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Say this year the university A advertises one postdoc and one tenure-track position. If I prefer the tenure track position, but am not sure that I can get it, what should I choose between the following two options?

Option A: Apply for both postdoc and tenure-track positions.

Option B: Apply for tenure-track position only, hoping that even if I don't get it, the university will consider offering me the postdoc position.

I thought that Option A is safer, but some of my friends say the opposite. They think that if you apply for both positions, then even if you are good for the tenure-track position, the university will tend to offer you only the postdoc position, the lowest rank that you asked for.

Do you have any insight on this?

For more information: the job market I am referring to is the US'.

What if we have other situations: postdoc/lecturer, lecturer/tenure-track, or postdoc/lecturer/tenure-track?

  • 1
    This might be context dependent. For instance, in France, the recruitment of tenure-track positions and postdoc positions are done using different channels, so option B might not be possible. – user102 Sep 3 '13 at 16:36
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    The standard phrase in the USA is "I apply for a tenure-track positions but also want to be considered at the postdoc level" (or something equivalent) meaning "I really want tenure track but if you cannot offer it and I find it nowhere else, I'll accept a postdoc offer from you". That is very different from "I want to work at your university, so if you cannot give me tenure track, I'll agree to postdoc and only if I cannot get that either, I will look elsewhere". Whatever meaning applies to your case, make sure that you convey exactly that meaning, and not another one in your application. – fedja Sep 3 '13 at 20:57
  • @fedja: Thank you. a)Can you suggest some explicit sentences to write in the application to say "I want to work at your university, so if you cannot give me tenure track, I'll agree to postdoc and only if I cannot get that either, I will look elsewhere"? – postdoc Sep 4 '13 at 3:33
  • @fedja: ... b) I still don't know what is your opinion about the two options A and B? – postdoc Sep 4 '13 at 3:34
  • @postdoc That depends on your status, perceived strength, etc. If you are little-known and desperate to secure a job for the next few years or if you want to get to that particular place at any cost, certainly apply to both. If you have one more year of postdoc at your current place, expect to get a few good offers elsewhere, and had 2 postdoc positions already, apply for tenure track only. Everything in between is, well, in between. Both A and B make sense under some circumstances but not other. As to phrasing, your English is better than mine. Just say it straight and clear :-). – fedja Sep 4 '13 at 4:45
15

My experience is in mathematics in the US. My personal experience is that people will not read anything especially deep into applying for both jobs. Everybody understands that the market is tough, and basically expects everybody to apply to every opening. I've seen instances where a person was considered both for a postdoc and TT position at the same university, and this was not seen as an issue at all (there was much more strategizing around the question of whether they would come for a postdoc).

In the vast majority of cases (without, say, a severe geographical constraint), I think if you consider TT and postdoc at the same place as both reasonable options for you and plausible possibilities, you're probably kidding yourself on one score or another. Generally if you'd even be seriously looked at for a TT job at University X, then when the postdoc committee looks at your file, they'll say "We could hire this person for a TT job. There's no way that a postdoc at University X is the best job they'll get." and they probably won't offer you the position. But unless you feel confident about which way it is, I don't see any problem with applying to both.

EDIT: One thing I'll add, which is mathematics specific: if you're applying MathJobs, the visual difference between applications for the different jobs is negligible. There is a column where you can see what positions the applicant applied for, but it's not very noticeable. So, it's quite possible the committee for one job won't even notice you applied for the other (I have seen this happen).

  • In the first part of the answer, you meant people won't care if I apply for both tenure track and postdoc at the same time. I don't really understand what you meant at the last part of your answer. – postdoc Sep 7 '13 at 1:48
  • especially this "generally people don't believe that someone they'd seriously consider for a TT position will accept a postdoc, because they'll get some less appealing TT or more appealing postdoc" – postdoc Sep 7 '13 at 1:48
  • did you mean that if someone applies for both tenure track and postdoc, he/she will get worse tenure track and better postdoc? – postdoc Sep 7 '13 at 1:50
  • @postdoc, I think you're misinterepreting me. I rewrote my answer a little so hopefully it's clearer. Anyways, don't worry too much about the second part. My point is just that you shouldn't try to overthink this, and you shouldn't avoid applying to both just to avoid it. – Ben Webster Sep 8 '13 at 14:51
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As a recruiter, I don't see much of Chris's point. And, as a candidate (some years ago), I followed pretty much your option B (apply to both). Here's the reasoning:

Times are though, and the academic job market is very competitive. Anyone who expects you to apply only to a single position (“applying to more that different positions shows that you don't know what you want”, or “you don't believe in your chances”) is delusional to some extent. You will apply to backup post-doc positions, and I don't think you benefit by excluding the place where you also apply for faculty position.

