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Short version: After spending 4 very successful years as a postdoc at a top university in Switzerland, I was offered a promotion. However, the new contract comes with a very high teaching load (75%) for at least 3 years. It is also not a permanent position. I am afraid that the new position will limit my future career chances because I'll not be doing much (if any) research during this time and teaching will also not improve my chances in industry. Therefore, I'm considering declining the position.

Long version: I'm working in a young research group at a top university in Europe (Switzerland). Our professor is still in his tenure-track phase. I am probably the most experienced postdoc in his group and have many responsibilities and significant research output and an outstanding international research network. I'm also personal friends with him.

I'm in the fourth year of my postdoc (which I feel is already pretty long). In my last appraisal interview, I mentioned that I would like to progress with my career toward a more senior scientist-like position. In fact, I do not really have a lot of time to do my own research anymore but am instead supervising a lot of other people's research.

Within the institute, another senior scientist who did a lot of teaching now got a professorship at a different university and I was offered his position. However, it comes with a ton of teaching, more than I would like to do, and in a field that is not really my main expertise. Thus, in the next years, I will be very busy preparing lectures (and learning about the field). The contract officially lists 75% teaching load. Thus, I will have only very little time (if any) for doing research besides the other operational responsibilities that I have. Additionally, it is not a fixed position but only a temporary contract for a couple of years.

Although the professor basically promised me a great future (he is confident that he can turn my position into a permanent one in a couple of years after his tenure-track ends) I'm not fully convinced. First of all, these are only verbal promises and he mentioned that such a position is not only based on my teaching skills but also based on my success in getting funding for proposals and my research output. On top, our university is trying to reduce costs, thus, I'm not even sure if there will be permanent senior-scientist positions in the near future. (Some professors do not have one). He is also still on his tenure track.

My fear is that I will accept the promotion, will do a lot of teaching in the next three years (which I do not really want to do to this extent), and then not get a permanent position. In this case, I assume that the three years of teaching will not be beneficial for my academic career due to the reduced research output. Furthermore, I also fear that moving to the industry will get even more challenging (I will then be in my mid-30s). Unfortunately, there is no industry related to my field (we are doing fundamental research in a very niche field of radio astronomy). Thus, for a change to the industry, I would, either way, have to change my focus.

My question is if it is reasonable to decline the position.

I was already playing with the thought of moving to industry and I was already looking for suitable positions (without luck yet but also without really applying for many jobs). There is no time yet to explore my possibilities in industry before accepting/declining the promotion since he needs a decision soon.
If I accept, it obviously means I would stop looking for positions in industry (since I cannot agree on doing a lot of teaching in October but then leave mid-semester or even before the semester starts leaving the institute with nobody to do the teaching) meaning that I am "stuck" in the teaching position for at least some years.

Some colleagues from other institutes I talked to also raised concerns if this position will really be advantageous for my future academic or non-academic career.

The only related question I could find on this side was based on the US system, thus, I would appreciate some more suggestions/comments.

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    This is a very interesting question. Recommend you edit to remove a couple of paragraphs; shorter and more generalizable questions are the best fit for our format.
    – cag51
    Apr 11, 2023 at 16:48
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    Do you have any idea of what other options you have coming up in the next year or so? As a post-doc it is high time to move on...
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 11, 2023 at 18:49
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    Never take a teaching job if you are not certain you enjoy teaching. It is bad for the students and bad for you too. Apr 12, 2023 at 0:39
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    "he is confident that he can turn my position into a permanent one in a couple of years after his tenure-track ends" His confidence is worth nothing. Go find data to see who actually got jobs. Apr 12, 2023 at 0:41
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    Don't take the job. You will seriously hurt your research and in my field (maths) this is essentially the only criterion which good universities use to recruit. Of course you have show you are not hopeless at presenting during your research talk and interview well. The promise is also meaningless, since power dynamics outside of your supervisor control will determine if there is a hire to begin with and who gets hired. Apr 12, 2023 at 9:41

7 Answers 7

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If you feel that 75% teaching load is more than you can handle, don't take the post. This is indeed a very large teaching load, significantly exceeding a more classical 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% admin ratio. In practice, you can expect extra teaching responsibilities which are difficult to quantify (e.g. answering student emails, personal tutor responsibilities, writing new assessments, etc) and extra admin tasks. The combined total will quickly exceed 100% of your full-time contract, and the work will spill over into your weekends and holidays.

