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Recently tenured

I applied to nine jobs this season while I was coming up for tenure. I mentioned it in every letter, emphasizing that I was encouraged by my chair and colleagues to come up. I had exactly zero interviews. I had had quite a few the year I got my current job and I’ve published regularly since then. I’m also a white man, which I suspect didn’t help with some jobs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if committees thought I was too close to tenure to be competitive for junior jobs. Admittedly a small sample but I was a little upset.


I was on a couple of search committees for assistant professor positions at an R1. Anyone that seemed like they were at the going up for tenure stage were pretty much immediately dismissed. I think the reasoning is that either they will get tenure, and then why accept a non-tenured position. Or, they will be denied tenure, but unless that is in the fanciest of places, we probably wouldn't grant them tenure either, so why consider them. Not trying to justify the reasoning, merely report it.
I think only if it is abundantly clear that they would have a very good reason to prefer our institution to theirs (family reasons, or whatever) would they stand a chance.

SLAC Associate

The applicant should definitely say in their cover letter why they're applying out while being up for tenure. If the applicant doesn't say so, committee members are bound to speculate about the reasons, and those speculations will likely tank the candidate's application (as in the above comments). Just straightforwardly say why you're interested in changing institutions.


I am inclined to agree with those who say do not mention you are going up for tenure. It sounds like your application is just a safety net. Departments do not want to waste time and money bringing you in if you are unlikely to take the job. Often they can only bring two or three people in. So, you either apply, and speak of why you want be there, or you do not apply. But do not mention your current situation at your current job.

Recently tenured

PS: Of course I also said I was very interested in the jobs, why I looking to move, and that I was ready to get back a few years on the clock.


@recently tenured, I think the problem is that most of what would go on a cover letter to that extent would seem like cheap talk. Even if you were sincere, there is risk in taking your word for it (as hmm wrote), especially when I assume there were plenty of other wonderful candidates. I am curious, since we are anonymous here, why did you decide to apply out this year, rather than in the past, and how genuinely willing were you to accept a position if you were offered one, if that meant throwing away certain tenure? (none of this is meant critically, I am genuinely curious).


What about if you are going up for tenure (or are well on your way to earning tenure), and you're applying for schools that are a "step up" in some way (in terms of overall university reputation, research expectations, salary)? Is it necessary to mention that you're going up for tenure or soon will, then? Presumably, the search committee understands that you're looking for a *better* job, especially if you explain that (tactfully) in your cover letter.

Recently tenured

@sorry, I applied to one job in 2019, only a year after I started. It was the only one that I thought was worth the trouble. In 2020, well, COVID. Did not apply. Then I was encouraged to come up early for tenure (and I had credit towards it when I came in), so I did. That's it. I was trying to move up (from SLAC to research university) and/or to a more attractive location. I would have almost certainly accepted any of the jobs I applied for if they had guaranteed I'd be allowed to come up for tenure there after a few years.


@Recent tenured, this is all water under the bridge by now (congrats on your tenure!), but it seems to me that for those going up for tenure early in a way that is not obvious from their CV, the prudent thing to do is not to mention that they are indeed going up for tenure.
Things I wrote earlier applied more to those going up for tenure during their mandatory year. If someone applies for jobs when they have been an assistant professor for 5 years, then unless they are convincing that they would take a non-tenured position at our institution over a tenured position at their current institution, I think the hiring committees I was on would have rejected them. In such cases they should address the elephant in the room. At least that is how I understand things.

Bill Vanderburgh

I have encountered a fair number of these situations in the many searches we have done over the last few years. My sense is that it is good to say why you want to take the job you are applying for, in particular why you want to be in this department/location/type of school as opposed to where you are. More importantly, make the case that you are an excellent fit for the job while explaining why you prefer it to your current gig. Merely wanting to leave where you are is not going to help your case.

If you are up for tenure, and expect to get it, then explain in your cover letter why you would be willing to be hired without tenure at the new place. Make it about them, not about you. Something like, "Even though I expect to earn tenure this year at my current institution, I would prefer to work at {new institution} because {very solid reason}."

A late-stage assistant prof who doesn't have the record to be tenured by us would not be seriously considered anyway (in part because the market is so competitive that many junior candidates already have a record that would soon be worth tenure, and there is no reason for us to take a risk on someone who has already underperformed).

Admitting that you are applying to a new place in case you don't get tenure at the old place isn't going to help you. Nobody wants to be your second choice. And they need to feel confident that you would take the job if offered, or you won't even get an interview.

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