I'll keep this question short to make it easy to read, but happy to supply details later if relevant.

I recently finished my Ph.D. - computer science, in the US. I have a choice between accepting a post-doc position and a tenure-track Assistant Professor (AP) position.


  1. The AP position is at a satellite campus of a state university. This is a masters-granting campus (i.e. no PhD students). The teaching load is 3+3, though there is expectation of decent research output, especially (but not exclusively) during the summers.

  2. The post-doc is at an R1 research university (though not highly ranked or especially prestigious). It appears (to me) to be less-than-ideal for the following reason: the PI applies techniques from my field (CS, AI) to another field (let's call it F2). He publishes (and presumably, I would publish) exclusively in conferences and journals of F2. After 2-years of this, I fear being stuck between two fields, departments of neither seriously considering me for tenure-track positions.

So, both positions appear sub-optimal, which is the source of my dilemma. Eventually, I hope for a tenure-track position at a R1 university. Which of these will best help me meet this goal?


Thanks for the responses. It's helpful that the responses clearly categorize the AP institution as a teaching-focussed university. When I went to interview, they harped on their focus on research, show-casing the research activities and publications of professors and MS students. Since it is a masters-granting university and not an undergraduate teaching college, I was uncertain of what to make of all this. I suppose, in the end, the 3+3 load is telling.

One reason I'm swayed toward the AP is that, as a foreign national, a tenure-track position is a firm step toward US permanent residency, which a post-doc position is not.

closed as off-topic by Bryan Krause, Azor Ahai, corey979, Richard Erickson, Jon Custer Apr 2 at 2:59

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  • 2
    It's impossible for us to say, but a 3 + 3 teaching load won't leave you much time to do any research, while you may be able to set some time aside while working on F2. If you manage to keep working on CS / AI, being able to say "and I can apply it to F2" would be an extremely nice icing, while saying "and I can teach intro to programming" will not impress a R1 institute. However, a tenure-track position at a R1 university is extremely hard to get, so you may also end up jobless in a couple of years… – Clément Apr 1 at 17:07
  • What have you tried to negotiate at the 3+3? If they are serious about research, this should be reflected in the offer — I.e load reductions for a couple of years, offers to minimize your number of preps, startup funds, etc. – Dawn Apr 1 at 20:52
  • I was not given any opportunity to negotiate the teaching load. In fact, I was warned at the interviews that some faculty complain about their teaching loads, and it was somewhat apparent that if I was not completely comfortable with it, I would not be made an offer. – Velvet Ghost Apr 1 at 21:25
  • @VelvetGhost if they were pushing the research then they want it too (specifically they want you to work days and nights and do it all). They can find anyone to teach classes for them. Even tuition-driven schools lust after that grant money and the stuff they can buy with their share. Ask if you can buy out courses if you get funding. – A Simple Algorithm Apr 1 at 23:42

It is uncommon for people to move up from a teaching school to an R1 school. It happens, but rarely, and your chances are slim. So this seems like a dead end regarding your goal, though of course teaching can be quite satisfying for a lot of us.

The offer of a postdoc elsewhere at least allows you to continue dreaming about a permanent position at an R1 university. Of course, there is never a guarantee that you will get such a position, whereas the AP offer you have at least offers this certainty.

  • Thanks. That's an interesting perspective. I know someone personally (had the same PhD advisor) who moved from a masters-granting university to an R1 university. He landed a major research grant while in the former institution, which no doubt facilitated the transition. But knowing him perhaps gave me the illusion that this is common. – Velvet Ghost Apr 1 at 21:44

This seems clearly to favor the postdoc position. Teaching 6 courses per year, likely not just 6 sections of one or two courses, will leave you no time for research in any field. Moreover, if everyone else is doing this then there won't be a lot of research synergy that will help you build up your CV.

On the other hand, working in an R1 institution doing research in any field helps you get papers out the door. And you won't get stuck between fields, though you may need to be flexible when it comes to choosing a field for your first R1 faculty position. But no one is required to stick to any particular specialty once they hold a faculty position. You can move to the field you want, and it may be neither of F1 or F2 when the time comes.

Think long term. The teaching position will likely have you teaching for the long term. The research position will more likely have you doing research for the long term. Both of those can be attractive, but maybe not to the same person. Your call.

Just a guess that it is easier to move "over" from one field to another than it is to move "up" to an R1 from a teaching position.

The additional information added by the OP adds some considerations. One that should be considered is the expected size of each section you need to teach. If it is <=10 then it is quite different than if it is 30+.

Otherwise you need to weigh the scales. Citizenship possibilities might weigh heavily depending on your background.

  • Thanks for updating your post! The classes are about 30-strong. I may be able to negotiate initial teaching load, but I doubt it. – Velvet Ghost Apr 1 at 21:27
  • Also, I certainly understand that once I have an R1 faculty position, I'm not required to stick to a certain field. My concern is more that being "between fields" as a post-doc might jeopardize my ability to obtain that position in the first place. For example, CS departments evaluating my application would find all my recent publications to be in non-CS journals and conferences, and not constituting fundamental CS research. Surely that can't be a good thing? – Velvet Ghost Apr 1 at 22:28
  • @VelvetGhost Being interdisciplinary is definitely a plus not a weakness. Either way they will still want high-impact publications. And yes, once you get any tenure-track job anywhere, no cares what particular niche you research, only that you are productive. – A Simple Algorithm Apr 1 at 23:38
  • @ASimpleAlgorithm: I'm not so sure about that. My impression is that interdisciplinary research is great once you already have a tenure-track position, but it can be dangerous for people still looking for one. For example, my university (R1) recently advertised for a CS/AI tenure-track position, where the very first requirement was that the candidate must be making fundamental CS/AI advances and not merely applying known techniques to some problem or other field. – Velvet Ghost May 1 at 15:53

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