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I am starting my second academic year as an assistant professor at a university in Europe. I'd like to move back to the US at some point in the near future. If I stay at my current university for 2 or 3 more years, it's likely that I will be offered tenure. Based on the openings I see in the US in my field, there are more assistant professor positions than associate professor positions.

  • Will it be better for my career prospects to apply now for assistant professor jobs in the US? If so, should I expect a reduced tenure clock?
  • Or should I wait a few more years and with tenure under my belt, apply for associate professor jobs?
  • 2
    Other people will have much more data on that, but my impression is that senior-level hires are indeed not common in the US. More likely is that you would be offered a fast track if you are a young tenured professor in Europe. A relevant question is also this: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/26698/… – xLeitix Sep 10 '15 at 11:32
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As someone who is just now making such a transition, my sense that it's hard to make the transition in either direction at any stage of your career.

My sense is that as a less senior faculty member, you'll have an easier time getting things going, because the expectations on junior faculty are lower in the sense of ramping up the group in the first few years. But whether or not you should wait is really a function of what you're looking for in your career.

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What's better for your "career prospects" depends on your situation, but there doesn't seem to be much harm in applying now to see what you can get. From what I've seen, it's much more common for people at the top of their field to move after tenure than it is for people not at the top. If you make a big breakthrough, then it's usually not so hard for you to move. For good but not top researchers, it's not impossible, but it may take many years of applying.

One issue is that it's harder for most schools to hire people with tenure (more expensive) than into tenure-track positions (cheaper) and places don't normally expect candidates to be willing to enter at a lower level than what they had. Another issue is that there are so many good new PhDs to compete with, if you've been out longer, you need to be that much more impressive to compete with them. Most of the open tenured positions I notice in the US are to lead a department or group (e.g., an external search for a chair), which is a different sort of position than I guess you are looking for.

  • I think the issue of hiring with tenure is not so much one of cost, but of risk: you won't get a second chance to evaluate the candidate after a few years if you hire someone with tenure on arrival. That's why most departments only hire people at the associate or full professor level that are indeed really good -- typically much better than what one would expect to need to get tenure in the department. – Wolfgang Bangerth Sep 11 '15 at 14:56
  • @WolfgangBangerth I guess there's variation from department to department. I can see this being an issue in places where tenure is often denied, but in most of the instances I'm aware of, I think the department wanted to hire someone with tenure, but the difficulty was convincing the administration to hire someone at a higher pay rate. – Kimball Sep 11 '15 at 18:08
  • I don't get that argument. The same person would make maybe 10 or 15% more when hired at the associate or full level than if they had come through the system starting at the assistant level and gotten tenure locally. That's not a significant difference. Of course, like I said, if you only plan to hire really good people at that level, then you'll have to pay significantly more than for the average associate or full professor in your department, and then it becomes a money issue. – Wolfgang Bangerth Sep 14 '15 at 13:21
  • @WolfgangBangerth I haven't seen things from the administrative side, but I presume they typically budget a certain amount for new positions (which they need to allocate for the next 30 years, say) when they approve them, and asking them to go over that requires them finding money from somewhere else, which is often not easy in this age of continual budget cuts. Of course, some universities are more flexible than others. – Kimball Sep 14 '15 at 18:33
  • @WolfgangBangerth In my experience, it's neither money or the desire to evaluate someone a second time (at least on the department level) that tends to get in the way, but rather university rules which the department would happily waive. For example, at a past job, I was told at one point that we couldn't consider hiring a full Professor in a given year, because the administration had only allowed us to post a job ad for Assistant Professors. – Ben Webster May 10 '18 at 20:27

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