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Why I didn't take that tenure-track job

December 6, 2010, 11:58 am

Some of you know that I turned down a tenure-track job offer earlier this year, but you may not know why. Here’s the story.

I applied to a large number of tenure-track positions, at many types of institutions, and ended up landing four campus interviews this past spring. Since I have a pretty strong teaching record (the result of several years as an adjunct before my postdoc) and because my publication record is good but not stellar, all of these interviews were at teaching-oriented schools with ambitions for increased research but not much funding. I went into these interviews with an open mind and a desire to like these schools and see myself pursuing a career there.

The first interview was at a small branch campus of the same university where I did my postdoc (I was at the large R1 flagship campus). I liked them, they liked me. The college was small, but the science building was relatively new and had great teaching labs and other teaching resources. The startup funds were astonishingly low, but throughout the interview process the committee and I discussed ways that they could build some infrastructure that would allow me to conduct my research. The teaching load was very high – either 3 lectures per semester, or 2 lectures and 2 labs per semester, which somehow was presented as a preferred alternative to the 3/3. Even though the funds were low, and the teaching load was high – and the location was, shall we say, less than desirable – I was seriously considering it.

Two days later – on a Friday – the provost called me to offer me the job. I let it go to voicemail – that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? – and panicked for a bit. I still had three more interviews to go. I wanted to have time to see other possibilities and maybe have some negotiating room if I had other offers. But, perhaps best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, right? I called the provost back, and the job was offered to me, but with a low, non-negotiable salary, a low, non-negotiable startup, and I was told that the infrastructure that we had been talking about was NOT going to happen. Huh. Then I was told that they wanted an answer by Monday. Double huh. I asked for one to two weeks to make the decision. The provost said that s/he would talk to the search committee chair and let me know.

Sunday night, I was at the airport en route to my next interview. The provost from school #1 called back and I again let it go to voicemail. I listened to the message – to learn that they were withdrawing the offer because I asked for time to make a decision.

Seriously. All I asked for was a very short period of time, and they withdrew the offer.

I did not return that phone call. To hell with them. I went on to my remaining interviews, performed pretty well (I thought so, anyway), and did not receive any more offers. In retrospect, that’s a good thing. None of these places seemed like particularly good places to work. At all of them, the teaching load was high (usually a 3/3), the research funding was low, and the departments had ambitions, which meant that expectations were pretty damn high. At every interview, when I met with individual faculty and they told me what it was like to work there, I had a horrible, panicky, sinking feeling in my gut that told me DO NOT WORK HERE. Even though nearly all of the faculty members seemed to like their jobs and their colleges, and most of them seemed like they would be great colleagues, at some very basic level I knew that this was not the right job for me. So I went looking in a different direction – and landing my current job almost immediately. It’s a much, much better fit.

And that’s why I turned away from the tenure-track path, and don’t feel bad about it at all.

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