Are there any generalities about ecology profs who move from one TT position to another?

Only a couple. For the details, read on.

Only a small minority of tenure-track asst. professor positions in ecology and allied fields in the US and Canada get filled by someone who previously held a tenure-track or tenured faculty position. But are there any generalizations that can be made about those rare movers from one TT position to another?

To find out, I went back to my fairly-comprehensive list* of recently-hired TT US and Canadian ecology faculty. The list includes 21 people who moved from one TT asst prof position to another, plus 2 who moved from a tenured associate prof position to a TT asst prof position. All but 3 of those 23 people were hired into their current TT asst prof position during the 2017-18 job season. The other 3 were from 2016-17, when I looked up the previous employment of only a subset of TT hires. I also looked up the 2015 Carnegie classifications of their previous and current institutions (R1, R2, etc.), lumping together all bachelor’s colleges into one category. Carnegie classification is a crude measure of institutional research intensiveness. I used the 2015 classification for consistency with my previous work, and because that was the current classification during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 job seasons.

The sample size is small, but it’s big and systematic enough to improve on any one person’s anecdotal knowledge. So it seems worth looking at even though we can only draw tentative conclusions.

Here’s what I found.

  • TT ecology profs leave all types of institution for TT jobs elsewhere. Among those 23 people were 3 who left R1s, 5 who left R2s, 6 who left M1s, 2 who left M2s, 1 who left an M3, 4 who left bachelor’s colleges, and 2 who left institutions outside the US and Canada (1 left Brazil, 1 left Hong Kong). So you can’t generalize about the sort of institution TT ecology profs tend to leave.
  • TT ecology profs move to TT jobs at all types of institution. Among those 23 people, 5 moved to R1s, 4 moved to R2s, 1 moved to an R3, 6 moved to M1s, 1 moved to an M2, 1 moved to an M3, and 5 moved to bachelor’s colleges. So you can’t generalize about the sort of institution that TT ecology profs move to when they move from one TT job to another.
  • Ecology profs moving from one TT job to another are just as likely to move to a less research-intensive institution as to a more research-intensive institution. 5 of those 23 people moved to an institution less research-intensive than their previous institution. 6 moved to an institution more research-intensive than their previous institution. 10 moved to an institution in the same Carnegie class as their previous institution, although in one case that was a move from a less research-intensive bachelor’s college to a more research-intensive bachelor’s college. I couldn’t determine whether the 2 people who moved from institutions outside the US and Canada moved to more or less research-intensive institutions than their previous institutions. So you can’t generalize about whether TT ecology profs who change jobs tend to move to more or less research-intensive institutions.
  • It is possible to move to an R1 university from a less research-intensive institution. Of the 5 people who moved to an R1, 3 moved from R1s, 1 moved from an R2, and 1 moved from an M3. Obviously, you can’t draw any generalizations from a sample of 5 people. But you can say that it’s at least possible for a TT ecologist to move from a non-R1 to an R1.
  • The geographical distance moved varied widely. I didn’t actually compile data on this. But just eyeballing the data, there were moves within the same state, moves halfway around the world, and everything in between. There are no generalizations to be made.
  • Number of years in previous TT position(s) varied widely, but 3-6 was typical. The 23 people in this dataset spent anywhere from 1-11 years in their previous TT position(s) before starting their current position. 19/23 spent 3-6 years in their previous TT position(s) before starting their current position. So that’s the first generalization I’d make: typically, TT profs who move to another TT job do so after having been in their previous job for at least 3 years, but before or while coming up for tenure at their previous job. Which makes sense, I think. Moving is a pain! So you have to really want to move if you’re going to move again only a year or two after starting a TT job. And once you get tenure and are promoted to associate prof, it’s hard to move. That’s for several reasons. As an associate prof, you’re more expensive to hire. There are fewer jobs for which you can apply, at least without taking a demotion and giving up tenure; most TT job ads are for asst profs. And you’re held to a higher standard by search committees, who may also worry that you’re just using them for leverage and aren’t actually serious about moving. All of which is why most TT ecology jobs that are open to applicants at ranks above the asst prof level are filled at the asst prof level.
  • I haven’t yet found any TT ecology profs who moved from a research university to a bachelor’s college, or vice-versa. This is the only other generalization I’d make. There were no moves from bachelor’s colleges to R1/R2/R3 unis, and no moves from R1/R2/R3 unis to bachelor’s colleges. Now, I’m sure that with a big enough sample you’d find someone who made such a move. But tentatively, I infer that such moves are rare. That is, TT ecology profs who move to another TT job almost always move to an institution that’s not way more or less research-intensive than their previous institution. Which makes sense, I think. Presumably, the large majority of new faculty hires want the job for which they were hired, or a similar sort of job. And they’re surely well-qualified to do the sort of job for which they were hired, which may mean that they’re not as well-qualified to do a very different sort of job. For instance, recent TT ecology hires at more research-intensive institutions tend on average to have more publications and citations, but less teaching experience, than recent hires at less research-intensive institutions. The point here is not that some faculty jobs are “better” or “harder” than others, because they’re not. The point is that some faculty jobs are very different than others, in terms of what’s expected of the faculty member. Which means it’s pretty rare for a TT prof to both want, and be competitive for, a very different sort of TT job than the one they currently hold.

