I notice that coming up for tenure/getting tenure is often an opportunity to move to another institution (even if tenure is granted). How does this work in practice? Is it common for assistant professors to formally go on the job market the year that they are up for tenure? Do they do it only informally, by asking around? Do schools just make offers to up-for-tenure APs without prompting?

I'm curious how this works, because it seems that often times these moves are worked out shortly after tenure decisions are made, so it seems like they must have been in the works before hand.

I'm most interested in highly ranked US based research universities.

2 Answers 2


This is a manifestation of game-playing, and is completely understandable once one starts thinking in such terms.

For example, if a person is in an excellent situation to get tenure at their current institution, they are probably in an equally good position to get other jobs, perhaps with tenure.

Another feature: if a person has done good-enough work that they've got outside offers, this can set in motion the getting-tenure process at their current institution.

(Shallowly enough, the "best" certification of one's academic virtue is outside offers.)

At the same time, I think most up-for-tenure assistant profs in the U.S. are not really looking for outside offers as they come up for tenure, so even if they could generate them, they'd not try. For that matter, despite the "rewards", many people find this game-playing obnoxious so don't do it.

To answer another part of your question: yes, most formal job offers only arise after informal inquiries and back-and-forth, because... as with high-school dating... getting turned down is embarrassing. :)

The people who are interested in gaming the system continue to do so after tenure, typically...


I cannot think of any assistant profs in the US who did not actively go on the job market when they were coming up for tenure. This seems to me to be reasonable behaviour even if you have no desire to move because

  • Getting tenure at your current institution is a bit of a crap shoot. It is obviously influenced by how good your past work is, but there are a lot of other factors at play. The success rate is not particularly high.
  • I also believe, although have no data to back it up, that having a tenured offer from one university increases your chances of a tenured offer from another university. This of course could be correlation and not causation, but I am not convinced.
  • Being up for tenure is not a black mark on your CV, being turned down for tenure and then going on the job market opens up a big question mark.
  • 1
    "The success rate is not particularly high" -- this must vary a lot, because I know institutions where it is very close to 100%. Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 18:40
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    Being turned down for tenure and then not going on the job market opens up unemployment. Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 18:41
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    @DavidKetcheson: Sadly, it does vary a lot, because there are also institutions where the rate is close to zero percent. There are even huge variations within universities. It's got a lot to do with the internal culture of a given department or school.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 22:31
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    I can certify that I did not actively go on the job market last year when I came up for tenure. Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 5:59

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