I received a PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2013 in the USA and then had a brief stint as a "teaching assistant professor" for one year at my alma mater. I moved then to a post-doc position in Europe which was highly dissatisfying and "unsuccessful" (unsuccessful=zero publications) for a year. I returned to the USA and now I am in a non-tenure track position (teaching track as "Lecturer") in a mechanical engineering department. A non-tenure track position at my university is a two year rolling contract which may be renewed based on performance in TEACHING, service and some project management activities.

I enjoy teaching and find that my students do like me as a teacher and this is evidenced by favorable "instructor evaluations" from the students. Instructor evaluations are one of the main factors in "re-employment".

I find very often that there are burning research questions that I would like to work on but since I am on a 4-4 teaching load (4 courses/preparations per semester), I actually do not find too much time to start investing my personal time in research. My personal time goes into "mandatory service activities" (a lot of it is 'busy work') for my department. These service activities are skirted by tenure track faculty and falls squarely on the shoulders of "Lecturers" (NTT).

I would like to get into a tenure track position as that seems to be inviting. I say this because, it would seem that on average, in the USA, for mechanical engineering/applied mechanics departments, tenure track (Asst Professor) has a 2-1 or even a 1-1 teaching load. The other portion of their time is mentoring graduate students and writing grants.

The topic for my PhD was niche (hydrothermal space applications) and did not produce tomes of publications (2 Journals, 10 conference), none of them cited significantly (twice at most for journal papers).

How do I break out from my non-tenure track position and move into a tenure track position? I realize the breadth/scope of my question is perhaps too subjective so I decided to form strategies. I am wondering if people on this forum who are into hiring committees could shed more light on whether these strategies are useful or if not, provide other perspectives


Strategy 1:

Continue in non-tenure track for a few years. Eventually I won't be spending too much time on new course preparation and that may afford me time to spend on research. However, then I will have significant backlog of scientific work to catch up on!

Strategy 2.:

Start applying for tenure track positions fully knowing that although I do have an aptitude for the research I want to do, I am lacking in publications. I have exhausted my PhD work into two publications (such was the nature of my PhD) and there is no "new data" or "new angle on old data" that I can publish right now. In this strategy of "job applications", I will have to focus on projecting my strengths (teaching, mentoring) and extend it or relate it to future proficiency in research

Strategy 3:

Quit my job and spend time trying to do research sans a pay-check (risky?) in the hope that this would allow me time for research.

Strategy 4:

Collaborate with tenure track faculty in my current university. The trouble is ("challenge" is a better word...) striking a working relationship with someone when I know that I am exhausting over 10 hours a day (on avg.) on teaching activities with little zing left in me at the end of the day!

Strategy x.:

Anything I might be missing as a strategy. This is where perhaps I could gain from someone's experience in this forum.

  • 6
    Not strategy 3, anyway... Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 22:12
  • 3
    It is true that working any sort of substantial full-time job leaves one with little energy to undertake another essentially full-time activity after-hours. I fear no reasonable strategy can overcome this, especially when one's CV shows the arc one is on. It's hard to catch up to people who've (through luck or whatever) gotten a big head start at some point. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 0:34
  • 3
    It almost never happens that someone succeeds in doing what you're hoping to do. One example where it did happen is Yitang Zhang, who essentially followed your Strategy 1. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 1:58
  • 3
    As an updated, it is not going well! I have succeeded in teaching and establishing a small research "plan" for myself but besides that, I am getting rejected left, right and center with respect to job applications.
    – dearN
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 16:12
  • 3
    @dearN I really appreciate the honesty and your time to reply to this, particularly since I made so many mistakes because I was not guided well (phd and post doc). Really hate how academy works. I actually like teaching, and it seems stable over a post doc but not ready to say bye to research, not sure what future holds. Thanks!
    – dusa
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 18:11

3 Answers 3


Apply, apply, and apply. If you are willing to work in another country, then opportunities are available. Earlier today, I saw an advertisement for a research university in Chile that was looking for faculty. Also, I have seen these advertisements for Chinese, and Korean universities as well. Here, you will get teaching in, but also have great graduate students and the ability to build up a strong profile. Maybe after you get to the Associate professor level you can apply again to the USA. If you really feel like you want to stay in the US, the go on a massive application spree, and also apply to schools with MET programs. It may be difficult, but not impossible, to get a teaching-research tenure track position that you hope for. Keep in mind, many foreign countries do not give tenure.


As an alternative to your strategies 1 through 4, I remember reading the book A PhD Is Not Enough, which had the suggestion of working at a governmental research lab (like the US Department of Energy's National Labs) or an industrial research lab (like Bell Labs) after grad school. You'd most likely earn a higher salary, with shorter workdays than you do now with your 4-4 teaching load; and most of that workday would be focused on research. Some such research labs have an environment that feels quite similar in spirit to academia, & may actively encourage academic publication by the staff. If so, you could build up a good publication record and THEN apply for tenure-track jobs.

The major downside would be a lack of teaching, if teaching is something you love. There's also no option for tenure at most such labs, but that may not be a problem since you don't have tenure right now in a Lecturer or Instructor position anyway.


I faced this situation 28 years ago, when after defence I found myself at an Adjunct position, spending almost all my time for teaching and surviving on a miserable salary.

I chose Strategy 1. It was tough, but it eventually worked out. I learned how to spend less time for course preparation, and how to allocate more time to research. I started publishing -- and aggressively sending my publications to all senior colleagues who might potentially be interested in my works. After 6 years of that miserable existence, I received a postdoctoral fellowship at a good school, then a postdoc at a government lab, then a permanent research scientist position there. It was tough, very tough. Still, looking back, I have no regrets. I very much hope that you also succeed in your career in science.

In what area is your research?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .