Friday, January 29, 2010

Academic Shopping Around

By request, here are some of my thoughts on applying for, and possibly interviewing for, another tenure(track) position when you already have one.

My expertise on this particular topic comes from having left one university for another before coming up for tenure at the first place, and from various situations that have arisen related to my possibly moving from my current university (post-tenure).

Pre-tenure moves

As with most such issues involving life and career, there is no one "rule" to follow regarding whether you should apply to other schools when you are already on the tenure-track. Getting an offer at another (better or peer) institution is a well-known route to early tenure or at least a retention offer of some sort, and there are many reasons why you might want to try to do this.

If you want to apply for other jobs, you should do it. You should try to get the best job you can and not worry (too much) about what your colleagues will think.

If, however, you are very happy where you are and are wondering whether you should look around anyway, I suggest checking out a few things, such as: (1) What is your department/university's track record with retention offers? What has your department chair and/or the relevant dean done in the past?; and (2) Is it worth it to you, economically and/or emotionally, to go through the process of applying, interviewing, and negotiating?

This is a tricky topic because if you interview at another university and have no intention of accepting an offer if you get one, you are wasting a lot of people's time and another institution's money. I know that this is how the game is played, "everyone does it", etc. etc., but whenever I am on the receiving end (i.e., in the interviewing department) for someone who is just trying to get something from their existing institution, it's hard not to feel some hostility towards the person who just wasted our time and department's resources.

At the same time, I don't like it when hiring committee members spend time cynically wondering about the motives of a tenure-track or tenured candidate. I think we have to take everyone's application at face value, assume (perhaps delusionally) that they are sincere, and try to hire the "best" person for the position.

There's no good solution to this. It is how the game is played.

I've heard that women are more reluctant than men to go out and get other offers and negotiate a retention offer, owing to feelings of loyalty or insecurity or some other emotional factor(s). I'm sure there have been studies about this, and in my own case, I definitely found it difficult to apply for other jobs while I was working hard to succeed in my existing job, which I liked very much. Nevertheless, I applied for other jobs because it was the only way my husband and I were going to find academic jobs anywhere near each other. I therefore stayed in the job market for personal reasons, sincerely trying to get another faculty position that was better for my family and me.

I wasn't quite close enough to the promotion year for it to be realistic for University 2 to hire me with tenure, even if they would have considered that, but I got credit for my years at University 1, and came up for tenure not long after starting my new position at University 2. Some Assistant Professors may be hired with tenure at their University 2 if that university needs to do that to recruit them and is convinced they would easily get tenure anyway.

Each institution is different. I have several colleagues who were hired as Assistant Professors at a new university after they were already Associate Professors with tenure at the university they left. This may occur when University 1 is not even close to being a peer institution to University 2, but I think it is always worth asking if you could be hired with tenure.

Another option for "senior" Assistant Professors moving to another university is to be hired as an Associate Professor without tenure, but to be evaluated for tenure soon after arriving. You still have to go through the tenure process, perhaps within 1-2 years of arriving at your new institution.

Summary: If you think you might like to be somewhere else and appealing options arise, go for it. If the thought fills you with dread and exhaustion and you are content where you are, don't do it You're the only one who can determine whether it is worth it to you.

Post-tenure: active

If you want to leave your current institution for a better department, location, planet etc. or if you want to leave for personal reasons, just as in the pre-tenure case: go for it. Apply for whatever looks appealing and don't worry about what other people think. You can tell some trusted colleagues in your current department and even get a reference letter to attest to your sanity and awesomeness as a colleague. Then, if you get an offer and it's better than your retention package (relative to your reasons for applying in the first place), you can make your decision.

Another possible scenario is similar to one discussed for the pre-tenure cases: i.e., one in which you feel you need to get an outside offer to get ahead at your current institution. But again, do this only if it is worth it to you overall when considering all the factors, economic and emotional.

For some people, it seems easy. I have known faculty who were continually on the job market, accumulating offers and getting retention offers in return. Maybe that's how they gauge whether they still had "it".

