I see some offers on the Chronicle jobs website (such as this one from UC San Diego) for non-tenure-track assistant professor positions.

Is the work of a non-tenure-track assistant professor exactly the same as the work of a tenure-track assistant professor, e.g. in terms of teaching/research ratio?

Also, would taking on a position of this type be more, less or equally helpful compared to, say, taking up another postdoc, for someone that would later want to apply to a tenure-track position?

Forgive me if this question does not make sense to you, but I have taken the impression from some sources that whatever professional decision one takes that is slightly outside the "normal" progression of an academic career can be harmful.

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    I think non tenure track assistant professors are usually more teaching-oriented positions at research universities. Essentially, "non tenure track assistant professor" is a sexier way to say "lecturer". However, I am not american, so take this with a grain of salt.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 19, 2014 at 12:27
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    That being said, you should never assume a specific job profile from a position name anyway.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 19, 2014 at 12:29
  • @xLeitix I think that's wrong; typically after a Ph.D. you have some number of typically 3 year postdocs, which are non-tenure track, then a tenure-track position that will probably be called an assistant professorship.
    – user18072
    Oct 20, 2014 at 1:36
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    @xLeitix "Teaching oriented" isn't reliable enough to be a rule. In my field, for example, non-tenure track positions are often - and I'd guess the majority of the time - for strictly research positions.
    – Fomite
    Oct 20, 2014 at 18:21

4 Answers 4


The most important point is that jobs vary significantly by discipline. If you are in the field of Cognitive Science, or in a related field, you are in a better position to know what a job ad in that area is actually looking for. Unfortunately, the job ad linked in the question is written in a way to make it hard for those outside the area to know what it wants - it does not directly say whether they are looking for research or teaching. There is no way to tell without asking what the teaching/research ratio would be.

In general, there are two common uses of non-tenure-track "Assistant Professor" positions in the U.S.:

  1. Postdoctoral positions. These are not usually considered "harmful" to your career. In many fields they are a standard part of the academic job progression.

  2. Teaching-oriented positions for which the candidate has a PhD. These may be full-time positions (as in the linked ad) or part-time.

The second type of position could be helpful, or harmful, depending on what sort of tenure-track position you are looking for. You have already narrowed down the type of institution where you would like to have a tenure-track position, and started honing your CV to be a perfect fit for that type of school, right?

  • If your type of school is an elite research school, then another postdoc seems more likely to be helpful than a teaching position. This is the type of school where leaving the standard progression is most likely to be harmful to tenure-track chances. If you are a likely candidate for this type of position, you probably know it already.

  • If you are looking at non-elite public universities, which have more of a balance between research and teaching, a single non-tenure-track teaching assistant professorship is not a mark of certain doom for your tenure track hopes. You can use the job to hone your teaching, move your research forward a little, and you can use the time to apply for tenure track jobs.

  • If you are looking at teaching-first institutions, or at community colleges, then you need to make sure you have excellent teaching credentials. You might be able to use a teaching-oriented term position as a way to do that.

Unfortunately, because of the excess of candidates relative to the number of tenure-track positions in many (most?) fields, and because the number of tenure-track jobs is not increasing, many academics work multiple term positions in a row. This is especially common in the humanities, and it can be "harmful" for tenure track hopes, unfortunately. I was fortunate to find a tenure-track position, so I can't speak too much to how to handle the situation of multiple term teaching positions, but you can find a lot of discussion about it on the web.

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    There are at least two other uses: Medical schools, where tenure is often much more difficult to get, and 100% soft money positions in university systems where "tenure" implies some funding obligation.
    – Fomite
    Oct 20, 2014 at 18:23

Actually, in this specific case I think it may just be a mistake in the ad.

The application page linked from the Chronicle ad just describes the position as "Assistant Professor" and doesn't say anything about tenure one way or the other. Certainly the default for an assistant professor position would be that it is tenure track.

Also, I attended UC San Diego as a grad student (in a different department) and don't ever remember hearing about any non-tenure-track assistant professors. Full-time teaching-oriented faculty at UCSD have the title "Lecturer".

So I think there's a good chance that these are ordinary tenure-track assistant professor positions, and that someone just clicked the wrong box when submitting the Chronicle ad.

I would suggest getting in touch with the department for clarification.


After reading the advertisement, my opinion is that this is most likely an error in posting the advertisement, and that these actually are tenure track positions.

There are at least three situations in the US where I commonly see non tenure-track assistant professor positions:

  1. Limited duration "Visiting Assistant Professor" positions. Here the candidate will be expected to cover the teaching load of a regular faculty member, typically because the regular faculty member is away on sabbatical leave or on an administrative appointment or unavailable due to health problems. It's not uncommon for such a position to exist for a year while a department searches for a permanent tenure track replacement.

  2. Permanent or limited duration "Research Assistant Professor" positions, typically funded by grants. Here the candidate will be expected to perform research and bring in the grants to support their salary but won't have a regular teaching load.

  3. Permanent "Clinical Assistant Professor" positions. These are full time teaching positions with no possibility of tenure. A similar title often used is "instructor."

The advertisement linked to by the original poster doesn't seem to fit into any of these categories, which is why I believe that the "non tenure track" on the listing is simply in error.


In my department, postdoctoral appointments, usually for a 3-year, non-renewable term (and thus definitely not tenure-track), carry the title of assistant professor. Postdocs are listed on the department web page as "Post-Doc Assistant Professor" but in the university directory simply as "Assistant Professor of Mathematics" (with no indication that they are not on tenure-track).

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