The problem with exploitative and unreasonable workload is that it ruins your wellbeing and creativity. Even if you get a permanent contract, and even if your teaching load is reduced one day, you will likely find yourself unable to get back to productive research instantly. With your publication track record damaged, you may find yourself effectively unable to find another academic job, and will be essentially tied to one University and fully dependent on decisions that senior management and admin teams make in relation to its strategic direction.

You may not have a permanent position now, but you have a number of options. If you spend 3 years on a 75% teaching contract, you may get a permanent position, but you will lose other options. I don't think this is a deal worth taking.

Personally, I took a similar deal in a similar situation, because I was on a temporary work visa and needed another contract asap to maintain the continuous immigration track for myself and my family. I would recommend not doing this, unless you are desperate.

I would also add that if you want to succeed in a post with 75% teaching load, you need to mentally prepare yourself to the idea of doing this job very very badly. If doing a bad job affects your self-perception, do not take this post.

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    On the flipside, it's absolutely possible to have a 75% teaching contract and use considerably less than 75% of one's actual time for teaching. That depends a lot on the circumstances. Big components are course preparation (ideally, one can give the same courses again every year) and grading (ideally, one can informally rely on teaching assistants). Apr 12, 2023 at 7:14
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    @lighthousekeeper Often, established Profs in the Department benefit from course stability and TAs, while early career academics find themselves lacking both. Apr 12, 2023 at 9:13
  • @DmitrySavostyanov Could be. These are surely also aspects to take into account when researching the position, and negotiating the offer if one is made. Apr 12, 2023 at 9:44
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    @lighthousekeeper Offer negotiations are commonplace in US academia and some other places. In Europe, offers for entry-level academic posts often allow for little or no negotiation. In the UK, a new Lecturer can discuss expectations with HoD orally before accepting an offer, but the promises made by HoD do not become a written part of contract and may be dropped (e.g. if a new HoD takes on leadership). Hence, overall culture of the Department becomes more important than individually negotiated parameters. Apr 12, 2023 at 11:11
  • I think "In Europe, offers for entry-level academic posts often allow for little or no negotiation" is a dangerous generalisation. Europe is a very big place! What you write is true for the UK, but the question is about Switzerland, which has a very different academic culture (closer to that of Germany) where negotiating offer conditions is much more usual. Apr 12, 2023 at 20:39
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I don't know which country you are in, so things might be different. But in my country, if you want a permenant academic position, at some point or other, unless you are an absolute superstar, your focus will move away from doing research. Tenure-track (or the closest thing to it that exists), potentially permenant jobs are almost all split between teaching, admin and research, and the "research" part of that is generally obtaining grants, and supervising students and postdocs.

Such positions generally claim to be 40% teaching, but almost everyone spends far more than 40% of their time doing teaching-related activities in the first few years, and research producitivity always takes a hit. I basically did no research related work in my first year, and the only thing I did in the second and third years was to write grant proposals and supervise one student getting started. Everything else was teaching.

If you are on a tenure-track, then this dip in productivity is expected, and accounted for in the measurement of whether you are doing well enough to pass tenure.

However, that is not what a 75% teaching, fixed-term contract position sounds like to me (unless by 75% they mean you will have 75% of the average teaching load, rather than that you will be allocated tasks that nominally add up to 75% of a 1640 hour working year).

That said, I have known people (generally in the humanities) that have taken contracts that are purely teaching roles, but that are part time (say 66%) and have managed to do enough research in their own time that they have sustained their research through that period, and are now flourishing. But boy was it hard for them.

