At the moment I am a (soon to be graduating) PhD student. The reason I went to graduate school is that I love doing research. In graduate school I discovered that I absolutely hate teaching but I had to do some of it to avoid starving to death (though I tried to do a reasonably good job since I recognize it is not the students' fault that I hate teaching).

I know there are some teaching-free postdocs at R1 institutions. They can be rather difficult to get but my discussions with some senior people seem to indicate that my publication record could get me such a postdoc. However, teaching-free permanent academic positions seem to be much less common (in my field, there are places like IAS, IHES and some smaller institutions, it seems almost exclusively in Europe).

The question is is it possible to "downgrade" a normal professorship at an R1 institution (in US) in the following way: I don't have to participate in any administrative or teaching activities, I have tenure and I get paid less (say, 65% less)? I think I still could survive on such a salary. I am afraid to ask senior people I know about this since this kind a question conceivably might worsen their opinion of me.

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    Hmm. For a distinguished researcher, it is right to assume that that person is one of the experts in the field. So basically, would you not agree that being the advisor for students (bachelor, master, PhD) and helping them with your expertise is teaching, too? Therefore, teaching and research cannot be completely separated. Which forms of teaching do you dislike? Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 22:51
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    Some French or German institutions may have such a position (in Germany, perhaps the Max Planck, I do not know the precise French equivalent). However, such positions are extremely difficult to get. Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 23:16
  • CSIC in Spain is research without teaching mostly. However, no, such a setup doesn't exist in US universities in the way you imagine it. Even at research intensive universities, passing the results of research on to students and training the next generation of scholars is considered integral to the purpose of the institution. If teaching isn't for you, a university isn't for you. Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 23:26
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    Is there a reason you are looking at academia instead of some sort of commercial or government fellowship?
    – fectin
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 4:59
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    You should also consider the total cost of employment to the institution for a tenured person. You might think "I'm doing half the work for half the pay" but by the time you consider the cost of providing you with offices, labs, benefits packages, pension contributions, a parking space etc etc etc the institution is getting half the work for more like 80% or more of the cost.
    – Affe
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:57

5 Answers 5


I’m sorry to disappoint you, but at US R1 universities, a position like the one you imagine doesn’t exist. To have a job with tenure at any salary, you have to teach and do some administrative duties.

If you win a Nobel prize or move to France on the other hand, the possibility of you getting a tenured research-only position may become more realistic. See this question for more details.

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    By personal experience, a tenured position in France involves a lot seeking for funding. I am officially a research engineer at CEA/LIST, but in practice I spend more time on searching for funding than other scientific activities. And this is even true at INRIA or CNRS. That money-seeking activity may take 50% of your time (unless you are a Nobel prize) Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 9:03
  • @BasileStarynkevitch This seems to be true in the US as well. I know someone who was in a university-affiliated biomedical research institute and they spent a huge fraction of their time on grant applications, far more than would be the case in a typical university lab. Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 1:15

If you give up tenure, you can seek a teaching-free, permanent position at a national laboratory.

You have no hope of avoiding all administrative duties. It will always be, at a minimum, necessary to administrate getting someone else to do the administrative duties for you.


You might be able to find such a position, but it would be more likely if you already had an international reputation as a top researcher. Otherwise I think it would be very unlikely. Only the rare opportunity.

The reason is that universities also have an obligation to students, from which much of their funding comes. Even US State funded universities (tax funding) depend on showing a good outcome for undergraduates and other students. So, most universities will want tenured people to do some teaching, if only to advanced graduate students.

I completed my doctorate in mathematics at such a place. Everyone there including the top faculty taught two courses per term. Sometimes those were small seminars, but other times they had to teach first year Calculus and manage a staff of TAs. It wasn't an option. I doubt that they would have even glanced at you if you made such a proposal.

Post docs, as you say, often come with few requirements but research, but you can't really make a career of that.

And, a new faculty member needs to go through a period of probation as an assistant professor, usually seven years and with a mixed set of responsibilities. Promotion to a tenured position then is normally up to the tenured faculty to approve, though the administration also has a voice. But I also doubt that you would meet the spoken and unspoken requirements of those responsible for your tenure decision.

Note, however, that this is a US position. It might vary in some other places. It might even vary at a few institutions in the US, but not likely for a new and inexperienced faculty member.

If you could attract enough grant money, however, some universities would give you a desk and library/computer privileges. Especially if you can work with doctoral students. But then, you are really responsible for continuing on that grant treadmill if you want to keep the position.


There is a difference between teaching undergraduate and graduate classes, especially if you are vested in the graduate students you are teaching. There are plenty of R1 schools that have time release based on departmental rules on research activity, meaning if you are heavily active in research they will have you teach less class.

There is also the ability to buy-out your teaching time with research grants. This would require you to get grants, but if you are so focused on research instead of teaching, this would be expected anyway.

It is very possible to have to teach 1 class a semester. This could end up being to mostly your own masters and doctoral students. With enough funding you can likely teach 1 course a year, assuming your administrators approve it.


Many US universities have "research professor" positions that have no teaching responsibilities, but I don't know of any such positions that come with tenure.

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