I am a postdoc and will be up in the tenure-track job market in the near future. Just want to know what the average duration one has to work on tenure-track. Is this duration negotiable or there is a strict rule for this duration? Thanks! --Dave

  • Probably highly field-dependent. Also, I'd be interested not only in the average, but also in the spread.
    – gerrit
    Aug 9 '13 at 16:49
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    I always thought that it was a standard of 6 years. Maybe actual professors here will beg to differ with me.
    – Shion
    Aug 9 '13 at 17:56
  • This is a good question! I also wanted to know about this. What if I have been working as a Research Assistant Professor in some university? It is a non tenure track assistant prof position for the last two years. Can I still try to negotiate the tenure track duration when I have an offer? Of course, it depends on that university to go further in the negotiation, but is it at least feasible in some cases? Aug 10 '13 at 17:19
  • Keep in mind that when people say "6 years" they usually mean "5 years, and then you apply during your sixth year". So you really only have 5 years to accomplish things for your tenure application, because anything that isn't done early in your 6th year will be too late to be included. Aug 13 '15 at 22:56

There's quite a spread: where I am it's seven years (sometimes extended to eight when someone has a kid), but I've heard of other places where it's as short as four. Six is probably the median. It's not unheard of for people to go up for tenure early if they think they're likely to get it and their department chair (or other relevant people) agree.

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    @John, yes, tenure-track people can "demand" early consideration. This has potential to seem "uppity", so is not good to do unless one has had a bit of a "coup" in terms of research results, or has an outside offer. Otherwise, it is considered "dignified/modest" to wait until "the usual time"... nevermind that we're all sort-of told that we all have to make singular contributions, which in another world would warrant early tenure consideration. A genuine risk in asking for early tenure is that if it's denied the letter writers may be annoyed at having to repeat a year or two later. Aug 9 '13 at 23:26
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    I'm speaking from anecdotal evidence, not personal experience, but: I think it would be unusual to try to do that if you're coming from a postdoc. People I know who have negotiated for a shorter tenure-track duration are those who already had spent time in a tenure-track job and then moved to another.
    – Matt Reece
    Aug 10 '13 at 2:51
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    @MattReece: I know of at least a few places that regularly give some "prior service" time for postdocs in math, though most places don't. Aug 10 '13 at 23:09
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    @NoahSnyder: Me too. I think math is a bit unusual in that postdocs do independent research and also teach, so their experience is more like that of a regular faculty member. Aug 11 '13 at 3:28
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    Indeed, math postdocs are also often "technically" assistant professorships and not postdocs. Aug 11 '13 at 4:06

AFAIK it's usually six years, but people can get extensions due to major personal events like the birth of a child. There's usually a limit on the total number of such extensions someone can get.


I've heard of a (very top) school/department that is fine with promoting everybody to Associate Professors, but the real tenure decision comes about three years after that, and you really have to be an international star to be granted tenure. So in effect, the tenure track is about 9 years.

On the other hand, I was thrown out of the tenure track after three years after my 3rd year review. When you negotiate your contract, make sure that it states the full term, rather than "annually renewable".


The "standard" at Tier-1 Research universities in the United States is 6 years. This is, in principle, negotiable if you have prior experience that is comparable to what an assistant professor does. However, I always think it's inadvisable to do so. First, if you satisfy the criteria for promotion and tenure at a point earlier than your sixth year, then you can ask to go through the tenure proceedings. Departments that recognize that you're right with your request will accommodate this. In other words, you don't lose very much by not negotiating an earlier tenure date.

Second, if you previously negotiated that you should go up for tenure after, say, your 3rd year, but you've run into trouble getting funding or getting results published, then you may not get tenure and have to leave. In other words, you lose a lot by negotiating an earlier tenure date.

  • At many institutions, including mine, there is no flexibility whatsoever to apply for tenure early. The year that a tenure track faculty member will apply is in their original job offer letter. There is some chance of delaying it due to family leave, but no chance of applying before the year stated at hiring time. The argument that you only disadvantage yourself by applying early is very true, though: if you try to apply early, you are implicitly saying that your application is not even close to borderline, and so it may be judged more stringently. Aug 13 '15 at 22:51
  • @OswaldVeblen -- but I am sure there are ways to apply for tenure when you have an offer from somewhere else, or if you department believes that you may get an offer from somewhere else. Every other procedure would simply make no sense at all. Aug 16 '15 at 16:34
  • The standard response at my institution when this is attempted is for the administration to wish the faculty member good luck at the other institution. It isn't worth their trouble, for the vanishingly small number of faculty from my university who get a better offer somewhere else during their tenure track period. The situation would be different at an elite school where faculty are more likely to be lured away. But most universities are not elite, and at last half of all tenurable faculty members are below average for a tenurable faculty member :) Oct 16 '15 at 0:56

The probationary period/tenure-track is commonly six years, with review taking place throughout the 6th year. (Materials are typically submitted by the probationary faculty at or before the start of the 6th year and a decision announced at the end of the 6th year.) Part of the reason for this timing is the following:

"Under the 1940 'Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,' this [probationary] period [tenure track] may not exceed seven years."

See http://www.aaup.org/file/RIR%202014.pdf

The probationary period, as pointed out above, might be effectively extended due to prior tenure-track service at another institution, but this is negotiated at the time of hire, so the faculty member has some say in it.

It is also frequently extended due to child birth and personal or family medical issues because such accommodations are required BY FEDERAL LAW (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_and_Medical_Leave_Act_of_1993).

University employers have an incentive to extend the probationary period because probationary faculty are paid less, can be more easily fired, and (therefore) can be more easily controlled.

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