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  • My understanding is the vast majority of post-docs want to do nothing but research and only teaching because their contracts force them to. This is a potential reason why you might not be taken very seriously saying you do not want to do more teaching: because almost no one wants to.
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 12, 2023 at 13:21
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    The 75% point is important: it might be worth the OP checking/confirming, just in case there's a misunderstanding, that the '75% teaching load' isn't referring to '75% of the nominal load' of (say) 50% of the work-time. Because that could be very attractive. Apr 12, 2023 at 13:28
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Most answers so far have advised you to trust your gut instincts and turn the position down, essentially, and I think those are generally good answers. But for the sake of presenting an alternative viewpoint, I will suggest one investigative question for you to look into over the next few days and then list some possible reasons to take the position (based on what you find out).

The question is: how well does your institute support teaching positions? Sub-questions include:

  • How well does the teaching administration run?
  • Do colleagues collaborate on teaching, provide mentorship to new teachers, and even occasionally write papers on tertiary education practices?
  • Importantly, will your subject assignment be predictable (that is, will it be straightforward for you to get the subjects you want to teach and will you get to teach them for a few years in a row)?
  • Are good metrics (student evaluations, test score distributions) considered as plus points in internal job evaluations?

If the answers you find are negative, then obviously you should reject the position. But if you find positive answers, here are some possible reasons to take the position:

  • Teaching can be fun! The extensive human contact is just good for the soul (for some people), and the knowledge that you are directly helping students can be very rewarding.
  • Teaching is a very valuable composite skill, and it can significantly enhance a non-academic CV (you can present technical material fluidly to large audiences, coordinate teams of tutors to get the job done, handle time pressures well ...)
  • You will get a large network of grateful students, many who may in turn help you in the future. You will also widen your professional network with teaching colleagues.
  • You may even easily reel in potential PhD students if you can bring your research expertise into your teaching.
  • If you repeat the same subject for a few years, you only need to prepare your material once. You can teach subsequent iterations of the course for relatively less effort.
  • While there is always some unofficial work, if you are good at setting boundaries with your students, you can cut down on the amount of student question-answering and special-casing you have to do.
  • And other parts of the terrible admin work (lesson plans!) can be straightforwardly automated with large language models these days.
  • Teaching can offer "productive procrastination" -- that is, you can work on teaching when you're tired of your research and your research when you're tired of teaching. That can increase your efficiency even further!

Finally, while you are rightly concerned with the decreasing amount of research you will be able to do, you should consider three things:

  1. A continuing academic position anywhere will have some teaching component, and the sooner you learn time-efficient teaching, the better you will be at maximising your research time.
  2. You will be doing less direct research anyway even in a fully research-focused position, as you've discovered for yourself -- you simply have to become more managerial the more people and money you're managing!
  3. The person whose position you're filling did, after all, become a professor elsewhere. I'm sure that hiring committee saw their teaching load and adjusted their research expectations accordingly. What's stopping you from doing the same thing from the same position?

All the best!

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You have good answers from the perspective of academia - a few thoughts about industry.

I also fear that moving to the industry will get even more challenging (I will then be in my mid-30s)

This is not challenging, provided that you bring in some needed knowledge (you would then get a more senior position). There may be a problem, though, if you work in research in a niche area because the knowledge is hardly transferrable, and the tools you use are used by others as well, possibly as their core work.

I would advise looking at positions to get an idea of what companies are looking for, especially the ones that may be closer to what you do. You could also try to build some relations right now.

If I accept, it obviously means I would stop looking for positions in industry (since I cannot agree on doing a lot of teaching in October but then leave mid-semester or even before the semester starts leaving the institute with nobody to do the teaching)

From an industry perspective, this is not obvious. What happens if you are incapacitated, say by a bus? It is the role of the university to account for that.

I completely understand your point about being fair (and this is a very good approach morally - I am saying it without any irony or something, I really do believe that) but at some point you also need to think about yourself.

You may want to try to negotiate the load, or make sure the limits are enforced (I would not count too much on that one). One problem is that you do not really have the upper hand.

