I hope to receive my PhD in Mathematics in May of 2015, so I am currently applying for jobs. Due to life circumstances, I'm fairly certain that I will only be staying at my next position for about 2 years. Does this mean I shouldn't even try to apply for tenure-track positions? Will a hiring committee not even consider me for the position if I'm not willing to commit to staying with them for a certain amount of time?

I would love to get a teaching/lecturing position at any institute of higher education (4-year research university, liberal arts school, community college), but as I look for openings, a lot of them are tenure-track assistant professor positions. Should I go through the effort of sending in an application, or will that be a waste of my, and the committee's, time?

Thanks for any advice you have!

Edit (to address Nate's comment):

My wife is currently applying for 2 year graduate degree programs in various cities in the US, so I'm applying for jobs in the same cities. When she finishes her program, we plan to move outside of the US (Africa or Southeast Asia), where I do hope to remain in academia, teaching mathematics to college-aged students.

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    What'll your answer be to "so, where do you see your research program in 5 years?"
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 4:17
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    Fairly certain isn't the same as certain. I'd say you go on and apply, but don't mention the fact that you are thinking about leaving. Having already held an academic post will make it easier to find a new one in the future.
    – user10636
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 11:04

4 Answers 4



If you accept a position, you are committed for the following year. Leaving after two years will disappoint people, but it happens fairly often, and the potential consequences of you not applying to these jobs are perhaps more serious than the potential consequences to the departments if you leave after two years.

Besides, I don't know what your circumstances are, but you are presumably not completely sure you won't stay.

  • Thank you for this helpful perspective. You're right to say that I'm not completely sure I'll be leaving. I'm just not sure how I would deal with any questions about "long-term" plans in the interview. To be truthful, I would have to suggest that my long-term plans do not include staying with the position for more than a few years.
    – Jared
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 1:19
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    If it comes up at all, "My wife has been accepted to the graduate program here in XXX, and we definitely plan to stay here for the next two years. As for afterwards, we're not sure yet." Which you're not.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 1:28
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    But you might be able to avoid these sorts of questions if you show genuine interest in the programs at the universities where you interview. Ask them lots of questions, and do your homework: show up knowing something about the courses the department offers, and the research interests of its faculty.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 1:31
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    Assuming this is a job in the U.S., it's better not to mention your spouse, and the university can't ask whether you are married. I don't think you will help your chances of getting the job by mentioning any of the topics "forbidden" to the interviewers (spouse, children, religion, etc.) Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 10:51

Faculty come and go all the time at universities. Although we may hope a tenure-track hire will stick around for a decade or more, in practice we know many examples of people who have left voluntarily before getting tenure. So the disappointment that your departure might cause will probably not be very significant. (My personal viewpoint is that it is much better to hire the "best" candidate who applies, even if she only may stay for a short time, than it is to hire someone else just because they will stay longer.)

Regardless of how long you plan to stay, when applying for a tenure-track university you are likely to need to write some sort of teaching statement and some sort of research statement. These will be scrutinized by the hiring committee and neither can credibly say "I am leaving in two years". So you need to develop a plan for the possibility that you will stay in the tenure track position indefinitely, and use that plan when applying.

The bigger concern I have is when you write

I would love to get a teaching/lecturing position at any institute of higher education (4-year research university, liberal arts school, community college),

Those three types of schools are very different, and they are looking for very different types of faculty (and there is a fourth type, "non-research-intensive moderately large public university", with its own idiosyncrasies). Very few candidates have a vita that is competitive for hiring at even two different kinds of institutions.

If you have not yet started thinking about which sort of institution you want to specialize in, now is a good time. I am in mathematics myself, and I have seen many candidates try an ineffective "shotgun" approach where they apply to huge numbers of schools for which they are not competitive. Remember that even a non-elite school is likely to receive hundreds of applications for a single tenure-track position in mathematics these days. A generic application is not likely to rise to the top.

  • Thank you for this response! It is very helpful. Concerning your "bigger concern": I feel I am best suited for a position with a large teaching load and little to no pressure to publish. I enjoy teaching (and I think I'm good at it), and could see myself teaching something like calculus for twenty years or more. Does this information help narrow down my focus in your opinion? I'm not planning on applying to high-profile post-docs, but if a lecturing position became available at a research university, I feel I could submit a competitive application. Where do you think I should focus?
    – Jared
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 2:37

First of all, this isn't really answering your question, but you should seriously discuss with your advisor or another trusted senior mathematician about what sort of jobs you should be applying for; even mentioning research universities as a new Ph.D. makes me wonder if you have been told the "facts of life" by someone. It is much more likely that you'll be able to find a short-term position anyways.

That said, I don't think you should worry about the fact that you want to leave in 2 years. I can speak from the experience of having left two TT jobs within 2 years of starting. Of course, it's not something to be proud of, but it does happen pretty often, and I don't think it offends anybody's sensibilities too much. Honestly, I don't think you need to worry about people asking you about your plans (as long as they don't read this question and follow the link back to your webpage); leaving to move to Africa is so far outside what most people will imagine that they won't even be considering it. They assume that if you're applying for the job, you're at least thinking at the moment that you'll be in for the long haul.

I think if you do mention your plan to anyone involved, it will hurt you a lot. No one actually wants to hire someone into a TT position who will leave in 2 years. It's a huge amount of wasted work and money, so I think it's only worthwhile apply to TT jobs if you feel comfortable just not mentioning it.

  • Thanks Ben. This is helpful. Concerning the "facts of life," I think I'm fairly aware of how competitive the job market is these days, and I don't have any grand visions for my first job out of grad school. A quick follow-up question: do you think that less desirable, heavy-teaching-load jobs are also fairly hard to come by? Might I have an advantage in the sense that I would willingly and happily accept a job that is mostly or entirely teaching? Your opinion? I do have a helpful advisor from whom I'll seek advice. Thanks again!
    – Jared
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 2:46
  • Might I have an advantage in the sense that I would willingly and happily accept a job that is mostly or entirely teaching? @Jared In the sense that there are some people who prefer leaving math or taking another temporary job to taking one at a community college. I don't really know what the applicant pool of, say, a community college looks like. But I know a lot of people who would be happy taking a teaching-heavy job who have struggled to find a TT position. Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 0:20

To expand on @Anonymous answer, even if you are certain now about what you plan to do in two years, you do not really know what life has waiting for your. In two years your certainties may be very different- and you may regret not having applied for those positions.

  • You're absolutely right. I do need to keep this in mind. Thanks for the input.
    – Jared
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 2:38

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