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The background: I'm a postdoc in mathematics (U.S.) and approaching the end of my postdoc term. I applied for permanent academic jobs last fall and did not end up getting a tenure-track job offer. It was somewhat surprising; I have a very good publication record, in both quality and quantity (e.g., regular papers in "top 20" pure math journals). As recently as a month ago, it seemed that my academic career was over. But I was fine with it---I also got an offer for a good non-academic job (though it is currently unofficial; it will be some time before I get an official offer).

The situation suddenly changed when I learned that my NSF grant application (the standard 3-year research grant) from last fall had been funded! I talked to my postdoc institution about the situation, and they have decided to let me extend my postdoc another year so I can apply again for jobs in the fall. A couple weeks later, I was unexpectedly contacted about an open non-tenure track teaching-oriented lecturer position at another university and quickly offered the position. It's a good offer (aside from the detail of not being tenure-track), though it would be an unusual situation to hold it as an NSF-funded researcher.

In summary, I have three options: (1) take the lecturer position; (2) stay put at current institution another year and apply again; (3) hold out for the non-academic job. I'm inclined to take the lecturer position, but I also wonder if this would be a career-limiting decision. If I stay in academia, it is with the goal of getting a tenure-track job, so I want to get a sense of what is the most viable path forward.

Here's my question: how much upward mobility does a person generally have after taking a lecturer position? That is, should I expect the chance to land a tenure-track job at a future point, or will I effectively be out of contention?

And the answer should be weighed relative to the alternative of extending the current postdoc.

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    Please ask only one question at a time. And a substantial part of your question as-is is rather dependent on individual factors and thus not really on topic here. Try to edit the question a bit to make it more focused and answerable with a general answer.
    – Sursula
    Apr 18, 2023 at 5:42
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    If you want a research position, isn't taking a NTT lectureship and also moving going to blast your research output to smithereens?
    – user137975
    Apr 18, 2023 at 12:47
  • Related? academia.stackexchange.com/questions/181133/… Apr 18, 2023 at 18:17
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    Key for this question is to define what the "lecturer" position entails. Everyone is assuming it's a teaching job. You should spell that out explicitly. Apr 18, 2023 at 18:18
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    Something doesn't compute. How did you get the grant, yet not succeed in getting a position? Which was more surprising to you, your friends and colleagues, your advisor? Are there factors that would count against your hire but not the grant? In retrospect do you think you could have put in more effort in the job hunt or been less selective? Apr 20, 2023 at 20:05

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As a mathematician funded by a 3-year NSF grant, you will be in my opinion a very strong contender for assistant professor positions at many US mathematics departments. You are basically ahead of 99% of the competition in an important parameter. That is a very good signal. In order for you to fail in the next tenure track job search, I think you’d either have to be very picky about geographic locations and/or institutional prestige (pickiness always makes things more difficult, obviously), or you’d have to send some very bad signals that would negatively offset the good signal. (Added on edit:) Or the job market could tank catastrophically, leading many other strong candidates to have a poor outcome.

Now, this analysis remains true whether you are a postdoc or a lecturer. So I think from the point of view of a hiring institution, they are not going to care much about your current job title - they will see your NSF grant, and evaluate your papers, letters of recommendation etc, and that will be their basis for deciding whether to offer you a job.

It is true that as a postdoc you will have more time for research than as a lecturer, so indirectly that might lead to better prospects of getting a tenure track job. But given that you’ll be applying in the fall, the amount of additional research you can generate as a postdoc compared to a lecturer in time for it to be considered for the current round of applications is probably not large anyway.

The reason that one does not see much upward mobility (as you put it) for math lecturers is mainly that the sort of people who are good enough to end up with a tenure track position are also good enough to line up another postdoc if they are temporarily unable to get a tenure track job. They can thus continue focusing on their research, which maximizes the chance for success. In the uncommon situation that a person in your situation decides to prefer a lecturer position to a postdoc, I don’t think the mere fact of being a lecturer should negatively affect how you are perceived, especially since, as I said, having an NSF grant shows you to be a more active and successful research than almost all postdocs, and indeed than even many tenure track researchers.

Good luck!

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    I think this is the best answer. The NSF grant makes this a completely different question from just asking about extending the postdoc versus taking a lecturer position. Applying for your first TT position with an NSF grant in hand puts a candidate in an usually strong position. When I see that in an application I'm evaluating (in my US math department), it almost completely overrides consideration of what kind of position the candidate is currently in. Apr 18, 2023 at 20:23
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    I doubt only 1% of your applicants have an NSF grant, but of course you're in a department that hires regularly and you have the statistics. In any case, it doesn't help to be in the top 5% of applicants if only 3% of applicants get an offer. (And I would not be surprised if, of all the pure mathematicians who send in at least one application to a research-oriented tenure-track position, only 3% get an offer for such a position. Of course this is considering a pool a significant percentage of which is obviously not qualified.) Apr 18, 2023 at 20:30
  • I don't think it's appropriate for you to be so optimistic about the questioner's chances. If there are 50 positions on the market next year, you'll be right. But there might only be 10 positions on the market next year. Apr 18, 2023 at 20:32
  • @AlexanderWoo: Could you clarify whether the number 10 in your lower estimate "But there might only be 10 positions on the market next year" refers to all (research-oriented, whatever that means) tenure-track positions in pure maths or only in a specific sub-field? (Because for all of pure maths 10 would seem like an extremely low number for a country as large as the US, wouldn't it?) Apr 18, 2023 at 20:49
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    @AlexanderWoo it doesn't help to be in the top 5% of applicants if only 3% of applicants get an offer - Umm... I think it helps a lot, especially given all the randomness and non-linearity involved.
    – Kimball
    Apr 19, 2023 at 21:18
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For better or worse (actually: for worse) it is very rare that someone who had gotten onto the lecturer track (where your emphasis will be on teaching) to get back onto the tenure track. Part of that is just practicality: Your job is to teach, and do so to the exclusion of having time to do much research. As a consequence, after a year or two you will see that people on the lecturer track no longer have new publications coming out. Part of it is also just perception: Someone has apparently chosen teaching as a career, whereas there are plenty of candidates who have chosen research.

Which of your three options you pursue isn't for me to recommend.

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    Part of it is also just perception: Someone has apparently chosen teaching as a career, whereas there are plenty of candidates who have chosen research. - If I see someone applying for a research position (TT or postdoc) from a lecturer position, my assumption is just that they were unsuccessful in their last search in getting a research-oriented position.
    – Kimball
    Apr 18, 2023 at 20:05
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(Mathematician at a research-oriented US university)

If you aim at a tenure-track position, especially at a research-oriented university, then I would recommend extending your postdoc.

From the standpoint of hiring committees, in principle your decision shouldn't matter, as you should be evaluated on the strength of your record. In practice, you might look slightly better applying as a postdoc, as opposed to as a NTT lecturer.

From your point of view, moving, adjusting to a new institution, and carrying (presumably) a high teaching load seem likely to be a major distraction -- right at the time when you'll want to focus on your job applications. This seems unlikely to be helpful, unless you would be interested in staying there for multiple years.

Between the non-academic job offer and trying again for academic jobs next year... I really can't say, that depends on your priorities and how the job market shakes out next year. Unfortunately the academic job market is getting worse, and many deserving candidates are not getting good job offers. On the other hand, many still are. With an NSF grant I would hope that you get multiple strong offers, but it's impossible to predict.

Good luck.

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This is a pointed non-answer.

I am assuming you applied widely, essentially to every tenure track job you are remotely qualified for. I am also assuming that you didn't fail miserably at interviewing - that if you had interviews you gave reasonable job talks and were pleasant with the people you talked to.

Your situation is basically unprecedented. Think of it this way: of the members of the NSF panel that recommended your grant for funding, something like 6-8 of them were probably from departments most of whose faculty members do not have an NSF grant (and 2-3 from a department most of whose faculty members never had an NSF grant). This basically means none of those departments, or departments with similar evaluations of applicants (and departments don't vary that widely) were hiring with openness to hiring in your area.

Pre-pandemic, that would never have happened.

For the non-tenure-track position, I am assuming it is a teaching-oriented, permanent position. You should expect that you will get no research done while in this position, though (assuming you don't teach over the summer) you can use summers to write up the research you are doing now. In the past, people (and not just one or two exceptional cases) have managed to get hired into research-oriented positions after 2 or 3 years doing minimal research on the strength of their past research and the continued output based on work in progress.

However, as already noted, the current job market is unprecedented, and I don't really know just how bad it is. Past experience isn't going to help predict the future here.

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  • Can you elaborate on the third paragrph about the situation being unprecedented? I couldn't follow the point you were trying to make. Apr 18, 2023 at 16:55
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    I do not see this as unprecedented: In over 30 years (US academic life) I saw enough randomness in hires and grant awards not to be surprised by anything. Apr 18, 2023 at 17:33
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    @mordecaiiwazuki: Given that the panel recommended the grant, there were at least 6-8 mathematicians whom we know would have strongly recommended them for hiring in their department if they had the chance. Pre-pandemic, that alone would have been worth an expected 1-2 offers, and that's not counting the vast majority of research math departments not represented in that NSF panel. Apr 18, 2023 at 17:53
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Consider that unless you get a job at an R1, whatever tenure-track position you get will involve a lot of teaching. I have been in many tenure-track search committees, and every year we look more and more at proven teaching experience. In other words, we discard all of those BS teaching philosophy statements and look at your actual experience. In my eyes, a successful NSF grant AND solid, verifiable teaching experience tells me that you are a person who can write grants, knows how to balance a teaching load, and knows what you are getting into.

I always tell my students that you should judge your past decisions based on the odds you had when making the decision. Gambling at the casino is a bad decision even after winning the jackpot, because you gambled with the odds against you. Gambling you'll get an R1 tenure-track job is in my opinion, always the wrong decision (even if you were to get it.)

I would take the lectureship, balance teaching and research, and not miss a bit applying to tenure-track positions from day 1.

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