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I'm a new assistant professor in my first year of my first tenure track position.

For several reasons, I am seriously doubting whether my current position is a good fit and am considering applying to a couple open positions that may provide a better fit. I'm not sure whether the nature of my reasons is relevant but assume

  • My reasons do not involve salary or any personal conflicts (they are more related to the teaching load, the types of classes I'd be teaching, the background of the students I'd be teaching, and the possibility of advising PhD students)

  • I have no two-body problem or moving reasons for seeking a new job (the open positions are relatively nearby)

My question is: are there any serious problems with attempting to change tenure track positions this early?

  • From the perspective of the hiring committee, will this (even with an explanation in the cover letter) raise a red flag that will cripple my candidacy?

  • If I did apply, would my current employer be justified in being upset? Is it generally considered unacceptable to leave a tenure track position this early?

Thanks for any perspectives on this.

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    On the question of your current employer being upset: for my field in the US it would now be rather late to start thinking about new job adverts, at least for higher-ranked institutions, since offers will start going out pretty soon. How easily can they cover your teaching next year if you leave? – Jessica B Dec 30 '14 at 9:04
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    To your first question: no, people always want to get better positions. To your second, they will probably be disappointed, but it really depends on them whether they will be upset or not. In my experience, it's not super common to leave after 1 year, but it does happen. – Kimball Dec 30 '14 at 11:00
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    If your username on this site is your real name, it might be a good idea to change it to something anonymous, in case someone from your current department should read this. If you make it known that you want to leave, but don't find another position and end up staying, it could make things uncomfortable for you. – Nate Eldredge Dec 30 '14 at 16:16
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    @Nate, Thank you for pointing this out but no, this is not my real name :-) – Richard Lewis Dec 30 '14 at 16:16
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    The potential problem with using real-sounding names is that the "real" Richard Lewises may find themselves having to explain... Silly, but possible! Genuine anonymity, if desired, is better achieved by clearly-nonsense names. – paul garrett Dec 30 '14 at 19:41
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Before committing to leaving, it might also be beneficial to re-consider the current job situation. You mentioned the reasons for leaving are:

more related to

  • the teaching load,
  • the types of classes I'd be teaching,
  • the background of the students I'd be teaching,
  • and the possibility of advising PhD students.

Regardless of which aspects of each of these items you consider problematic, it appears your fundamental assumption is that all these things will be different in the new job. Until you actually do get the new job and let these four elements play out as they may, this will remain an assumption.

Even if you believe the situation will be different based on some 'inside knowledge' at the universities/departments you are applying to, these are merely perceptions and beliefs at this point. There is simply no way of knowing what the new situation will be like until after the fact.

In the world of tenure-track academe, these assumptions seem risky.

Based on what I hear from peers working in the academe, and occasional reading, your issues are not unique, but are endemic to the professional lives of junior faculty in the academe.

With this in mind, the problems you are facing may be reframed as truly excellent opportunities. As the likelihood of these issues resurfacing in your career is high, what better way to prepare for this reality than wrestle with it a bit during the first years on the job? I can hardly imagine a better means of gaining invaluable experience and proficiency in dealing with these problems!

See how you might address these issues now. Whether you succeed or not in changing some things to your liking, there will be valuable lessons learned regardless. The process of this learning might involve struggle and compromise, but the result is you will become a better-heeled junior faculty member, potentially capable of mentoring other peers on such matters or becoming (with time) a change agent after spending time in the trenches and earning credibility in these matters among your colleagues.

These are not simple or quick lessons, but they may be things are will pay of time and again over the course of your career in the long term. After all, your initial years on the job are not an end but a means toward something even more fulfilling later, correct?

As you see, I got stuck on your initial assumptions before even getting to the questions at hand. But I believe it is well worth to dwell some more on the reasons for leaving, prior to investigating the pros and cons of the actual decision to do so...

What if the same issues crop up in the new job? You will be left with a strange-looking one-year-long stint in a tenure track role, stuck forever on your CV.

The fact that neither salary nor personal conflicts with colleagues are causing any problems is also not to be taken for granted. Entering a new organization always carries risk of new "people issues" (conflicts related to personality aspects/working style/opinions/character/attitudes/integrity/whatever). I would count my blessings to be in a workplace where these are not major issues. Perhaps you don't even realize how lucky you are! For these reasons, I hope you might be willing to re-evaluate your current position prior to making the decision and evaluating it purely on the groups of career move timing.

Bottom line: Unless the issues you mentioned are absolutely killing you, and you just can't do it any more no matter what, then I guess there is little choice but leave. In which case the question you ask are a mute point. But if you can see some promise in that these experiences might pay off in the long term, then I would encourage you to stick it out a little longer.

After all, what does a year after which you leave a challenging job say about your ability to persevere, adapt, and succeed despite hurdles? Not too much. On the other hand, getting a few years under your belt in less-than-ideal conditions, and potentially being on the forefront of improving the situation for yourself and your colleagues, will say a whole lot about your professional character. That is worth the time served, in my book.

Good luck!

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"From the perspective of the hiring committee, will this (even with an explanation in the cover letter) raise a red flag that will cripple my candidacy?"

Probably not. It might hurt your chances somewhat, but if they would have wanted you otherwise, then they will probably still want to interview you.

That said, remember that the job market can be a crapshoot so I wouldn't worry about this too much. Unless you are a superstar and/or a perfect match for what they are looking for, even without any "red flags" the most likely outcome of a small number of job applications is that you won't get any interviews. If you don't have connections at these institutions, then there are no bridges to be burned by a job application; and if you do, then an unsuccessful job application is very unlikely to burn them.

What you should worry about is your relationship to your current department -- especially if you only make a small number of applications and are therefore unlikely to be successful. (This is not to say you shouldn't apply for other jobs if you believe they'll be a better fit.)

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If you have a compelling reason to want to move, you should explain it upfront in the cover letter. How much effect it will have on your job prospects will depend a lot on the kind of institution you are applying to. If you have a strong research record and are applying to another research university, the hiring committee will probably not judge you harshly for leaving a place where you decided that you did not fit. I could still be more of an issue at a primarily teaching school, however. Some people might interpret your leaving so early as a sign that you are difficult to please or difficult to get along with.

Leaving early is probably going to be a net negative for you in your job search, but having already been a tenure-track professor does have a few advantages. You should also emphasize in your letter your experience having a full-time faculty position. Even if you haven't had all the opportunities you wanted to at your current institution, play up what you have learned and accomplished in your limited time at your current job.

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