I recently was given a job offer for a ([edit] research support/IT support) staff position at a university in a city I have been trying to relocate to for family reasons but I am concerned that if I take the position any chance I have of getting a tenure track position will be over. My background is in computational physics and I have a successful post-doctoral appointment currently (multiple first author manuscripts in some high impact journals within the short time, 1 year, I have worked), but the location is not-ideal for personal reasons.

My question is: if I take this job will it look poorly on tenure track applications? If it helps the position is fixed-term and much better pay than my current post-doc. I have always been told in graduate school that if you get off the tenure path, you can't get back on.

EDIT: I should note that the IT position is listed as a Research position, where I will be providing research support for the supercomputing center by leading/developing workshops, presenting work at HPC conferences, and still writing manuscripts (just in more of a CS/IT domain instead of physics) and the position is only for about 4.5 Months. Didn't know if that would change anyone's responses, but thought I should clarify that it is not help-desk/sys. admin work.

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    If you temporarily leave your postdoc to join an exciting start-up in your field, I could see that this might not necessarily be held much against you. If you leave to become IT support, I find it hard to believe that this will not damage your tenure track chances. You should discuss this with your adviser/PI, and any mentor; but I would certainly not do this if you are serious about tenure. Obviously, if you are exceptionally brilliant, you could join a circus for a few years and come back, so in that case it might not matter. – gnometorule Oct 6 '15 at 20:37
  • Although, if he is just doing the IT job while applying for a second post-doc, that probably won't be held against him...but the IT job should be very temporary if he takes it at all. – daaxix Oct 7 '15 at 0:35
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    @Hobbes: Your edit is indeed significant. I wonder though if I am the only one who is confused by the confluence of the facts that your "(non-research, IT support) staff position" is "listed as a Research position". – Pete L. Clark Oct 7 '15 at 19:41

I would think it's not advisable to take this position unless you already have a research position lined up for a local university in the near future (under a year at least). At least in my field, getting tenure anywhere at all is hard. Unless you are particularly in demand (which seems unlikely from your described position so far), if you want tenure you have to put that above location (even to some extent country, not just city), and then apply at every opportunity to move to something where you want, in the hope that one day you will get it. It's not a good situation, but there are too many people for the number of jobs available.

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    Sad but true. Academia is in general not for people who want to live where they want to live... – yo' Oct 7 '15 at 18:24
  • Your edit puts things outside my experience. My guess would be that this is possibly a job worth taking as something you'd be interested in and is where you want to be (and perhaps less stressful), but you would still be unlikely to move on from there to tenure. – Jessica B Oct 8 '15 at 20:35

It may hurt, but I can fully understand why location is so much a priority for you. Having a computational physics degree will open a lot of doors for you, so here is what I recommend:

Take the job that you were offered, and since it is in a university, go ahead and acclimate to it. Try to distinguish yourself as much as you can in this position and climb the ladder as much as you can. Whilst doing this, try to get an adjunct appointment in the physics department (build some connections) and go from there. I don't know if this university is a research university, but I have seen others do something similar to this. They'll pick up a position in another department, get to a senior position, and then use this to pick up an adjunct position. Eventually, after a couple of years, you can quit the IT dept. and try to move full time to the other dept. This is attractive to the institution because you are already on the payroll of the institution and so becoming an adjunct shouldn't be that difficult.

Please note that this is through my experience seeing others in my local university.

I wish you the best,

EDIT After seeing your edit, I can strongly say that my advice holds valid. I agree that from a simple IT Support position, this would be a longshot, but from a IT HPC Research Position, you will beyond doubt be involved in computational physics work. That will help build connections, a research portfolio, and a good start.

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    I think this is poor advice, if he wants to stay on the tenure track. Getting into the adjunct sinkhole is particularly bad advice. Adjuncts typically have a more difficult time attaining tenure than people coming off of post-docs... – daaxix Oct 7 '15 at 0:32
  • @daaxix I respect your opinion, and often times, what you're saying is indeed true. But, if you are affiliated with another department, become distinguished in that department, develop good relations with the physics department, teach classes, etc., you will inevitably be able to fit your way in. I have seen cases of this at my local university (A top 10 engineering institution). – user42055 Oct 7 '15 at 2:35
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    Someone who does IT in a department is not even faculty. Moreover if you do IT for, say, the physics department at a university, I know of no further rungs to climb: in all my years in academia I have never seen a departmental IT staff promoted into any other position. IT positions usually pay considerably more than adjunct teaching positions -- at least 50% more in my experience -- so becoming an adjunct would be a big step down. Finally, being an adjunct is by no means a stepping stone to a tenure track job so this is not what the OP is asking about. – Pete L. Clark Oct 7 '15 at 4:11
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    IT support position at the university is, concerning getting a faculty position, no better than a bathroom cleaner. Unless you want to apply for an IT facutly position, but then again, it's no different from being an IT support anywhere else. – yo' Oct 7 '15 at 18:22
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    I reversed my vote after seeing the change in the OP's posting. The additional knowledge that the "non-research IT support" position is actually a Research position (!) definitely changes things. The fact that the position is temporary is also significant: indeed the OP should try to "snake his way in"...otherwise he'll be completely out in no time. – Pete L. Clark Oct 7 '15 at 19:45

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