The decision whether to apply to other institutions for reasons of dissatisfaction with your current institution might seem straightforward, but in fact it is not, especially when your spouse/family are in the equation. Even if there are things that make you unhappy at your current institution, how do you know that another place would be better? For example, if you have unpleasant colleagues in your current department, how do you know you won't have different unpleasant colleagues in another place? If you don't like your department chair, is it worth it to move, knowing that the insidious department chair might be replaced by someone more sympathetic in a few years?

Even if another place seems like it's great (colleagues, location etc.), there may be unexpected things that could profoundly affect your academic existence. Things like: how are graduate students funded? Do you have to raise grad student salary + other expenses entirely from your grants or is there some institutional support (TA, fellowship)? At your current level of funding, what are the consequences for the size of your research group in these different economic scenarios?

Also: If you rely on certain facilities, what is the situation at the Other University? At one place (to which I did not apply but which discussed employment options with me anyway), I was told that the institution would provide a substantial match to a proposal that I could write to get equipment that I already have at my current institution. That wasn't too appealing, although in some cases it might be a way to trade-up to a zippy new set of toys, if one is confident about getting an equipment proposal funded.

I have done one "official" post-tenure interview for a senior faculty position, and it wasn't hard to explain why I might want to leave University 2 for University 3. I didn't trash University 2, but just said that I was exploring other options, was interested in some of the new opportunities available at University 3, and that I was not considering leaving University 2 because I was unhappy there; it just seemed like a good time in my career to see what other possibilities there might be. The outcome of this adventure was reasonably satisfying for most concerned.

Post-tenure: passive

This is a strange one. At least, it has been a strange one for me. I would describe my position in my field of Science as "reasonably successful". I am not a cosmic superstar, but I am also doing pretty well -- well enough to be on the radar screen of other universities. I have been invited to give several talks that turned out to be more than just a talk (i.e., stealth interviews), I've been surprised by what I thought was a routine chat with a department chair who asked me if I'd be willing to move, and I've had several other somewhat surprising opportunities arise without my seeking them out. There seem to be a few of these every year. My husband has had similar experiences, as all these institutions know they would have to hire the both of us.

So what to do about these quasi-recruitment opportunities? In fact, we have been quasi-fortunate that our current department chair was proactive at one point and went to the Dean/Provost before another institution got too far with an offer. That's kind of an ideal situation, especially if you are relatively happy where you are and ambivalent about going somewhere else, however awesome the other place is in some ways.

There are still a few institutions with which we are in a maybe-in-a-few-years-we-can-talk-more limbo zone, and I guess it's nice to know there might be options in case our department/university becomes an inhospitable place. I'd rather not spend my entire career on the job market, but since I'm not actively applying for jobs, I don't really have to think about it much.

When an established faculty member moves to another institution, the move also has consequences for graduate students and postdocs, and there are good ways and bad ways to deal with moving with or without research group members (but that's too big a topic for this post).


Anonymous said...

Apply for whatever looks appealing and don't worry about what other people think.

It seems that in order to have the luxury of not having to worry about what other people think, you would have to be in a very secure or privileged position to begin with. I would not advise this to those who haven't solidly established themselves yet or who don't have tenure yet.

Academic communities can be pretty small. Academics can also be petty and small-minded. It does matter what people think because you don't have that many options to choose from.

I have, in my career, done what I wanted - what felt right for me - and not cared what other people thought. And have suffered the consequences, some of which were not even known to me until years later.

Female Science Professor said...

My advice remains: If you have the opportunity to apply for a job you think you'd like better, and if you think you are qualified for this better job, you should apply.

Anonymous said...

Excellent and thoughtful post as usual.

As a post-tenure associate prof, I went through a round of jobhunting and interviewing. It was a spectacular amount of work (writing applications, interviewing, negotiating, second visit with spouse, in addition to normal teaching, research, service, etc at home). Way more work than I remembered from when I applied as a postdoc. In the end we stayed at "university 1" with a pretty good retention package.

I found a surprising level of understanding and support from my colleagues and chair through the whole process. The jobs I applied for looked like they would have been better, but on closer investigation, they were not. But I would definitely do the same thing again - provided the potential benefits look like they outweigh the short term trouble of applying, worrying, moving, and starting life in a new city.

