Viable Plan B?

As some of you may know, I’ve been on the TT job search for a little while now. I began my first round of searching a year and a half ago, in the midst of a crappy economy, few available positions, and a plethora of postdocs fending for their future. The market has improved this year, but things are still pretty tight, and I have yet to hear from any of the places to which I’ve applied. With Hubby’s job going so well, a new baby, and a desire on both our parts to start our life (read: buy a house and settle down), I’ve started thinking about alternatives. I’m not giving up on “Plan A” yet; I just want to know what my options are, and decide which of those options would be acceptable for a long-term career.

My more regular readers may also recall that my mentor is close to retirement. I’ve imagined this providing me a large research void within to maneuver as a new TT prof, as well as an impressive collection of strains with which to start my lab. Another possibility has been presented by a couple of faculty in the department – stay on here as an assistant professor and (eventually) take over my mentor’s program when he retires. As convenient as this may sound on the surface, there are several possible downsides to consider:

1. Will I [ever] be considered a colleague, staying in the place where I’ve been a postdoc?

2. Will I actually be offered a tenure-track position, or remain an at-will employee that can be fired at the first sign of financial weakness?

3. Will I receive the same types of start-up funds available to other junior faculty hired during an external search?

4. Will I be dinged by study sections for not moving on when applying for grants?

Of course, the first three questions are largely dependent on this department, which is unfortunately experiencing quite a bit of flux right now. As a result, it’s hard to predict what kind of support, if any, would be provided. If this option was available, I would need evidence of support included in my contract. Alternatively, the insistence on keeping me on as a second-class citizen would be a good indicator for how this scenario would play out long term.

The fourth question, regarding how I’ll be viewed by future study sections, is even more ambiguous. I’ve trained in good labs, developed a solid research program from scratch, and have a record of productivity and funding potential (training grant recipient and a decent K grant score). But will all this be overshadowed by the fact that I couldn’t secure a TT position on my own? I’m pretty sure it will have some effect, but how much? Is it even worth considering this possibility? Or should I scratch the idea and just hope for an offer somewhere else?

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9 thoughts on “Viable Plan B?

  1. At my uni we hire non-TT assistant profs. These folks are generally not ever offered a TT job and don't get the same kind of start-up. Our faculty code requires that TT spots be filled by a full search (though I suspect it is possible to be the top candidate before the search starts). All of the non-TT folks either stay off the TT (no teaching, but soft $) or go somewhere else for a TT spot. However, if you can get a contract that includes start-up $ then it seems you would be good to go.

    I would say that many (all?) of our non-TT profs have NIH R01 support. And I noticed that there were a lot of non-TT folks that applied to our recent search that also had R01 and other $. So it seems to be that study sections don't really care as long as you have dept. support and facilities to do the proposed research.

    As for #1, that will depend entirely on your colleagues.

  2. Do it. Pursue this option just as hard as you are pursuing a job elsewhere. Perhaps even harder because the odds are good if local faculty have mentioned this.

  3. My thesis advisor did something similar at the start of his career- it had its ups and downs, but overall it worked out for him (I think). He's quite successful and happy now. I don't really want to say more on a public post, but if you'd like to know the details, email me (wandsci at gmail dot com) and I'll give them to you as I know them.

  4. I left for a postdoc and came back to my PhD institution as TT faculty. (One of my Phd advisors passed away, the other moved). There have been advantages and disadvantages, but mostly advantages – even though people here knew me as a clueless student. I'd say the advantages of knowing people, systems, protocol and having a network outweigh the negatives.

    So I guess the question is whether you can get a permanent offer, if not now, eventually. I don't believe you get much/any startup otherwise.

    I am not sure about study sections. I'd think you could even argue this makes you better situated to succeed where you are. I sure know many people who never left my institution since grad school and are well funded.

    It is worth pursuing as an option nevertheless. On the job market, always be open to possiblilites. Good luck

  5. A few professors in my PhD department did their PhDs and/or post-docs there and are well-funded and well-known in their field. I'd say pursue it while still looking for other positions.

  6. Would external reviewers even necessarily know that you hadn't gotten the job via a full search, even if you had been in residence as a postdoc during the search?

    Seems like a good idea to take a job however you can get one!

  7. This is actually happening to a friend of mine. He is taking over the lab of a retiring professor after being a very productive post-doc and then research faculty. The other faculty don't seem to care as they see it as a sink or swim situation for the person taking over the lab. Also, he is not getting a start-up package, so I get the impression that they don't see letting this guy have a go at taking over the lab as “hurting” anything. It does seem stressful b/c he will have to get funding ASAP, but it's a job and he gets a salary.

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