Getting Closer to a Permanent Position?

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In one of my posts from 2021, I considered the question of how long a job candidate should continue pursuing a tenure-track position before moving on and what factors could affect someone’s answer. Recently, someone left a comment on that post that I think warrants a little further discussion:

To what extent does having a VAP each year provide evidence of landing a permanent gig? Maybe that’s not an easily answered question. But I’ve been working on the assumption (I guess “hope” is more accurate) that it counts for something, e.g., it’s another line added to the CV.

This question gets at an important challenge associated with repeated job market runs: how do you assess whether your chances of getting a long-term position are improving or not? Here are a few thoughts on getting a short-term visiting position.

First, if you landed a VAP as an ABD graduate student, this is usually a very positive sign. Like many other members of the profession, I have had friends and colleagues from graduate school who did not land permanent academic jobs. Most of the examples I am familiar with are cases where the person never landed any job anywhere outside their degree-granting department. After a few years of going on the market from the same department where they got their PhD, they pursued a non-academic career. (PhD granting departments cannot provide lectureships to all their recently graduated students, and those who get them can usually only have them for a couple of years.) Getting a job, even a short-term position, at another institution indicates that another department thought highly enough of you to hire you – a department that has no vested interest in your academic career or other reason to be biased in your favor. When you apply for jobs again, this will probably count as a positive in the eyes of search committees.

Second, if your short-term position provides opportunities for you to bolster your credentials, you will probably be able to go back on the job market as a significantly stronger candidate. Postdocs are perhaps the best example of this because they tend to have low teaching loads and usually last for multiple years. Landing one of these will probably enable you to go back on the market with a more robust CV. The same can be true for some VAPs – not all of them are 1-year jobs with 4/4 teaching loads. Some VAPs have 3/3 teaching loads (or lower) with only 1 or 2 preps, and some of them are multi-year positions. It is also worth noting that evidence you can handle a heavy teaching load (such as a 4/4) would be an asset if you were applying to jobs with heavy teaching loads.

However, there can come a point where landing VAPs no longer signals an increased probability of landing a permanent job. It can be hard to identify when that point is reached. It may be better to use interviews as a proxy for making that judgment. Are you still getting interviews for tenure-track jobs? Or are you only getting job interviews for short-term positions? When you stop getting interviews for permanent positions, that may be an indicator that your string of short-term positions has run its course and that you cannot reasonably expect to do better in the future. Unfortunately, since some AOSs have very few job openings each year, it is possible that some competitive candidates nevertheless receive no interviews.

If the interview data is ambiguous or otherwise indeterminate, perhaps one way to approach the problem would be to ask the following question: “How many short-term positions would I be willing to take before landing a permanent job?” Then if you hit that number and no tenure-track job is in the offing, you can plan to move onto a different career path. I discovered during my last few job searches that the magic number in my own case was 3. I had postdocs at South Florida and Ohio State, and I would have been willing to relocate once more and take one more crack at a permanent position before departing academia. Your number might be higher or lower, but I think the most important thing is to have a number in mind – don’t plan to just skip from city to city in new VAPs indefinitely; have an endpoint, and make a plan for what you’ll do if you reach it without securing a permanent position.

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More

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