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Marcus Arvan

Excellent post -- and boy do I have a lot to say about it. My experience is that I was in *no* way prepared for a TT job out of grad school. At the time I graduated, I wanted a TT job just like everyone else. Now I feel very lucky that I got a post-doc (at UBC) and a revolving term position (now at Tampa). These positions have helped me find my footing both as a researcher and as a teacher -- all without a looming tenure clock.

Now, of course, I had better get a tenure-track job sometime soon (else I run the risk of never getting one). But this isn't really the point of my comment. The point is that, in my experience, I think I benefited tremendously from not going straight into a TT job. I was most certainly not prepared to supervise grad students straight out of grad school, and it took me 2-3 years to even begin learning how to publish and teach effectively. I can only imagine how stressed I might have been if I had to learn all that in a TT job (with a tenure clock hanging over my head).

Mark Alfano

Interesting set of questions, Kyle. As someone who was on the hunt for jobs for the last two years, I can tell you that I just applied for everything: TT-jobs, research post-docs, teaching post-docs, and VAPs. It's hard to get anything, so in my opinion the best strategy is to carpet-bomb the market.

On the uses of post-docs, I think you're right to distinguish the various types. A research post-doc is more like a traditional science post-doc: it helps you pump out articles, chapters, or maybe even a book while you burnish your other credentials and connections. I'm sure that one of the reasons the 2011-12 market was easier for me than the 2010-11 market was that I had a post-doc at Notre Dame that functioned as a mark of approval on its own and also provided opportunities to publish.

A teaching post-doc and a VAP, on the other hand, seem to be more of a way to fly in a holding pattern while you go on the market again. Some of these have light teaching loads (1-1, 2-1, or 2-2), which simultaneously helps you get into the groove of teaching and leaves some time for research. Others come with really heavy teaching loads (up to 4-4); people can research in such a context, but it's harder to get a lot done.

Two crucial questions to ask about any non-TT position, I think are whether 1) it's renewable beyond a single year and 2) it provides health insurance.

David Morrow

It would be worth taking a look at the last few tenure-track hiring threads for people who get TT jobs after holding post-docs. My impression, which is not backed up by research, is that a lot of people land very good TT jobs after taking post-docs. I'm not quite sure what to make of that fact (if it is one), but it suggests that some post-docs are much more than just a way to mark time.

Mark is being modest here, but he's one of the people I have in mind. He's been churning out articles and books--yes, plural--during his post-doc, and he got a TT job at the University of Oregon this year.

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