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I am a tenure-track Assistant Professor, coming up for tenure next year (no concerns about getting tenure). There is another university I would like to move to. Their department is of similar strength to my own, but is a better fit for my research, and is in a city I would rather live in. However I don't have any personal connections with any of their faculty members.

Is it appropriate to write to the department head, express my interest, and ask if there are any anticipated openings? Would there be any point in doing this? Thanks for any insights.

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You certainly could.It's a low-risk action with the following responses in roughly descending order of probability (assuming you're looking for a tenure-track job, and not just an adjunct/visiting position):

1) The e-mail is ignored. Chairs get many strange e-mails about things that are unanswerable. This goes into the e-mail folder labelled "To respond to when I have much more time than I do now"

2) The Chair writes back with a polite letter thanking you for your interest but that there's nothing in the immediate future, promises to write to you if there is, and then promptly forgets about your e-mail which gets archived along with the other people who wrote the same.

3) The Chair writes back saying that there's an opening for exactly someone with your specific research interests, teaching background, and desired seniority. They were going to have an open search and advertise this on all of the usual sites, but because you're such a perfect fit, they're skipping straight to hiring you.

I should add that #1 and #2 combined represent about 99.99% probability and #3 only happens once in a millennium. But again, the risk is so low that you could do it and buy a PowerBall lottery ticket at the same time and see what happens.


On a more serious note, many job sites have 'alert' functions that will let you know when a job that meets your criteria pops up. I'd subscribe to those. In the meanwhile, I'd become chummy with that department if possible so that you can hear about any gossip about spots. Or try to impress them so much that they decide to do a targeted hire with you in the spotlight.

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    Could I convince you to say "once in a millennium" and use "millennia" as the plural? – Michael Hardy Jul 8 '15 at 2:39
  • Well, I suppose the OP is more realistically hoping for something in between #2 and #3. "There is a good chance we will be hiring in your research area in the next couple of years. I'll let you know when our opening is posted. By the way, are you interested in coming to give a talk in our colloquium?" – Nate Eldredge Jul 8 '15 at 4:37
  • In any case, it would certainly behoove the OP to start cultivating relationships with people in the target department. – Nate Eldredge Jul 8 '15 at 4:39
  • I suppose it depends on the level of the institution/department. We wouldn't offer spots on our colloquium schedule because someone local wrote and was available unless they were rather well known. – RoboKaren Jul 8 '15 at 6:35
  • Thanks RoboKaren and Nate. I think the hypothetical reply that Nate proposed is probably indeed the best case scenario. And yes, I need to cultivate relationships with them, I'm just not quite sure how to kickstart them. I was on an NIH study section with a key member of the department recently, but unfortunately it was a video-conference, so no chance for chit chat or schmoozing. – duboce Jul 9 '15 at 15:43
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While I have no experience in working with a university I do work in corporate and I think I can make an accurate suggestion by comparing this to my corporate experiences.

Contacting another corporation (University) about possible openings is absolutely okay but it matters how you approach it. First, I would contact the department head and tell them about who you are and what you do while also expressing interest in that university. Tell the department head that while you love your current position you believe that the city where their university would better yourself because of your research and x,y,z. After that you can ask if they know if any positions are currently open or will be open in the near future that you could possibly inquire about.

The point of doing this is it establishes a network between you and the department head, and if you don't contact them you may be in a long pile of applications when the university opens the position publicly rather than the department head possibly giving you a heads up. The department head may also offer you advice such as how to increase your chances of a transfer to their university and what not.

I hope this helps.

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