Because I am
always on the lookout for easy posts a procrastinator always trying to be helpful*, I keep an eye on the ecoevojobs.net discussion threads to see if ecology faculty job seekers are asking questions about the ecology faculty job market that I can easily answer with my pretty comprehensive list of people who were recently hired into tenure-track asst. professor positions in ecology at N. American colleges and universities.
Here’s one that came up recently: is is true that these days the typical faculty career path in ecology involves holding a visiting assistant professor position before being hired as a tenure-track assistant professor? A closely-related question: were many newly-hired TT ecology faculty already TT assistant professors somewhere else, so that much of the ecology faculty job market is people who are already assistant professors playing musical chairs?
I have no idea how many people were wondering about the answers to those questions. Probably not that many?** Well, whatever. In case you were wondering, the answers to both questions are “no”. For the brief details, read on.
I haven’t actually tallied up all the numbers, but I can tell you from looking at the CV’s of more than 200 TT asst. profs of ecology hired since 2015 that the large majority were postdocs when they were hired, and have never held an assistant professor position, visiting or otherwise. Nor have most of them ever held teaching postdocs or other positions with primarily teaching duties before being hired into their current TT faculty positions.
I did go back and add up the numbers for people hired by bachelor’s colleges in 2016-17. Those are the institutions that you might expect to most value previous teaching experience as an instructor of record. So those are the institutions you might expect to be most likely to hire TT faculty who previously held assistant professor positions (visiting or otherwise). I was able to identify the previous positions held by 25 people hired into TT ecology faculty positions at N. American bachelor’s colleges in 2016-17. 15/25 were postdocs at the time they were hired into their current positions. 4 were visiting asst. profs, 2 were asst. profs, 1 held a soft money instructor/research faculty position, 3 were PhD students.
These data aren’t a complete summary of everyone’s previous teaching experience, obviously. For instance, one of those 15 postdocs was a visiting asst prof before taking that postdoc. And I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a couple of other other postdocs and PhDs students had served as instructors of record. But the bottom line is that, even at bachelor’s colleges, the majority of new tenure-track faculty hires in ecology are postdocs. Not asst. profs or VAPs.
Nothing in this post tells you if taking a visiting assistant professor position will increase or decrease your own personal odds of obtaining the sort of tenure-track faculty position you want to obtain. But I hope it provides some useful context.
UPDATE: I just complied the numbers for tenure track N. American asst profs of ecology hired into jobs advertised during the 2017-18 job season. Out of 160 people, just 12% (19 people) held tenure-track asst prof positions at another institution at the time of their hiring. Another 3% held VAP positions at the time of their hiring (and although I didn’t compile the data, I can tell you that only a tiny additional fraction ever held VAP positions at any point prior to being hired into their current tenure-track positions. So no, the ecology faculty job market is not dominated by tenure-track assistant profs playing musical chairs. And it’s not true that you typically have to be a VAP before you can expect to be hired into a tenure-track job.
UPDATE (con.): The 19 people who were moving from one tenure-track asst prof position to another moved to the full range of institutions, from bachlelor’s colleges to R1 universities.
UPDATE (con.): R1 unis are not disproportionately likely to fill a tenure track ecology asst. prof position with someone who’s already a tenure-track asst. prof. Just 9% of the 44 R1 hires were already tenure-track asst. profs. The same goes for bachelor’s colleges: just 11% of the 27 new hires at bachelor’s colleges were already tenure-track asst. profs. The same goes for every other institution type.
*Honestly, it’s all three.
**”Dynamic Ecology: answering questions you didn’t know you had, and probably still don’t have.” 🙂