I think that this topic brings up some attitude differences between academia and business. No-one I talked to outside academics (family members, friends) thought that there was any issue with considering a change of employer. In fact, my brother was doing the exact same thing (he's a CPA) at the same time. He interviewed at a whole bunch (more than 20) companies before he found the right fit.

We exchange our labor for two things - money and personal satisfaction. It's perfectly reasonable to contemplate switching employer to improve that situation, or to improve the situation for loved ones. People on hiring committees, department heads, etc, should not hold that against a qualified candidate. OTOH I think it's completely reasonable to ask such a candidate why they are looking to move.

Anonymous said...

FSP, thanks for a really interesting post. What if you're not sure whether to shop around before or after tenure?

(For the record, in case my cats are reading this and planning on tattling to all my colleagues, I am happy with my current job.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a detailed answer to my suggested question, and for such a great blog in general.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

You have left out something very important. If you secure another offer for the purpose of obtaining a retention package at your current institution, you better be prepared to actually take the other offer. If your institution comes back with little or nothing other than "that is an interesting offer, and if you think it would be better for you at that other place, we wish you the best in your new position", and you decide to stay anyway, then you have demonstrated to the entire world that you were bluffing, and you will forever never be taken seriously--both by your own institution or any other--if you try this again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, FSP, for taking the time to write such great and helpful posts.

Anonymous said...

What do you think about applying for other academic jobs in your tenure year? I've been considering this partly as insurance, partly to gauge my value, and partly to see if I can move up, but I'm a little afraid it would be viewed as selfish or disloyal to my current institution.

Anonymous said...

My sense is that "stealth applying" is meaningless - if you actually apply to another institution, word will get around. FSP, do you agree?

Anonymous said...

There's one more pre-tenure reason I can think of to leave: if you've gotten weird signals as a part of a pre-tenure review. For instance, in every pre-tenure review that I had, the teaching evaluations from one course during my first year (when I was only a visiting assistant professor) came up. I should have recognized that as a Sign. I didn't, and didn't apply for jobs that would have been lateral moves at the time. I probably could have moved during my 1st four years (when faculty at teaching-intensive institutions are particularly mobile - have teaching experience, and have lots of recent publications from the PhD/post-docs), but I didn't. And I still regret that.

Anonymous said...

I went through 2 years of faculty interviews while on a "visiting"-type position before accepting my current position. Although I survived relatively unscathed and was lucky to receive several appealing offers each year, like middle school I would never want to go through that again... Maybe I'm delusional or naive but I LOVE MY JOB and I don't want another. I also feel the risk of damage is so much higher than any potential benefit from a retention offer borne out of interviewing elsewhere. There must be other people out there who are actually happy with their current academic situations!?

Granted, it's been <10 years here, but hearing from colleagues at other places, nothing could touch what I have now in terms of how well it fits my, and my family's, needs. I'm convinced I simply could not find such a nice combination of colleagues, place, students, opportunities, support, facilities, etc., than I landed the first time. No position is perfect, but I wonder if shopping around actually breeds dissatisfaction?

Female Science Professor said...

My general advice is: If you would seriously consider another offer and potentially accept it, apply whenever there are appealing opportunities -- before, during, or after the tenure year. Don't just do it because you feel you should -- apply if you want to have other options (and would seriously consider them).

Anonymous said...

Anon@9:57, here's the dilemma. I'm happy in my current position. However, I have seen colleagues get *major* salary boosts, etc., via retention packages. While I may be happy here, am I penalizing myself to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per year by not looking at outside offers? We're not in this for the money, but it's hard to ignore amounts that would add up to a kid's college education over a decade.

amy said...

I'm "lucky" to be at a school in a small midwestern town that has very few amenities -- half of my department is on the market at any given time, and nobody takes it personally at all. They think it's kind of weird if you don't want to get the hell out of here. It's also very easy to explain to other schools why you're applying for their job. I agree with 9:57, though -- the constant search for something better can make you feel worse about where you are. If everyone in my department put as much energy into improving the local scene as we put into job applications, we'd all probably be pretty happy now.

Anonymous said...

