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I recently completed a postdoc at a prestigious R1 university, in a high profile lab. My publication record is not prolific, but those that I have published as first author are well respected journals, and a handful of middle author publications in top journals as well. I have a consistent teaching record throughout my graduate and postdoc training as well.

I applied to faculty positions at ~30 schools over the past two years, including several that I was not very excited about, but were in my target location and had open positions, so I applied. In total, I've had two on campus interviews and have been offered a faculty position at a low ranking liberal arts university (awards Master's but not PhDs) that seems like somewhat of a good fit for me personally in terms of the teaching I would do and the research interests of the other faculty, but lacks the prestige and resources of larger/more research intensive schools.

Would it be wise to take this position in the hopes that several years of faculty experience will allow me to jump to a different college/university that is a better fit for my professional goals (i.e., more research, higher caliber students, more resources for faculty)? Does this happen often, where someone takes a "starter" appointment and moves to a more fitting situation when it arises, somewhat like a Visiting Assistant Professor position?

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    The current version of this question looks very broad. Would you mind telling us your location/country and your discipline? – scaaahu Apr 28 '16 at 14:26
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    Depending on your circumstances, it might be wise for you to take this position (you seem to like several things about it). That said, it is rare (at least in my discipline) for people to move from faculty positions at liberal arts colleges to more prestigious research universities. In particular, "several years of faculty experience" will almost certainly not help you. Some amazing publications might. – Anonymous Apr 28 '16 at 14:29
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    @GEdgar Yes, but what the numbers you talk about refer to is that one usually graduates from a top school and then goes to a lower-ranked research university. The problem with going to a liberal arts college is that it is hard to conduct best-in-the-world research without PhD students and with a high teaching load. – xLeitix Apr 28 '16 at 16:36
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    It is important to think about non-ideal scenarios, because all of them are much more likely than the ideal one. If you took this offer and never got an offer from a research university, would you stay and be happy, or would you leave for industry? On the other hand, if you declined this offer and never again got any offer for a tenure-track job, would you regret having turned this down? The specific numbers depend on your field, but you have to decide if raising your chance of a research university job from 10% to 20% is worth dropping your chance of any tenure-track job from 100% to 60%. – Alexander Woo Apr 28 '16 at 16:36
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    I think the really important question here is what your other options are. Obviously, the job you describe sounds superior to living under a bridge, so what would you be doing if you don't take it? – Ben Webster Apr 28 '16 at 17:09
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This happens a lot (job hopping for professors) but it's mainly depending on your research whether you get hired.

If the infrastructure is not there for you to do decent research, you're probably only going to do a lot of teaching without getting many grants or publications that would get you a subsequent position. I think you're better of staying in a postdoc position where you have less teaching responsibility. Get a big grant and you can probably choose where you want to go.

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    I think this is dangerous advice. Most postdocs just aren't going to get a big grant. Most postdocs just aren't going to get R1 tenure track jobs, and certainly not one in their "target location." – Noah Snyder Apr 29 '16 at 13:14
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The chances of successfully "moving on to bigger and better things" depend on one's discipline, and also what topic one studies within that discipline. Some topics look much more attractive than others to departments/faculties seeking to boost their standing; note that this is, erm, less than perfectly correlated with the actual depth/worth of those topics.

Would it be wise to take this position in the hopes that several years of faculty experience will allow me to jump to a different college/university that is a better fit for my professional goals (i.e., more research, higher caliber students, more resources for faculty)?

This strikes me as risky, if you feel those professional goals are essential to your job satisfaction within the next 4–7 years. It's also the case, at least in my discipline, that people hiring in smaller places are not keen on applicants who give the impression — rightly or wrongly — that they are using such places as stepping stones.

Moreover, it may not be as easy for you to move on to "better things" as you might hope; you'll be up against younger people applying for similar jobs, and your rate of publication — if that is important in your discipline — will almost certainly be lower than those people, especially if you start work somewhere that has fewer resources than the place you did your PhD.

Does this happen often, where someone takes a "starter" appointment and moves to a more fitting situation when it arises, somewhat like a Visiting Assistant Professor position?

I'm afraid I don't have anything more than anecdotes and a very partial sample based on my own discipline.

My own experience, which may differ from yours, is that permanent positions in my sub-discipline were hard to come by in my home country. Consequently, I ended up taking a job in North America which, although not in a liberal arts college, was not too far from the situation you describe as

somewhat of a good fit for me personally in terms of the teaching I would do and the research interests of the other faculty, but lacks the prestige and resources of larger/more research intensive schools.

At the time I did not do so with the intention of moving on, but it was always a possibility I kept in mind, and subsequently I did indeed quit that job to take up a new one elsewhere, which unexpectedly arose. So I guess you could view this story as some evidence to support your initial idea — start somewhere and then move on — but I'd also counsel caution.

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