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  • On the second point, academic contracts often have long notice periods. In general employers (including universities) are fairly lax on enforcing notice, but if you leave them in a seriously difficult situation, you might find yourself in trouble for breach of contract. Apr 12, 2023 at 15:46
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    @IanSudbery it will depend on the country. In France for instance this is regulated by the labour law and the notice period is up to 3 months (this is hardly negotiable, and only with money on the table - so not applicable for the vast majority of mortals)
    – WoJ
    Apr 12, 2023 at 15:57
  • Three months would not be an uncommon notice period in the UK, although some unviersities will specify "until the end of the semester". However, as semesters are 4 months long anyway, it seems that a 3 month notice period is likely to cover the rest of a semester in any case. Apr 12, 2023 at 16:07
  • And most companies will be willing to wait until the end of the semester anyway. That is not a long time, really.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 14, 2023 at 14:27
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It is quite reasonable to accept the idea of a career in academia that does not involve aspirations to ever more senior positions. Whether you can manage to do that in your current university, or whether you will need to look further afield, I don't know, but I do know of many academics who have managed to achieve (to use an overworked phrase) a "work/life balance". For some people that means finding a position that is part-time; for some it means finding a more senior researcher who understands you, likes you, and is willing to employ you in a notionally more junior capacity while in fact treating you as a valued equal.

I strongly suggest rejecting your current offer. It sounds as if you already know that it will bring you heartache ... by which I mean a sense of very real stress and anxiety that, for many people, leads to a general unhappiness with life or something more serious.

I once worked with a female colleague (her gender being relevant only because she particularly wanted to stay home two days per week with a newborn) who encountered deprecatory remarks from her more ambitious and striving colleagues. They would say, on the Wednesday when my colleague's work-week ended, "Oh, you're so lucky having two days off while we're still here!" Her retort was, "I don't have the days off, and it's not luck. You just have to choose a 40% cut in salary."

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(Too long for a comment)

How long is the postdoc trail in your field before someone gets a tenure-track type or research-scientist position? Are most new hires offered teaching positions?

How many positions have you applied for and how many interviews did you get since you started this postdoc, and in the last 12 months in particular? If new hires have the roughly the same or less experience as you do, what makes you think the next 12 months will be different from the past 12 months in terms of possible offers?

In other words, if other universities or institutes have not hired you in the past 4 years, what has changed so they would suddenly consider hiring you now in the near future? Is there new $$ in the field? Some exciting recent discovery? Did you recently (or are you about to) publish some stand-out work?

The reality is that everywhere unis are trying to cut costs and are replacing research positions by teaching positions since the same salary buys them 1.5x or 2x the teaching. So while it is wise to take promises for a future position with a grain of salt, and 75% teaching is quite high, can you coldly research the recent job market and assess the odds of you getting a position with 40% teaching in the reasonably near future?

You could of course choose to remain on soft money, with all the associated uncertainties…

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  • And does that soft money have a hard stop point? Many places limit the number of years one can be a post-doc there...
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 14, 2023 at 14:31
  • @JonCuster for postdocs it depends on the local rulebook but for research staff there may not be a hard stop (at least in the cases I know...) Apr 14, 2023 at 15:34
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I would like to offer an alternate, possibly unpopular perspective to the other answers. If you are not excited by the prospect of spending most of your time teaching, your possible future students may not be excited to have you as their teacher.

Students respond positively when their teachers are excited about the classes and subjects they teach. Alternatively, they will sense if you are only teaching those courses because you have to and not because you want to, and their performance and attitude toward you and the subject may suffer.

If you are not genuinely interested in teaching courses about this subject, I suggest you consider turning down the offer. Not just for your sake, but also for the sake of the students. They deserve a teacher who is invested and interested in the courses they teach.

There's certainly nothing wrong with wanting to spend more time doing research, but it may be in everyone's best interest for you to continue as a researcher instead of moving into a teaching role. In the future, you may get the opportunity to teach something you are enthusiastic to share with students, and then you can re-evaluate that decision.

Just a thought from a former student.

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    From my own experiences as student, I found that it's three different categories of teachers (in decreasing order of positive student response): enthusiastic teachers, teachers who aren't enthusiastic but care enough to do a decent job, and teachers who clearly don't care. People that fall into the third category should be discouraged from teaching-heavy jobs; for the second category it depends more on the circumstances. Apr 12, 2023 at 9:38

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