Shopping around and interviewing JUST to get retention offers is disengenuous and a pretty sleazy thing to do (just because people do it doesn't make it right). You are stringing along a whole group of people and wasting everyone's time and money and misleading them, all for personal gain. First decide if you are serious about leaving your present job or not. If you are, then commit to that decision and if not, then don't waste everyone's time and lie to them. If you are shopping around to gather information to decide, then be upfront and honest about your intentions, that you are in information gathering stage rather than misleading them into thinking you are committed and fully engaged in their efforts.

shopper said...

Psychology studies have shown that shoppers (the studies I've read focused on consumers) who are preoccupied with searching for the best possible deal, are never satisfied and feel much more stressed and unhappy in the long run with whatever choice they ended up making, than shoppers who are searching only for a product that's "good enough" and doesn't have to be the best option.

alh said...

This is a timely post as I just returned from a meeting with my Dean, who is on the way to the Provost's office to see if he can secure a retention offer. We are all going through the motions because we have to. It is the game. But we all know that the reality is what the new institution is offering is much more than what they will offer here, and not just monetarily, but also in those intangibles that make you happy. (Quality of life issues)

When it comes right down to it, I was out looking because I'm unhappy. I'm unhappy because I'm undervalued. I'm undervalued so they won't work to hard to keep me.

Just my thoughts, I 100% agree with this post, you have to do what's right for and your family.

Anonymous said...

One of my senior colleagues at my Big Ten institution found that shopping around for outside offers will not get you a retention package; only if another (peer) university approaches you first will they consider it.

One of my colleagues at a teaching institution was told by her dean that the only way to get a raise was to get an outside offer. Is that still considered "playing the game"?

Anonymous said...

How can the University be sure that you shopped around and not the other way around? My experience is that the important thing is to get another offer, and realistically be prepared to accept it if it comes down to that...

a grad student said...

So if you have tenure at one institution and you move to another, whether or not you have tenure there too will depend on a case by case basis? Such as your professional reputation (did they recruit you or did you approach them for a job), whether the new institution is a step up from your present one or at the same level or a step down...what else??

Do people here consider retaining tenure more important than anything else? If you are tenured would you move to another institution that was a lot more attractive to you and better for your family, IF the only caveat is that you would not have tenure there?

John Vidale said...

Having been through these issues from several sides many times, I have to agree with FSP's post, which discusses numerous considerations, but draws no blanket rules of conduct.

It's always fun to disagree with CPP, however, on the rare occasions we differ. If one acquires a job offer solely to get a retention goodies, but get almost nothing, one is not obligated to do anything. There is always an excuse, and even if not, most departments are willing to believe they are so good that no offer, no other town, no other set of colleagues is really an upgrade.

I wish we could eject people who abuse the job application process (except me, of course), and it does deflate some egos when retention requests are ignored, but people seem to get over it.

A small effect of drawing retention offers is to HELP your department argue more resources out of the administration and polish the department's image on campus.

Anonymous said...

Even though I would like to get tenure, the idea of tenure meaning that you're now stuck in the same department and institution and city for the rest of your life seems very depressing. So even though I'm currently not on the job market - because I'm working hard to be successful in my present job and I'm not currently dissatisfied - I do foresee there will be a time in the future when I will want to switch jobs, if only because it just seems depressing to be stuck in the same geographical location for the next 30-50 years. What I fear is that if I do get tenure, it will make it harder to justify leaving, it's easy to fall into a rut because it's the easier and more comfortable thing to do. (plus I don't think my family will tolerate a repeat of the tenure chasing years and their stress again). Therefore I think that when I eventually get tired of being in the same place I will probably leave academia at the same time.

Anonymous said...

FSP, this is a very timely post for me (another FSP who is considering moving due to active gender discrimination). How do you find out during an interview if such things exist? Now that I am here and experiencing it, it is so clear that it's been going on for years but it was well hidden. I'm trying to battle the system from within but it's wearing me out.

Anonymous said...

As a graduate student, I am curious if faculty shopping around at other institutions tend to be upfront about their actions to the members of their labs. As already mentioned in the comments, word travels and, in my experience, even the lowly graduate student gets wind of the rumors that their advisor is hunting around on the opposite side of the country. And while the shopping excursion may not lead to an actual move, the process can end up creating a lot of stress and tension within the lab.

