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« How often should one referee for journals? | Main | Job-market discussion thread (2021-22 season) »

09/07/2021

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Rosa

My sense is that if you are trying to move into a "better" job, then you don't need to say anything in your cover letter about why you want to move. If you're trying to move into an "equivalent" job or a "worse" job, then you do need to say something, because search committees might be scared to take a chance on someone who is likely seeking a retention raise, a partner hire at their current job, etc. But I'd avoid saying anything about your workplace being toxic if you can. Search committees will likely wonder whether it's actually the workplace that is toxic or you, and given the competition out there, that can be enough to sink you. Better to say something sincere, if you can, about particular resources or strengths that the job has for you.

Also, pure anecdata, but I had half a dozen fly outs in year 4 of a TT job for other TT jobs, and they were all willing to give me full credit for all of my publications, and were also all willing to give me either the full 4 years off the clock, or else give me a full clock and let me go up early. If you find yourself in that position, though, do be careful about whether the tenure expectations are different at the new place - for instance, I would have needed a book for tenure at once of those new jobs, which I didn't have or have plans of having, so I would have needed way more time.

Good luck! I'm sorry your current position is so toxic, and I hope you can get out.

anonymous

I'm looking to transition from an assistant prof job in the UK to an assistant prof job in the US. My PhD is from the US and I am a US citizen. Need to move closer to home to help deal with aging parents etc. Should I mention anything in my cover letter about why I want to move back to the US?

rutabagas

I came here to say everything Rosa said. I only applied to places that were better than my institution at the time (which wasn't hard), and the question of why I wanted to leave never came up. I think search committees assumed it was self-explanatory. I'm also pretty sure everywhere I had a flyout would give me some credit for past work, often in addition to a full clock with the option to go up early.

William Vanderburgh

In recent searches, we have interviewed several folks trying to move laterally (even associate applying for assistant to get out a bad place/situation), and we hired one.

The advantage people already in t-track roles have is a more extensive record of teaching and research experience. It is less of a gamble to hire someone who has already proven themselves. The disadvantage is that it is more exciting to make a bet on a fresh PhD--there is only promise, no disappointment yet. There can also be a lingering bias to the effect, "Well, if they only got a job *there*, are they really *here* material?" It is also harder, once you have an established publication record, to spin your research specialization to fit what the job is seeking. Oh, and search committees will always wonder whether you aren't just trying to get a job offer from them so you can use it to get a raise where you already are. Be prepared to assuage that worry during the interview.

Overall, the key, in my opinion, is to make the case for why you are excellent for the particular institution, department, and role to which you are applying. It must be clear that on your current trajectory you would easily earn tenure in the new place. (This applies even if you are moving from a more- to a less-research-focused place: Your track record should show you can earn tenure according to the standards of the new place, whether that involves a teaching or research focus.)

My feeling is that in your application materials it is better to focus on why you want and would be great in the new job, rather than why you don't want the old job. Even finding a diplomatic way to say that you want to escape a toxic place is fraught, I think. If there are secondary reasons that you want the new job (e.g., closer to family, partner needs a location they can find work, etc.) it is okay to mention those but they generally aren't reasons for the committee to select you, so in a way they are irrelevant.

It is a good idea to include in your cover letter a statement to the effect, "Please keep my search confidential until I am a finalist." That should help avoid awkwardness with your current department/dean that would arise in the case the committee reaches out to them for info.

Find a local ally in your institution (not necessarily in your department) who can write a strong reference that includes reassuring the search committee that you are excellent even if your current department/institution is not excellent for you.

Prof L

Agree with the general sentiment expressed above—in the cover letter, talk about why the new job is independently attractive, not why the current job stinks.

But it's not particularly hard to move. It seems to happen quite a bit, and I've heard it's easier pre-tenure than post-tenure.

On a different note: I wonder how many people would describe their workplace as "toxic". It might be nice to have general numbers on that. It's something people don't advertise, for obvious reasons rehearsed above, but I really do wonder how widespread it is.

Karl

I made a lateral move from assistant to assistant 2 years ago. I actually moved from a TT assistant to a "worse" job. I think the most important thing I did was to have a very good answer to the question "why do you want to be here?". Make sure your answer is very strong and very diplomatic. Also as previous commentators stated don't expect to get credit for previous work you might, you probably won't.

Rosa

Oh, one more thing that I forgot before - I know I and others have said to focus on what's good about the new job, not what stinks about the old job, but I think there is one exception to that. Once I got to the fly out stage all of the jobs wanted to know why I wanted to move, and a big chunk of it was that the budget situation at my mid-western R2 was awful and getting worse. Everyone was understanding of that, and so I think it's fine to talk about structural or resource issues at your old job (in addition to good things about the new one!). When it comes to your old colleagues, though, I would definitely stick with the "if you don't have something nice to say don't say anything at all" rule.

Matthew

One thing I would add to what’s already been said: I’m finding that keeping a supply of up-to-date letters of recommendation is also a challenge for lateral moves. At least my experience was, coming out of grad school there was an easy supply of letter writers (dissertation committee, chairs of departments where one has been an adjunct, etc). But the less public one is about one’s desire to make a lateral move, the more difficult it can be to get letters that are current. Anybody have any advice on getting new recommendations a few years into a job?

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