Thursday, March 04, 2010

Knowing When to Move

Not long ago I considered some general issues related to faculty moving to other institutions, but consider the following specific situation of an FSP reader who e-mailed me:

- in final year of tenure-track; file to be submitted this summer
- reasonably confident of getting tenure
- salary low relative to peers in department despite (self-described) stronger record of grants & publications (did not negotiate when position started; has not brought up salary issue while an assistant professor)
- thinks there may be more opportunities to collaborate at other universities
- but: overall generally happy at current institution

Questions from my reader:

1. Should I let my colleagues know that I am unhappy about my salary and want to move?
2. Should I let my colleagues know that I want to move all all? or should I keep it to myself?
3. When I apply for new positions, should I apply for an Assistant Professor position or I am limited to associate professor positions?
4. If I move, can I take my lab equipment with me if I bought them from my grants?
5. What will happen to my graduate students? Can I ask them to move with me?

The answers to the first two questions depend a lot on some unknowns: How likely is it that you will get another offer in the next year? Do you have one or more trusted colleagues in your department in whom you could confide? Is there a way you can bring up the issue of your salary dissatisfaction with your chair, in an exploratory way at least? (assuming there is not a salary freeze at your institution). Do you know whether promotion typically comes with a significant raise? (at some institutions it does not, but it's worth checking). If you got a significant raise, would you stay or are you determined to leave because you think you will have better research opportunities elsewhere?

Getting another offer might be your only way to get a significant raise, but you should be prepared to take that offer if your current university fails to provide an appealing counter-offer.

If you apply for other jobs, you can decide whether you are interested in positions that are advertised at the Assistant Professor level, and, if it becomes relevant, later explore the possibility of being hired with tenure or coming up for tenure within the first year or two, if that seems like a reasonable thing to request given the tenure standards. Or, if you only want to consider positions that come with tenure, you can confine your search to positions that are open at that level. Note that some departments will also consider hiring at the Associate Professor level without tenure, but evaluate for tenure within ~2 years of hiring. This doesn't help you avoid going through the tenure process (perhaps for the second time), but the more senior title signals recognition of your accomplishments, and may make a tenureless move more palatable.

If you move, you can take equipment with you if it was purchased from a grant. There may be some exceptions depending on the details of your grants and your institution's policies, but these are things that can be discussed and negotiated.

Re. graduate students, there are various options, depending on their preferences and how deep they are into the graduate program. It may work best for them to (1) remain where they are (remotely advised by you, perhaps with some visits back and forth), (2) switch advisers, or (3) move with you. You can ask them to move with you, but be prepared to find a solution for them at your current institution if that is best for them.

That's my advice, but I posted these questions here because I think a range of answers might be very useful, and I hope that others will chime in with other advice and comments, even if some of it is conflicting. Conflicting advice can help you see which issues have the widest range of possibilities, even if the variable advice makes the situation seem more confusing.


zed said...

Personally I would wait to apply for jobs, and wait to talk to most colleagues about possibly leaving, until after your tenure decision. It is your colleagues after all who will be putting together your dossier, and they may not be enthusiastic about doing this if they think you will leave. And if salary is the main problem with your current position, I say bring it up with your chair, very directly.

Anonymous said...

Why should your colleagues vote to grant tenure if you demonstrate that you don't have a commitment to their Department? You might as well take a nice long piss on their shoes.

Anonymous said...

One thing that might be worth considering - if you leave just before your tenure decision, it might always look on your cv as if you didn't get tenure. If there is no urgent need to move, why not get the whole tenure thing out if the way before applying for other jobs. But keep a lookout for opportunites!

Anonymous said...

In my field (one of the social sciences) it is assumed that you will be on the market the year you go up for tenure. This is convenient because there is no stigma attached to the process and your colleagues don't get upset with you. The lab issue is not relevant for us, but as far as what level of job you apply to, there are some schools that can't give you tenure if you don't already have it, and a lot of places will be willing to hire you as an assistant or an associate without tenure, and then put you up after you've got a track record of a year or two of teaching and service at the new place. Don't restrict your search, and indicate willingness on that front.

female Science Professor said...

A tenure decision does not rest on whether a candidate's colleagues think s/he might leave or not.

And I never worried how it might 'look' when I left my first university for the second. I had good reasons for wanting to leave, and I had a solid record of research and teaching. Academics move around all the time for many reasons.

BB said...

"It is your colleagues after all who will be putting together your dossier..."
@Zed: Actually, no, it is you who puts together your dossier. Unless you use dossier to mean something other than I use it.

John V said...

An outside job offer makes the department think the candidate is wise in developing options, and motivates the administration to view the candidate more favorably, to give a bigger raise, and to move faster in granting tenure.

Everyone's life is more tense, but an outside offer in hand generally helps the tenure process a lot.

And no, one does not have to leave if the local raise and perks do not match the outside offers. Irritating as it is, soliciting an outside offer with no intention of taking it unless tenure is denied almost never puts one in a bad position. Anyone who can't think of an excuse to decline a great offer isn't thinking hard enough.

Anonymous said...

Speaking from a rather inexperienced point of view, but... One of the things I've always heard about women in male-dominated professions is our resistance to ask for things our male counterparts ask for, like raises. In this case, it might be useful to take Zed's advice and be very direct with your chair about a raise.

Anonymous said...

Dr O.,

If you take Zed's advice -- go to your chair "very directly" with no competing offers -- there is a good chance you will get nothing. If you cannot garner interest outside the department then why should they go the distance for you?

