Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Do tenured professors think about leaving?

From the inbox, a good question:
"Do tenured chemistry faculty consider leaving their positions, if so, why?"
I am most certainly not a tenured professor, but I have a few ideas as to why someone might leave such a position: 
  • dissatisfaction with the money that their tenured position offers, or knowledge that they could earn significantly more in the private sector, or 
  • a belief that their institution was no longer (or never was) meeting their ideals, and the knowledge that another position might be better aligned with their values, or 
  • being lured away by an industrial or governmental position, or
  • a belief that leaving their position would bring them more personal satisfaction with their job. 
Readers, what do you think? Are you a tenured professor? Are you thinking about the greener grass of industry? 

36 comments:

  1. You missed one possible reason - this is a field where people don't get to choose where they live. Most people chasing after professor jobs are just grateful to have gotten a job offer. It might later become apparent that either they or their spouse hates the location.

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  2. I've been told by tenured professors (making their way from associate to full) that they often have to apply for other jobs to incentivise their department/school to increase pay/match the pay at other places. With that said sometimes their school wont meet other schools offers and they jump ship never having intended to.

    As an assistant prof I must say I see tenure a tool to leverage a new position, and consider after getting it here (fingers crossed) moving to a less busy, sleepier part of the US to enjoy life a little more.

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    1. I once discussed this with a well-known professor who had moved his research group. He started his career at a department known for frequently denying tenure. This motivated him to job-hunt when he was coming up for tenure review, and he ended up getting a better offer elsewhere even though his tenure was approved.

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  3. Just about to leave in fact. Universities have changed in the last decade. Signifigantly less support for science. Too much woke activism. Administrative over-reach and growth has made all former perks of the job vanish. Lowered standards and grade inflation mean chemistry students are losing depth, passion, and ability. It degrades the joy of teaching. It is not the job it used to be.

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  4. The answer is yes. Tenured associate professor here at a large public master's-level university in the western US. I'm not thinking about leaving for industry (I don't have any skills that most companies would want) but for a different teaching position, tenure-track or not. At universities like mine faculty must do all course development and grading themselves (we don't have TAs) and we teach a full load each term plus advising/service duties. This leaves no time at all for lab work, but increasingly we are expected to manage a research group and obtain grants despite not having release time in which to do so. This is bad for tenured faculty (we still have to do our jobs, if we want colleagues to look us in the eye) and worse for assistants, who now think they have to do MIT-level research with nothing more than $30k in startup while teaching two full courses plus labs.

    On top of that, I despise where I live: Ridiculously expensive, monotonous climate, full of constantly-drunk tourists (but, as someone else said, this was the one position I was offered so not a whole lot of options). My partner couldn't take it and now we're divorced. So I'm burned out. If I'm going to be worked like a dog for just enough money to pay my mortgage, I'd rather do it at a high school or community college where the expectations are lower. Job security isn't everything, any more than money is everything.

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    1. I'm getting the vibe that you are at one of the Cal States. Are you in northern or southern cal? I'm going to be starting at one of the Cal States this fall, and I am curious about how similar or different the cultures are across campuses.

      May I ask which places you are considering moving to?

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    2. If you're willing to leave an email or LinkedIn ID on this public site I'd be happy to talk privately.

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    3. I can serve as go-between: chemjobber@gmail.com

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    4. Anon11:44: please contact me if you'd like to speak with Californian - Chemjobber

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    5. High school teaching? Get ready for another kind of stress; students who hate school, or who openly challenge you and become discipline problems. Go to HS, and you will probably regret it and realize what a great job you had. I was a HS teacher and it was tough, and I really realize how faculty have it easy, especially R1 deadwood (6 figs, no labs).

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    6. I have a friend who teaches high school, and his biggest complaint is that he feels like a teleprompter-reader. He's given a canned curriculum with very little freedom to do the job his own way.

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    7. That and no child-left-behind, so that you cannot fail kids that hate school and dont study, and the teacher is responsible for getting them to the next grade.

      One way to get around this is to teach HS at a private school, but you are still going to have to deal with discipline problems. That is what I did and it drove me to grad school. When my experiments don't work at least I don't have to yell at them to shut-up (also, cant use "shut-up in HS, its too extreme.

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    8. I think not failing kids became a thing around the same time skipping smart kids ahead went out of style. I've heard stories from old-timers about classmates who flunked multiple times and ended up in classes with much younger kids. I graduated from HS in the 90s, I only know one kid who repeated two grades, and no one got skipped ahead.

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    9. I attended a masters-terminal school in the midwest that had plenty of TA support for grading and teaching. Perhaps you just live in the wrong area...

