that they are actually the source of toxicity or volatility in the department (this is often apparent during a phone interview or onsite visit).

    "Shopping around" after the 3-year midterm review is quite common, and candidates with 3 or more years of previous experience are eligible to negotiate an abbreviated tenure clock based on prior service.

  2. I remember we had a meet-the-speaker event in grad school where the speaker had been a professor at the U of Chicago for about 7 years, then moved to another department. The speaker told us that he had job-hunted because Chicago had a reputation for frequently denying tenure. He ended up receiving tenure, but also received a better offer somewhere else.

  3. One way is they get poached. Another is they want to leave. A third is they expect or have been told they won't get tenure. Easy enough to interview since they will be going on their tenure tour in the last few years as Assistant Prof., giving as many lectures as possible.

  4. I've moved twice pre-tenure. I started out at a 2nd tier large state university, but knew from the get-go that I wouldn't be staying long. Bad location (geographically), bad dept politics, and poor support for research. But it was the best offer I received as a postdoc (bad year for academic hiring overall). 2 years later in I ran into a colleague at a conference who basically just asked if I was happy where I was. 6 months later my lab moved to an academic research institute out west and spent about 5 years there. Did well, got grants, pubs, etc., but was really missing the university setting. Recently hired back into a traditional department with promotion, but had to wait a year for tenure since I wasn't technically tenured yet. Definitely an unorthodox path that cost me some time relative to my peers, but worked out in the end. In these types of cases personal contacts are key. No way I would've been able to move twice as just another application in the 'pile'. Plus, if you're moving large grants with you it changes everything. Amazing how money cuts through a lot of the bs.