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« Real jobs in philosophy part 1: Mark Alfano, working at TU Delft (Netherlands) | Main | Real jobs in philosophy part 2: Kristina Meshelski, working at California State University Northridge »



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past VAP

You should have something in writing before you leave a job for another one. Odd and unexpected things happen. And you do to want to be caught without a job. But there is NOTHING wrong with leaving a postdoc of VAP for a TT job. Everyone should understand when you do that. Of course it is inconvenient to the place you are leaving. But it is a job MARKET, and TT jobs are hard to come by. When I left after 1 year of a three year VAP position for a TT there were no hard feelings. It was expected that I would leave for a TT. But leaving one VAP for another VAP does not look good. There can be good personal reasons to do it, but you should not expect any support from the place you are leaving for the better VAP.
It is also a courtesy to write a formal letter stating that you are leaving the job you are leaving.


I completely agree that one shouldn't worry about leaving a VAP early for a TT. However, postdocs can be a little more complex. If you have a postdoc where you're doing independent research, then it shouldn't be a problem if you leave early. However, many postdocs are hired on as part of larger projects and are expected to do collaborative research, organize conferences and events, etc. (these positions are more common in Europe, but they exist in North America as well). If you have this kind of postdoc, then leaving early can be detrimental to the project--not just to the PI, but to other postdocs and grad students who were working with you. Of course, if you do have this kind of position, you hopefully have a close relationship with your postdoc supervisor and should have a sense of how well they can handle your leaving early.

One possibility for dealing with these issues is--when offered a TT--to request a late start date or a year of unpaid leave to complete your current postdoc. Typically only research departments can grant this, but it'll depend on immediate teaching needs. I also have the sense that this request is more often accommodated in Europe, but I know of some cases where it worked out well for people in North America.


Following up on postdoc: it is indeed sometimes inconvenient that postdocs on large projects leave early -- it requires that a new person is hired, who needs to be trained, and to be acquainted with the rest of the team. I have not yet landed a position that would allow the hire of several postdocs (fingers crossed for some applications), but I think in a situation like this, your own welfare and job prospects takes precedence over the project. I spoke to people who had ERC and AHRC projects and they said they understood their postdocs were on the lookout for other opportunities - especially if these people were already several years after their PhD viva (as is increasingly the case).
Many young PhDs in Europe spend several years working on other people's projects. Unless there is a perfect fit between your own interests and the projects' (the fit is hopefully good but never perfect), this means they are already forgoing opportunities of developing their own research. So I would say, regardless of how the project leader or others would take it, you should take good offer of a permanent position even if it means leaving early. You can do this regardless how your postdoc supervisor would handle it.

About asking for a late start from a VAP or postdoc, this makes sense if there is value to your research or other professional development to do so, but if not, there is no moral obligation to stay on to complete the VAP or postdoc. Usually, at least in Europe, there is 3 months or so notice. If you want to begin your new job, just give the legally required notice - no more, no less.

recent grad

Why don't smaller, teaching-oriented places just put buyout clauses in their TT offers? That is, if they're worried about someone jumping ship after a year or two, why not just have a clause requiring payment to leave the job that early? That would be a decent way to separate those serious about staying from those bullshitting (or at least some compensation otherwise). I, for one, experience a little Schadenfreude when a department in a less desirable place gets bailed on when there are plenty of candidates willing to stay.

past VAP

Recent Grad
You should not wish for the conditions to be even worse for those on the market. The idea that an early career person would be punished for leaving a job is horrible. I say this as someone who works at a department who lost someone after a year. Of course we were disappointed. But that is part of life. We had very good indicators that the person was not a flight risk ... very good.


Buyout clauses....indeed why not bring back indentured servitude? One thing that does not get discussed in the whole ethics of accepting a job offer when you've accepted a less desirable one, or jumping ship from a college after 2 years or so is the negotiating power of job candidates, which has petered out to zero.

I understand the frustration of recent grad about people who move ship, but I think ultimately the fact we can jump ship is one fact that prevents academic employment conditions from sinking to rockbottom conditions.

The first job offer I had was unattractive: low pay, geographically undesirable position, no spousal for my spouse who would therefore be effectively locked out of a job because of severe visa restrictions). The department and dean did not budge on any of my requests (a modest pay increase, moving funds, and some lecturing job for my spouse). It was basically: take it or leave it. And many job offers are like this. There is no consideration for the candidate because it is a buyer's market.

And I am not in a unique situation - I know many people who are in TT positions they find suboptimal, for instance, because the pay is that of a high school teacher (no disrespect, but given the opportunity cost of being in grad school that is a disappointment). To make matters worse, cash-strapped schools often try to force their first choice into a quick take-it-or-leave-it decision. In a climate like this, where corporatized universities hold all the cards, I do not see what loyalty a job candidate owes to any given university. And they realize they are the lucky ones, comparably speaking.

If you are on a VAP or postdoc, try to be on the lookout for a permanent job from your first year. Do not wait until your final year. The market is unpredictable. You may be lucky in year 2, and waiting to year 3 find nothing. If you are in a tenure-track position you do not like, it is prudent to wait until year 3 to go to the market. Years 1 or 2 may raise concerns, and waiting too long makes it look like you have concerns about your tenure dossier. When going on the market, try to get a letter of rec from someone you trust in the department, which helps to show trust, but if there is really no-one you could ask, then outside letters are fine. Once you are tenured, it is more difficult to move unless you are a research-superstar. And even then, as Josh Parsons' recent story in Daily Nous indicates, it is difficult to move. So moving when you are junior is key. Make sure you get a written contract, before giving your notice.

Again, I want to stress, universities are corporations. They try to get the best deal they can get, which typically means lower wages (adjusting for inflation, and even sometimes just in actual numbers) than what people were offered 10-20 years ago, less research support, higher teaching loads; the tenure system is unravelling. We should not behave like samurai toward masters, but be savvy about getting a deal we like, in a place we like, under conditions we like.


FYI, most positions do have buyout clauses for after sabbaticals. Bor instance, if we don't return for a year after your sabbatical you may owe back half of your previous year's pay. At my uni, it's two. You can often negotiate for the new place to pay this. I was able to negotiate my place letting me leave after one without penalty.

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