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  5. Tenured professor here at an R1 institution. Yeah, I've thought seriously about leaving. The primary reason is that I don't feel appreciated. Due to "salary compression" and a period where there were no raises whatsoever in the department, my current salary is just barely higher than those of recently hired assistant professors. There are people in my department who have objectively accomplished less than me getting paid more than me, including one guy who got tenure under highly dubious circumstances and hasn't done jack squat then. I'm one of the few people who can be trusted to do essential committee work and the only thing that I've gotten out of it is more committee work.

    The earlier points are true - most places will only give you a significant raise if you come to them with an outside offer.

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    1. Yea? Think of the post-docs who are paid a fraction of what you make with little chance of ever having any kind of decent job that you have. You are lucky.

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  6. just look at "chemistry bumper cars" and you'll see plenty of people with tenure move around.

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    1. Anyone have a link to 2020 bumper cars?

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  7. Absolutely. Combinations of opportunity, career, lifestyle, family. I left a permanent academic job for government R&D just over 11 years ago for a combination of all these reasons. Life and priorities always change and sometimes you have to bend for life rather than forcing a fit. I love what I do now and have grown in ways that I never would have if I had clung to academia.

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  8. I was at a large university leading a research group with undergrads, MSc and PhD students and the occasional post-doc all funded from both government and industrial grants. The year I resigned I had 5 publications and was granted tenure and promotion to associate professor. I resigned and took a non-tenured position at a new university just starting a science program (with a 20% reduction in salary). Why? If you do not have a faith component to your worldview there is no answer I could give that would make sense. I felt, and continue to feel, that I was called to this position. Now, as a value added part of the decision I had always felt that I was interested in more of inorganic chemistry-chemistry-science then I was able to experience in my silo. At my current position I get to teach intro physics and a lecture course on the history of science all of which feeds me in ways that just teaching inorganic chemistry never did. I love looking at the world through the lens of chemistry and helping students share the view. But under it all is a Titus 2 faith that I live but do not push on my students. I guess that means I would fall in the second catagory. Thanks for this.

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  9. I'm young tenured associate prof. I'm happy enough with my pay and location, but I have given some semi-serious thought to leaving from time to time. This is because I am in a situation where doing research is very difficult, yet I am more passionate about research than teaching. I have had a very hard time attracting both funding and students (and there is a vicious cycle where once established you need both to get results to get funding to pay for students). So my research potential and many of my ideas are not fulfilled. My expertise is in a niche area of chemistry that is still applicable to making drug-like molecules, so I could probably convince a pharma that I offer a somewhat unique skill set. I think despite my lack of industry experience I could convince somebody to take me on. It would be nice not to be in a constant struggle for money and resources, but at the end of the day my job does not stress me out if I forget the opportunity costs of not doing research. I think I would find fast-paced pharma more stressful.

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  10. Thank you all for this. I am a new assistant professor at a Midwest state PUI. I came into this position expecting to move at some point but major budget cuts have only made that appear more likely. I honestly do wish for a job with better work life balance (married with three small kids) but worry about leaving my "dream job" since I both enjoy teaching and view it as my major strength (I don't think I could handle just research). I appreciate the input everyone has expressed.

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  11. I'm an assistant professor who took the only job offer I got, although I was very excited to get an offer from this particular school. I'm coming up for tenure soon (likely to get it), I love my department, the students I work with are awesome, and the pay vs. cost of living is great. In addition, my wife has found good employment options that work with our family's schedule (we have several young children.) However, we have discussed the possibility of applying elsewhere in the future for a few reasons: (1) very rural location, which affects K-12 school quality/resources, access to healthcare, limits social interactions and opportunities for cultural events, entertainment, dining, etc., (2) the winters are brutal - I may be one of the only scientists who, tongue-in-cheek, is cheering for global warming, and (3) the changing dynamics and priorities of the university and administration, although I realize that no employer is going to be perfect. At the present time, we are happy here but as my kids get older, this will definitely be an ongoing topic of conversation.

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  12. After starting a new PhD program at my private institution in Southern California I've been dismayed at the 15-25% of students that appeared to have learned nothing in their Masters program other than entitlement. In addition, adjusting for inflation, my salary is effectively the same it was when I was hired as an assistant professor 20 years ago, despite the $40k in pay raises I've received.