Anonymous said...

could you possibly comment on the issue of student favoritism syndrome? As a graduate student, I'm driven absolutely nuts, because my PI obviously favors a certain student in our lab above all others: everything she does is wonderful, everything I do is not. It is to the point that she gets a ton of guidance for her projects while I (and others) feel like I'm getting ignored, and her results go to high impact journals while mine do not. I'm not just imagining this either: my PI regularly praises her highly in front of the entire group, making obvious differences between her and us. It's hard not to feel like you are doing something wrong. I was wondering if this is a common thing, if you ever had to go through this, and maybe if you had any tips on how to deal with this? I know I'm kind of asking the wrong person (professor instead of student), but I figured you (and everyone) have probably experienced something like this once in their careers.

Anonymous said...

@ anon 7:42

My adviser shopped around some the last few years. He was upfront with me that he might be doing so when I joined the lab, and what my choices would be if he ended up moving. When different opportunities arose later, we had conversations about the process. I think my adviser is unusually candid about these things, though, and I could imagine some less understanding faculty dropping the bomb on their students only after the offer was accepted.

Anonymous said...

Great series of posts!
I have one question related to this issue. I am part of a dual career couple, I am on the tenure track (3d year) in a pretty good R1 university. My other half is not TT but wants to be, and there is little to no hope for it happening in my current institution. So I started applying and interviewing at other institutions (my other half is applying too).

My question is the following: now that I am on the TT, should I explain in my applications why I am applying or let them guess and make (wrong) assumptions as to why I am applying? Since I am actually serious about finding another institution, I don't want them to think I am just trying to get a better deal at my current place. But I also don't want to jeopardize my chances elsewhere by telling them about my "2 body problem".


Anonymous said...

To anonymous about favorite students: it happened to me too (I was not the favorite). I just got out of the situation as quickly as possible as it was poison. Sorry to hear that it happens elsewhere!

Female Science Professor said...

I wasn't the favorite of either my grad adviser or postdoc 'mentor' (see
this old post
), but (much) later they came to appreciate me more. If the favoritism shown to others is unfounded and has negative consequences for you, I hope it is possible to discuss the situation with the grad program adviser or chair.

Anonymous said...

Anon4:53, when I was in grad school there were also other students that my advisor favored. We had a very big group, so it was more like 3 students were the Golden Children while the rest of us were ignored. These students were favored not because they had greater abilities, but simply because the projects he had assigned them to were the ones that the PI was most excited about, they just happened to be the ones available at the time to get put on his highest profile projects that he was counting on to advance his career in a big way. Those of us who were on projects that interested the PI less, we got little attention. It was infuriating. However, today, 10 years later, I'm doing better in my career than any of the three Golden Children.

In a way, I'm now glad that I wasn't among the favored students because it made me more self-reliant and independent. I came to care litte for external praise and just focus on doing good work with tangible results. As long as your PI doesn't dislike you and is not actively blocking you from progressing (which I did have happen to me during my postdoc, it's a far worse problem to have, trust me!!), simply having someone else be lavished with praise and attention is infuriating but doesn't hurt you and shouldn't impede your progress.

In my case I found that the favored grad students were less hardy and less able to weather stresses of research and academia because they were so used to their advisor championing their work for them and doing the critical thinking for them that their postdoctoral years were not very successful.

I would say that favortism during the postdoctoral years has more of an impact on yout career than favortism during grad school. Why? because going from grad school to postdoc you have more opportunities to "make it on your own merits" without your advisor pushing things in your favor for you. There are independent fellowships you can apply for and as long as your grad advisor doesn't dislike you and writes a decent letter of recommendation, you can get good postdoc positions if you did good work in grad school. Besides, PIs always want postdocs because they are already trained so there are many opportunities to get postdoc positions.

But going from postdoc to TT faculty is much more dependent on having your PI rooting for you and being your advocate because now the target positions are much scarcer and are hiring decisions are hugely subjective and based on internal networking.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Competing and retention offers were such a normal part of life at LargeU, that I never gave it a second thought when TheBoss mentioned a competing offer.

I was surprised, however, at how much this goes on at PUIs. Only in my first year here at PermaU, and I've already had two institutions put out feelers. It's a strange position in which to be. I am certainly (mostly) happy with my current job, but it's interesting (nice?) to know that there might be other options.