In fact, you can actually turn that into a pretty positive argument: “I love your institution/department, this is really my dream place to work at, and if I don't get on faculty this year I'm willing to take a post-doc, know you all better and try again next year (if circumstances permit).”

I'll add that this is actually commonly done in France, UK and some other European countries: once you've traveled a bit, find the place where you want to settle, apply there, and if you don't get the job on the first try, get a post-doc there and try again later.

  • Well, you are there, so unless you renounce it publicly, we'll consider you as an example (at least, as of the moment when you applied there). In short: are you trying to make some point or just to vent steam? If the former, what's the point? – fedja Sep 3 '13 at 23:28
  • @Anonymous yet I hardly see myself applying for a position with a statement that says “This place sucks, but times are hard and I need to eat. Please kindly offer me a tenure-track position.” – F'x Sep 4 '13 at 7:20
  • [Rewrite of deleted, poorly worded comment:] I wouldn't expect that applicants consider my department to be their dream job. It's certainly a very good job, and we are further improving, and I'm happy to be here. But it's good in ways that our competitors are also good. I can't imagine someone withdrawing faculty applications at comparable institutions to take a postdoc here, unless they had family in the area. – Anonymous Sep 4 '13 at 12:23
  • Or someone to work with, or plans to move to a different country in 2-3 years, or... I know an excellent young researcher who's currently taking her 3rd postdoc in not so famous place despite (IMHO) she could get a tenure-track job at some other place quite easily. Why? It is her business, not mine. As I said in my comment in the original post, my advice is just to tell your preferences as honestly as you can without alienating people. This saves both the applicant and the recruiters a lot of time and effort in the process and creates a good impression too. – fedja Sep 4 '13 at 13:13
  • @F'x: To give more context for your answer, can you tell me where do you live now (in the USA, Canada, Europe, or somewhere else)? Concerning the last paragraph in your answer, do you have any information on what is commonly done in the USA or Canada? – postdoc Sep 5 '13 at 10:44
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One thing to be aware of that I don't think others have mentioned is timing. In my field (theoretical particle physics in the US), postdoc hiring decisions are all made in December and January, while interviews for faculty jobs usually take place in February, March, and possibly April. Postdocs who are on the last year of their current job have to apply for and accept a postdoc position, even if they are hoping to get a tenure-track offer, simply because of the timeline. If they haven't accepted a postdoc job in January, and they don't manage to get a tenure-track offer that spring, they have no job at all. Because of this, everyone expects that people will apply for both postdocs and faculty positions simultaneously.

The timing of these things will potentially vary depending on your field, so this consideration might or might not be relevant. But it's something to think about.

3

I suggest choosing the job you want and think you have a good shot at, and then apply for that position. Here is my rationale (and supposition, to a certain extent):

If you apply to both positions, you've told both hiring committees a couple of things: you've said to the tenure-track committee that you would be happy with the post-doc position, otherwise you wouldn't be applying for it. You've said to the post-doc position, "I'm doing this as a backup in case I don't get the tenure-track position." In both cases, you're not telling them anything particularly good. Sure, there is the possibility that they'll see your dual application as really wanting to work in that particular department, but I wouldn't bet on it.

If you can make a good case why you are very competitive for the tenure-track position, then go for it. Apply to post-docs elsewhere if you want a bit more of a backup (although in the job market it isn't really worthwhile to talk about "backups" in the same way you talk about it for school applications). Also, there is something to be said about applying for the position you really want: it demonstrates your own belief that you are well qualified (but, of course, you may end up without a job...).

If you can't make the case that you're a strong candidate for the tenure-track position, apply for the post-doc position. You'll get the experience you need to be competitive for future tenure-track positions, and there is always an off-chance that there may be another position opening up at this school, and you'll be more competitive for it (and know people on the committee). I don't believe there is the same stigma about hiring post-docs into positions at the same school as there is for hiring PhD students into positions at the same school (which is rare).

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    I don't agree with your take on the message being conveyed. The hiring committee is very well aware of the fact that you are hedging your bets by applying to both. – eykanal Sep 3 '13 at 20:24
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    I agree with eykanal; this is not the psychology I've seen on hiring committees at all. People just expect everyone to apply everywhere and don't read anything into it. – Ben Webster Sep 6 '13 at 18:32

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