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  13. All of these posts remind me of what I think is a sad truth about academic science research and teaching---in general, there is a good correlation between the amount of pay you receive and how good you feel your job is, and, maybe for that reason, how your personal life goes and how long you will live. If you are not paid well, you probably wont like your job that much and for good reasons--out in the middle of nowhere, unreasonable expectations, long hours, crappy bosses or administrators, not so good job security. I would hope that if your job pays well you would have a more stressful job to compensate for all those people that suffer with poor job security and crappy pay, but that is not the case. Its the Matthew affect in play. The people at the top of science have the best lives. Hence, why nobel lauretes live so long!

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  14. I am recently tenured at an R1, well-funded with a great group of students. I am happy with the institution/department/location/salary/etc., but still think about leaving probably once a week. I can see myself being happy doing other things. I tell my self it is just fantasy / 'grass is greener' thinking, and 90% of the time I convince myself this is true. After all, who would leave a tenured job that pays pretty well and offers so much freedom? Especially after putting in the years of effort and sacrifice (also from my partner and family) to get here? The other ten percent of time I find myself spending hours dreaming of alternate realities in which I'm doing other things. like managing a restaurant, making furniture, using other skills I developed when I was young. This sometimes becomes a significant productivity issue...

    I've realized that impostor syndrome is an issue for me. I don't often feel confident that I know enough to be doing what I do. I attribute a lot of my successes to luck, and I often feel like an interloper. I fraternize more with admin staff or support services staff than with other faculty. I do not feel like an interloper in those circles or others I interact with outside of academia.

    The thought of doing the same kinds of things for the next 20+ years is just daunting.

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    1. That's heart-breaking. I have analogous daydreams, and I too struggle with imposter phenomenon. (I'm actually willing to bet that MOST faculty feel like imposters, which ironically is just about the only thing that makes me feel like I DO belong.)

      I think the problem is that we reflexively compare ourselves to people even further out on the tail of the distribution than we are. I'm no "rock star," but it's too easy to to compare myself to people who are. (Seriously, did you see the C&EN "Trailblazers" profile on Carolyn Bertozzi the other day? Sheesh....)

      Wishing you the best. You sound like a great mentor. Please consider counseling, even if only to help you to figure out what to do next.

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  15. During budget crises, I have thought of leaving my (regional state university) institution for the reasons others have articulated- increasing demands, decreasing resources- but as a tenured professor at PUI, there appear to be very very few opportunities to move laterally; I'd be starting back at assistant professor anywhere I went. That makes leaving academia entirely look more tempting, or even taking a non-tenured position that would let me focus just on teaching. I also am not sure how much longer tenure will survive, and even with it, I'm only one financial-emergency-spurred university rearrangement away from losing my job anyway.

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    1. I'm not sure your chances at PUIs would be that bad. Have you explored that option and been told you'd have to start over at the bottom? I'm at a PUI and I think, if we knew why someone wanted to move to a place like ours and had some evidence that they were a good teacher, we could at least talk about coming in with tenure. But, yeah, most job ads aren't written as if they were looking for lateral moves from bigger places and if you just show up in the pool there might be concern over why you're trying to move (or if you really want to or are just trying to get other offers to improve your current position).

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    2. I've often wondered this myself: how much mobility is there for tenured faculty at PUIs? Personally, I am only aware of one case where someone moved from a PUI to an equivalent position at another university. But this was an unusual case, the person is exceptional in research (by PUI standards) and moved from a top private liberal arts school to an R2-type institution. I think it would be very difficult for the typical over-worked and under-supported regional public university prof to build up the CV needed to justify such a hire. All the other cases of senior hires at PUIs that I am aware of are all for admin-type positions, e.g. a dean or director of some big program.

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  16. I am a full (tenured) professor at an R1, and I occasionally think about leaving academia. For me, it is because of the lack of equitable treatment of faculty, even at the same rank. The 'bad actors' tend to be rewarded for their bad behavior and the 'work horses' (like me) get penalized with fewer resources and/or an extra load, whether that's in the form of more (or less lucrative) service and/or teaching, a higher bar for research productivity, or even more hours spent working.

    I'm also wearing thin by how much discrimination I have faced (both implicit and overt) over the years and the impact it has had on me both professionally and personally. I feel it more now at the full professor level than I did as an assistant or associate, but I also feel that I have more power to call it out since I have tenure and rank, but I am also exhausted from having to do that so much. When I share what I have experienced with friends who work outside of academia, I often hear shock and how the culture is so different in industry, where inclusion is more of a norm (although I'm sure that probably depends on the company).

    I have stayed in academia despite all of that because I love having the freedom to work on what I want for my research, and I enjoy teaching and mentoring students.

