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I got my Ph.D. in Chemistry in an eastern European country in 2008. The same year I got a lecturer assistant position in a university in the same country.

Working there, I got promoted, first to lecturer (2010), then to assistant professor (2012).

From 2012 I started thinking about moving to another country: academic salaries are quite low and the political situation became very unstable. I even started to send my CV to several positions, and there was one offer. But due to some management changes, I became a department head at the end of 2012, so I refused the proposal and stayed in the university. A year ago I became an institute head inside the university.

Every year from 2012, I thought that it's not the best year to leave my position because my resignation would put my department/institute into a difficult position. There is no open job market for academic positions in our country (due to the ridiculous salaries) and it would be difficult to find a replacement for a head of an institute in our city.

I can't say that the management position is very unpleasant for me, but I feel that I'm not a good fit, and I would prefer to stay in an assistant professor / professor position. Today I feel that the bureaucracy takes over and I can't get time to do research or to teach. When I raise these concerns with the management of our university, I get a response, like "When did life ever run smooth? You need to concentrate, and you would be OK. Now, take this new project."

Moreover, I can't openly submit my requests to positions in other universities I like, because it will require me to provide a set of recommendation letters. All colleagues who know me well and who can give me such a letter would be VERY surprised when they will find out, that I want to change my occupation. The sphere of chemistry academia in our country is very small, everyone knows everyone.

So, what should I do next?

  1. Should I try to make an open statement to the university head that I think the position is not for me and I want to leave? It would be a very tough conversation, I would become a "lame duck" in the university without any guarantee of finding a "job of my life". Also, this conversation would be very unspecific, because I have no other proposals. From the other side, then I would be able openly to ask my colleagues to provide a recommendation letter for me.
  2. Should I try to find another academic position without informing the management? But I don't know how to provide a good set of recommendation letters then: people would start talking about my activity, and it would become public.
  3. If I send a CV to an assistant professor/professor position, should I mention, that I am a head of an Institute? I'm afraid that it can raise a lot of questions like "why do you want to downshift from such a good position to become a teacher/researcher".
  4. Maybe there is something that I am missing?
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    Can you find recommendation letters from someone who is not in your country? – Massimo Ortolano Oct 9 '16 at 19:16
  • Yes, I have several colleagues who are not in my country. Part of them are my friends, that are on their post-doc positions, so it would not be enough for a recommendation letter. Another part - are colleagues we are making projects with. Asking them to provide me a recommendation letter means that they would loose a connection point to my university when I would leave. So I do not know, if it would be OK for me to ask them for a recommendation letter. – Paul Oct 9 '16 at 19:23
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    I've never heard of anyone being promoted so nonchalantly. It makes me suspicious. Typically people who are directors of institutes fought long and hard for what they do, and would certainly never admit "it's not for me". Do you think there's a chance something is about to go horribly wrong and they want you to be responsible at the time? Alternatively, did the person who previously had your job recently get employed as a professor in another country? If so, you found the progression plan... :) – Wetlab Walter Oct 9 '16 at 20:27
  • It makes me nervous to, as you can see. The previous director of the institute became a head of the university. I was his deputy for the education, when he was a head of the institute, so his position was proposed to me. – Paul Oct 9 '16 at 20:42
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First of all, you need to decide what's best for you long term. If you decide to abdicate and apply elsewhere, then do it and don't look back.

During this process, you'll want to choose letter writers you trust, and ask them to keep it in strict confidence. You'd do the same for them, no? People move on, it happens.

Despite your best efforts, word will always get out...hopefully slowly. But, see my first point. If you've decided, you've decided, so it's just a matter of time, uncomfortable as it may be.

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