Yes, this is a rather unpleasant part of academia and it benefits the aggressive more than the deserving but it is the way things work at most places. We have a retention award system that _requires_ competing offers to get in to. It was designed with full knowledge that it would waste huge amounts of time. Yay administration!

Charles said...

Dear FSP, with regard to taking grant-purchased equipment with you when changing schools: my understanding is that the grant is made to the university, and not the PI, and therefore the university holds title to equipment purchased using those funds. It's certainly true that such a move could be negotiated, but the home institution holds the trump cards in such a play.

Anonymous said...

I know one of my former colleagues left for another university after she was granted tenure here. Every one in the department knew that she was looking for another position. That did not affect her tenure decision.

Azulao said...

Really, you can take equipment with you? Because my previous institution chased me down for a four-year old laptop with a bad display, even though I'd purchased it with grant money.

Cost them more to retrieve the smack than it was worth, I'm sure.

female Science Professor said...

Most of my colleagues who have moved from here to there have taken some equipment with them; these things can be negotiated in some cases, but it seems not in all.

I didn't mean to imply that you can't turn down an offer if you get one. I should have worded that better. I was expressing my personal philosophy of only pursuing or being receptive to offers that I might actually accept. Of course once you find out more about another department, it might not seem so appealing to move there and you can decline an offer, even if you actively sought it.

Anonymous said...

1. It seems a bit passive-aggressive to "expect" your colleagues to know that you are unhappy with your low salary when you have seemingly done nothing to correct the situation in the past 6-7 years (no initial negotiation, no interim salary negotiations) and then spring this on them in a threat to move if they don't fix the situation. I know that at our institution, money is saved up specifically to give a big raise at the time of promotion. But you might want to discuss the options with your chair without an overt threat to leave.
2. I think it is generally expected that people will be looking for positions in the year they are up for tenure. It can only hurt you if you don't. You don't have to advertise the fact that you're looking, although having a trusted colleague in your department or a neighboring department that you can talk to would be useful.
3. I would apply for any position where you feel you would be a good "fit", regardless of the level at which they are advertising. I applied for a senior-level position three years into my first tenure track position because I though the department was a perfect fit for me. They agreed and brought me in as an assistant professor instead of hiring a senior person. At this level, I think you should have some personal contact with the hiring committee before formally applying - you could call up the chair of a search committee for an assistant professor level position and talk to them about the possibility of coming in at a more senior level. Most departments, if they have the flexibility, are happy to bring in the best person, regardless of their experience level. Along those lines I'd suggest that you strongly negotiate for coming in with a tenured position if you can. Why go through the tenure process twice if you don't have to? At the very least they should be able to make you an associate prof without tenure and put you up for tenure in a year or two.
4. Depends on the situation, but this can be negotiated with your current department and funding agency.
5. Most of my grad students moved with me, a couple did not. I wouldn't talk with them about it unless you are serious about moving (i.e. when you have an offer in hand). They know you're up for tenure and might not be around long anyway. But do give them as much notice as you can. It will be a traumatic event for them and they will need help and time to make their decisions.

zed said...

in my department colleagues both vote on the tenure decision and put forward a 'file' (dossier) to the university on behalf of the candidate. That is, a committee brings together material the candidate provides, plus letters, plus summaries of teaching, service, research, plus student evals and so on. In other words, your colleagues put a significant amount of work into making your file as strong as possible, and in my experience, they may resent putting the effort into this if it's thought a candidate will be leaving.

I also did not negotiate when I started, and a few years in I pointed this out to my Dean and got a raise. It never hurts to ask. If you do get an outside offer, all the better, but why not try the direct approach first?

Anonymous said...

On what you can bring with you if you go:
(a) Anything that is not considered "capital equipment" and thus tracked by the inventory system at your place.
(b) Stuff bought on grants that are still in progress. Transfer the grant, transfer the equipment.
(c) Stuff bought on expired grants depends on the grant and how your place chooses to interpret the grant policy.

For capital equipment items that were bought on startup but you nevertheless wish to bring, you can "buy" it with your startup from your new place at a reduced price, determined by the the assets depreciation person at your old place.

I moved from institution A to B and brought almost everything with me. I left behind things colleagues were going to need, and I paid for a few things with my startup from my new place. But all my screwdrivers and wrenches and boxes of gauze and whatnot came with me. It's a huge time saver not to have to replace all the little stuff.

Your mileage may vary, however, as institutions may vary in what they track and whether they want people to leave the stuff behind or leave the lab space clean for the next occupant.

For readers not currently looking to move, but thinking they might in a few years: buy your major equipment on grants and pay your people from startup. Your grant dollars go farther, because there are no indirect charges on major equipment, and there's a far better chance you can take it with you if you go.


Anonymous said...

can someone explain to me why the other colleagues in the department would care one way of another if you are thinking of leaving? I mean, unlike in a company or research lab where you work in teams and leaving suddenly without warning can leave your colleagues in a tough bind and scrambling to find a replacement so as to not have the entire team fall behind schedule, in a university each professor is their own island and profs in a department don't really work together in the sense of depending on one another (unless you collaborate officially). thus, why should it matter whether or not to inform them now or later?

plam said...

Anonymous@9:53: I can think of a couple of (actually reasonable) reasons why colleagues might care, leaving aside unreasonable feelings that the colleagues are being left behind: 1) gotta do a new search; 1') someone's gotta provide new startup funds for the person's replacement; 2) gotta replace the person's teaching, potentially involving teaching courses that people might prefer not to teach; 3) potential leftover students have to be accommodated somehow.

Having said that, I still think that it's totally reasonable to switch places if it makes sense.