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  17. Any updates from University of Memphis? Thanks

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  18. I find the comments from tenured faculty looking at industry to be really interesting. As someone with PhD and postdoc from R1 institutions who has spent his career (~ 13 years) in industry, perhaps I can offer some other perspectives.

    It's true that industrial research is (generally) financially well-supported, and that work-life balance is (generally) better (though this is usually not true at startups).

    The trade-offs, of course, center around the lack of security in your work -- both in your employment (you can lose your job at the drop of a hat through financial troubles, M&A, general restructuring) and more subtly, in what you actually spend your days on. Projects get cancelled on short notice and divisions get reorganized or disbanded for reasons completely unrelated to the quality of the science being done.

    My experience is that the psychology of these transitions (e.g. completely abandoning a favourite project on a week's notice) can be really hard on people. We're all trained in grad school to have a deep emotional attachment to our work -- this keeps us going when things don't work in the lab -- and most people have a strong attachment to their lab-mates as well. In industry, though, you need to build a kind of "emotional detachment" that insulates you from sudden changes in priority, funding, and leadership. Not everyone is able to do this easily.

    The even bigger picture, which was also difficult for me to appreciate until I'd swum in it for a while, involves the differences in the "moral" goals of academia and industry.

    The goals of academia are clear -- it seeks to train young scientists and push the frontiers of knowledge, though each professor approaches these tasks in different ways. The goal of industry is to create or preserve value for the company -- that is all. Creativity, novelty, and hard work are only valuable to the extent that they serve that goal. You could spend your career working on something truly new and beneficial to the world -- or you could find yourself working on me-too technologies, on trying to reverse-engineer a competitor's product or circumvent their patent, on figuring out how to substitute an alternative raw material so you can give the company a $0.05/lb lift in margin. Your job is to get those problems solved quickly and cheaply -- intellectual elegance has no place.

    This is the way the world works, and it makes complete sense, but it also seems to catch people fresh from academia very off-guard -- which is why I think it is worth mentioning.

    No doubt there are a lot of benefits to working in industry -- those mentioned above, and especially the prospect of seeing the product of your labours being actually used by millions of people -- but there are trade-offs beyond the obvious, IMO.

    My two cents.

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  19. I think about leaving my tenured position at an R2 institution every day, for multiple reasons:

    1. My institution is poorly managed and has increasingly marginalized my department.
    2. My department has chosen to pursue a research emphasis that is a poor match to my own interests, so I do not benefit much from our resource investments or our grad student recruitment efforts.
    3. I do not enjoy mentoring undergraduate research students as much as I thought I would. This is partly because, without PhD students, it is very difficult to maintain critical mass, so too much of my mentoring time is spent repetitively teaching basic lab skills.
    4. So in this environment, I cannot work on research problems that match my ambitions. Plus I'm down on academic science in general: too many hammers looking for nails, too many fashionistas who would rather be first than be right, and not enough focus on solving real-world problems.
    5. I'm a better-than-competent teacher, but I'm tired of having to spend so much time on essentially remedial instruction.
    6. I constantly reflect on the effectiveness of my teaching methods and seek to improve, but I'm weary of the smugness of "active learning" gurus and the insinuation that I'm to blame for high DFW rates because I haven't gone all in with their latest trends. (The "traditional lecture" bogeyman in the active-learning literature is a tightly-defined straw man. Virtually no one teaches without using at least some of the techniques they advocate.)
    7. Student problems: I hate dealing with too-frequent academic integrity violations. And it's not that I don't care (quite the opposite, in fact), but I'm also weary of constantly having to deal with students' mental health issues.
    8. I understand the trade-off with job security, but yes, pay and especially work-life balance are factors. (The latter would be a little easier if I didn't care about the quality of my teaching.) I have a solid family life, but this is partly because I made deliberate choices that surely hurt my academic career.

    Some of these are local institutional issues, but at this point in my career it is highly unlikely that I would be competitive for a lateral move to a university with a more conducive research environment. I still want to do research and have been trying to move toward more applied work. So I'm certain that I WILL leave academia for government or industry when I find the right opportunity. But I can afford to be picky for now because we are in a livable location (reasonable cost of living, easy commute, comfortable climate) and my family is financially secure. I'm unhappy, but that's definitely a first-world problem.

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  20. It is so frustrating that I just got rejected by a University I had onsite interview last month. So far I have had two on-sites but failed both. It is so heartbreaking that I do not have mood to prepare the phone-interview next week. I pessimistically feel that my academic job search this year is over and I am considering whether I should leave academia or not.

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    1. Hang in there..don't over-prepare!! All the very best!!

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looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20