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I have obtained a tenure-track offer (computer science) starting in 1 year that I'm planning to accept. I'm currently a postdoc in theoretical computer science and I'm facing the situation where I could either extend my current postdoc for another year or, somewhat by coincidence, I have also the option of going into industry with the knowledge that my appointment there would have a fixed ending date (when my tenure track position starts). The potential industry employer does not have any knowledge of my tenure track offer, so in a sense I would be "abusing" my position there as an industry postdoc. (Considering that the company is a big player in the financial world, I'm sure they wouldn't be too heartbroken over me leaving after a year...)

I feel somewhat more inclined to go for the industry position just for the sake of "trying something different" before going the full academic route.

Would taking up a temporary appointment in industry be perceived as lack of commitment to research once my tenure clock is up and/or could there be other negative repercussions for my future (academic) career?

Edit: to add more detail, I'm planning to continue to work on research problems during my industry appointment as time permits. I'm reasonably well connected to avoid suffering from the fact that I'm not going to be physically located at a research institution (considering it's a short term absence).

  • I can't answer this question, but I'm curious what harm you imagine it could have, given that you've already secured a tenure-track position? It's my understanding that most places stop caring about your past once you advance past the applicant phase. – Tim Feb 2 '15 at 4:53
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    Be aware that there may be issues with your industrial employer if you leave within the first year of employment. For example, if they reimburse you for moving expenses there would often be a clause that you must repay this if you leave within the first year. You're also going to lose out on annual bonuses and stock options (if there are any.) At another level, if you resign your position so soon after starting, then it's unlikely that you'll be able to maintain good relationships with the folks that hired you. – Brian Borchers Feb 2 '15 at 5:14
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    The potential industry employer does not have any knowledge of my tenure track offer — You need to change that, before the department that made the offer does. – JeffE Feb 2 '15 at 11:45
  • I think that taking a lucrative industry job will lower the expected value of your academic career: if you were sure you wanted an academic career, you wouldn't be motivated to try something different. Isn't there a non-negligible chance that you'll learn that you prefer the industry job? That would end your academic career. However, taking you at your word the most likely outcome is that you will return to your academic job with increased confidence that you're doing the right thing, which will be valuable to both you and your employer. – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '15 at 5:21
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Note: I'm not addressing the ethics of taking the industry job in bad faith. That's addressed above.

Regarding future negative impact on tenure:

No, it shouldn't have negative impact. At least, not at a reasonable school. But I don't know if the school you will be working at is reasonable. I wouldn't expect this to be a negative at Georgia Tech.

The only reason it could possibly hurt is if you had zero publications during that time, and even then that shouldn't matter if it's a non-research industry job. But even then, if you are getting interesting experience you can talk about later, that might help your research or make connections for future collaboration or funding, it's still good.

Remember, when you come up for tenure, you write your research and teaching statements, do you can contextualize this year any way you want!

Regardless, I would hope it's viewed positively. When you come up for mid-tenure review and tenure review, the committee should look at your impact (in all ways), your publications, teaching evaluations, and so on. Generally, they want to look at the trajectory of your work since you started as a professor at this job. Will you appear to be someone who will continue to be successful?

What you do during this gap year shouldn't impact that. So, I would expect it wouldn't hurt in any way.

That said, I would ask the opinion of a few senior faculty at the school, and I would explain to them that you think the experience would be a good one (perhaps for informing your future work, and teaching). That will both give you a chance to find out how senior faculty feel about this (they are the ones judging your tenure case later on) and put into their minds a positive reason for you doing this. Looking deliberate and thoughtful about your career choices is a good thing.

  • This is an excellent answer. A reasonable institution would understand that if they want to have a say about what you do next year, they need to hire you then. Assuming the year gap is their doing, you can go backpacking through Nepal if you want (and who's to say that would be such a bad way to spend your time? only you and your close associates). If on the other hand the OP negotiated for a one-year gap under the pretext of a postdoc, then spending it in an industry job instead seems deceptive. – Pete L. Clark Feb 4 '15 at 5:16

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