Moving from one faculty position to another

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Getting a job the last year of your Ph.D. program is a fairly straight-forward process. You send out packets to schools in early January and wait for calls inviting you to fly out for interviews. At interviews you meet with faculty, present your job-market paper (almost always a paper based on your dissertation), and learn about the school and the local area. If all goes well, at least one of the schools you fly out to will offer you a tenure-track faculty position. Where things get difficult is when you want to (or have to) leave a faculty position at one school to take a position at another school (commonly referred to as "non-rookie recruiting").

The most common reason for leaving a school is that you have to. Tenure clocks at research schools run from 6-10 years. Generally there is a renewal or promotion decision early in the clock (around years 2-4) with the actual tenure decision at the end of the clock. Near the end of the clock you either know you won't get tenure and need to leave or you formally "go up" for tenure, a process that can take almost a year. If you get tenure there is no problem. If you get turned down, you generally have another academic year to find a new position. In addition to leaving because you are at the end of a contract, you may want to move voluntarily because you don't enjoy the school and/or your colleagues; you don't enjoy the area you live; you want to be closer to family; you want to work with particular colleagues at another school; or another school recruits you away with a good job offer.

So how does this process start? First, you may just get contacted by another school. This often happens just before milestones in the tenure process. For example, if you are about to come up for tenure or an earlier renewal decision and there is doubt that the decision will be favorable, schools that like you may call and see if you are interested in "re-starting" your clock. This means that you go to the new school and get a new tenure clock, allowing you more time to get publications before you have to go up for tenure at the new school. These kinds of moves are very common in the early years when schools are still forming their beliefs about you. Re-starts in later years can be tricky as schools may not ignore the fact that you have more years as a faculty member when you go up for tenure than a faculty member who didn't re-start. I've seen several cases of people spending several years at a school, re-starting at a new school, and then getting turned down for tenure at the new school. However, it sometimes works.

Re-starts also happen after milestones. Either you get renewed or receive a non-tenured promotion (schools such as Chicago, Harvard, and Duke have promotion to non-tenured associate at about the 4-year mark) or you get tenure at your school. Other schools interested in you may then contact you to see if you want to leave for a re-start or for tenure at their school. Individuals who get promoted to non-tenured associate at a top school will often get offers of non-tenured associate at other top schools or even tenured associate at slightly lower-tier schools. If you've worked hard, published, and kept yourself visible, you can expect some attention from other schools if things are going well at your school.

Another time where you get contacted by other schools is after presenting at the school. As part of your normal job, schools will invite you out to present research papers. If you have a particularly good experience at a school (they like your research and they like you) and the school is hiring, they may call you up to see how much you liked them! In this sense, every research work shop you give is a "job talk". Even if a school you present at isn't hiring, word of how you did will spread to other schools who then may decide to take a look at you.

You can also start this process yourself. If you're unhappy at your school or have realized you aren't going to make it at your school, you can contact other schools to gauge their interest in giving you a re-start. The best way is to contact friends or associates at these schools. Rarely will faculty formally apply for positions at another school without first talking to people at the school. At the annual American Accounting Association meeting in August you will see lots of people holding intense conversations in the conference hotel bars, coffee shops, and lobbies. If they aren't talking about research, they are almost certainly discussing career moves.

To make this process work you need to keep yourself visible. This involves attending conferences and presenting papers as much as possible. Responding quickly and professionally to editor's requests for referee reports is another way to get your name known among influential people. Finally, do your best to give helpful feedback and constructive criticism to researchers you see present at conferences and your own school. Nothing will endear you to a faculty member more than taking careful notes during their presentation and forwarding them along with thoughtful comments and suggestions of your own. Like everything else in life, live by the Golden Rule. Even if you never want to leave your first faculty position, staying there (i.e., getting tenure) will involve faculty at other schools writing letters about you, letters that will form a major basis for the tenure decision. To make those letters favorable you need to have a reputation for producing high-quality research, contributing to the academic profession, and collegiality.

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