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02/28/2021

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David O. Brink

A few points. First, I agree that you should accept a postdoc, rather than turn it down on the mere hope of a TT job. But there is an alternative to then withdrawing from consideration for TT jobs or telling them nothing. Here, I think the situation with a postdoc offer in hand is not so different from the situation with a TT offer in hand. As a rule, if you get one TT offer at institution A, you should find out when they expect you to make a decision and then immediately contact other TT jobs (B, C, and D) for which you are still in the running that you might possibly prefer to A. You would tell these other TT jobs about A's offer and its timetable, expressing continuing interest in B (C and D) and asking about your status there and when they might be making their decisions. Perhaps B,C, and D are no longer interested in your candidacy or won't be able to make a decision before you need to respond to A. That in itself would be good to know. But there are other possibilities. Being aware of A's offer might increase your stock at B, C, or D, and if B-D is interested in you, it might be possible for them to reach a decision before you need to give A an answer. Sometimes, B will say that they can't quite meet A's original deadline, in which case you can sometimes go back to A and ask if you can get a small extension on the deadline for their offer, so as to make a choice that is fully informed about your options. Though there are obvious differences between a TT job and a postdoc, I don't see why this should affect this aspect of market protocol. Presumably, all else being equal, a TT offer is better than a postdoc, though all else is not always equal (e.g. a great postdoc that can be a springboard to better TT jobs may be better than a TT job where you wouldn't be esp happy). Contact those TT jobs that you might prefer to the postdoc, inform them about the postdoc and its deadline and then inquire about your status at the TT job and when they might be making their decisions. Proceed from there. Second, in any case, you probably shouldn't withdraw your candidacy at all TT jobs after accepting a postdoc, because some TT jobs (e.g. at R1s) may let you defer the start of their TT job so that you can do a year or two at a research-oriented postdoc. Third, people and situations vary, but I think many places that offer postdocs realize that candidates are generally better-off with TT jobs than with postdocs and don't want to pressure candidates to accept postdoc offers before they know their options, at least if they can avoid doing so. Anyway, that's my $.02.

Take the postdoc

Take. The. Postdoc.

If things become complicated with other applications, then that’s a problem, but a good problem to have.

Jonathan Ichikawa

You can and should do both of these things:

(1) Make sure you don't miss out on a good opportunity at the expense of a possible great one.
(2) Be transparent with your potential employers.

David Brink's advice is good. Explain the situation to the postdoc employer, and ask when they need a decision. And explain the situation to the potential TT employers, and ask when they expect to have news. Neither will be put out or surprised; employers expect applicants to face decisions like this.

If it really comes down to it, because people are forcing you to make decisions on an inconvenient schedule, you can take the postdoc and withdraw from it later. That'd be a bit of a dick move out of the blue, I think, but not if you'd previously asked for more time to decide because you have a TT job pending and they said no. (If it's at all an attractive option to you, you could also ask your TT offer if they're open to deferring the start date for a year or two, and plan to do the postdoc first.) But it will be easier for everyone if you can decide with full information in the first place, and these departments should understand that.

SLAC Associate

David Brink said what I came here to say: contact the TT search committees and let them know you have an offer in hand. Either they'll tell you "congratulations and best wishes," (in which case you know you're largely out of the running for that position) or if you're a serious contender for a TT offer then you've lit a fire under the committee to make a decision quickly and (potentially) to sweeten their offer to get you to accept. Don't let the postdoc offer hang for too long lest it get pulled, but you can ask for a few days to make your decision.

Evan

Generally, it is rational to take the TT since you’ll most likely be secured with a stable job and move on with your life. But again, since we don’t know these institutions that are offering you TT and postdoc it’s hard to assess whether it is *truly* rational for you take one over the other.

If this is a postdoc at a very ‘prestigious’ place and you don’t mind staying on the job market longer, then perhaps you should take the postdoc. If it’s not and you can’t afford to or don’t desire to stay on the job market longer for whatever reasons, then take the TT.

Weigh the pros and cons. But be considerate of your values and desires in life and factor those in as well. Since we don’t *exactly* know which institutions you are being offered TT or postdoc from, we can only give you general strategies.

I would also be cautious about assuming they might “sweetened the deal” if you tell them you got another offer. This assumption presupposes that OP has some type of skill, competence, or quality that is not easily replaceable.

The commenters should do well to not provide such specific advice without sufficient knowledge about OP and the institutions in question for the simple reason that they could end up in the worst position/situation in the future or end up *deeply* regretting their decision.

But ultimately, only you, OP can truly decide since you have more knowledge than us in this case.

Jaime W

I am mainly just commenting to say how incredibly grateful I am to all five of your for your thoughtful replies. And to Marcus for the advice and for posting my time-sensitive inquiry quickly. I feel much less lost already. I think I can wait to take formally accept the postdoc for a few days at least and I'm confident they won't revoke it without first telling me to get in or get out. So for now I will ask for a little time to decide and per follow up with outstanding TT jobs. Rest assured that I will not turn down the post doc without another offer in hand! Thanks so much again.

Trevor Hedberg

It sounds like the person in the situation has already made their decision, but for other readers, I think it's worth emphasizing this general rule: take what's assured; don't hold out for what's merely possible. There are contexts where holding out for the possibility of something better makes sense, but the academic job market in the humanities is not such a context and especially not in the pandemic-stricken circumstances of the present. The risk/reward payoff here is skewed such that the probability of the greater reward is WAY too low to justify the gamble.

Anon

One thing no one has yet addressed: What if one accepts the post-doc (as suggested), gets the TT offer, but the folks at the TT institution won't defer it for a year? Assume that, all else equal, one would prefer to take the TT job. What are the norms/expectations, as well as the ethical/legal issues, in withdrawing an acceptance at the post-doc?

Movin

Anon
There is ABSOLUTELY no problem leaving a post doc, after accepting it, if you are offered a TT job. While you have contingent positions, you can and should move if something more permanent comes along. I left a 3 year VAP after one year because I got a TT job, and the chair of the department I was leaving supported me whole heartedly.

Anon

@Movin: I don't mean after working there a year; I mean, e.g., accept the post-doc on March 4, get a TT offer on April 4, and then withdraw from the post-doc on April 5.

I'm not sure if this changes your view, but it's importantly different from leaving after, say, a year.

2nd anon

Anon: I think it's fine; presumably they'd still have a pool of applicants they can go back to (even if they've already been rejected, I'm sure there's at least one person in it who would be very happy to be un-rejected).

Movin

Anon
It does not change my view a bit. You take a permanent job when you are offered one. I just gave a concrete example of what I did.

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