The bottom line is that people who move from one TT job to another do so for their own personal reasons, that vary from one person to the next. So the next time you hear a blanket generalization about what sorts of moves TT ecology profs do or don’t make (besides the ones identified above), be skeptical.

*Note that everyone who’s on this list is on it because I looked up public information on department websites, Google Scholar pages, and people’s own lab websites and own public LinkedIn pages. There are no privacy or research ethics issues raised by compiling and reporting the data summarized in this post.

8 thoughts on “Are there any generalities about ecology profs who move from one TT position to another?

  1. I’m always happy for data that contradicts skuttlebutt, particularly this rumor that in order to get a TT job you need a TT job, but I’m wondering if this dataset isn’t quite complete. For example, I know multiple colleagues that have made TT to TT shifts this last year and I haven’t been paying particularly close attention: Dr. Munoz to Yale University, Dr. Richardson, University of Richmond; Dr. Lopés-Sepulcre, Washington University in St. Louis; Dr. Fuxjager, Brown University (and I have secondhand information on two others). From their websites however, it’s not immediately clear in all cases that they were formerly elsewhere (nor should it be, I’m just thinking they’re easy to miss). The scuttlebutt is widespread: there’s definitely a sense that academic hiring is increasingly about climbing rungs from lower-ranked to higher-ranked schools. I’d love for that not to be the case, but I wonder if it’s possible that this dataset is missing some important points? Or, maybe it’s my sample size that’s too small!

    • That you happen to know of a few people who moved from one TT position to another this year definitely just means you have a small sample size, not that lots of TT ecology jobs are suddenly being filled by people moving from one TT position to another. 🙂

      Remember: if you notice something anecdotally, that probably means whatever you noticed is *atypical*, not typical. Because if it was typical, you probably wouldn’t have noticed it. That heuristic isn’t a substitute for data, of course, but I do think it’s a good way to keep yourself from reading too much into whatever anecdotes you happen to notice.

      My dataset for this post only includes hires into positions advertised in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 job seasons. So people who moved during the 2018-19 job season aren’t included. Compiling data on them would indeed increase the sample size. We’ll see if I have time.

      Also, I only include people in “ecology”, which obviously involves some judgment calls on my part. “Ecology” is a fuzzily defined field, and there’s scope for reasonable disagreement about who counts as an “ecologist”. So for instance, I’m aware of Martha Munoz’s and Matthew Fuxjager’s moves this year, but I don’t consider them ecologists. Having said that, if you included them and other borderline cases, the sample size increase would only be modest, as there aren’t that many borderline cases. Most advertised positions I check were either filled by someone who clearly counts as an ecologist under any reasonable definition, or filled by someone who clearly doesn’t count as an ecologist.

      I’m able to identify previous employment for most but not all new hires. There are lots of sources of public information online. For instance (and this is just one example), even if someone’s current lab website doesn’t list their previous employment, a cv from their previous place of employment might still be online and discoverable with a search. As another example, maybe their current lab and department website doesn’t list their previous employment, but their LinkedIn or ResearchGate pages do.

      • Thanks for the thoughts. Obviously data is better than hearsay, so I appreciate the effort you put into tracking down and thinking about these hiring data.

    • Also, I already have Andres Lopez-Sepulcre in my dataset as an ecologist who was hired in 2017-18, but Andres moved from a researcher position at CNRS. I didn’t consider that a move from a TT position. It would take me too long to research employment practices in every non-US and non-Canadian country to determine which positions are functionally equivalent to US and Canadian TT positions, so I don’t.

      • Though it turns out that you can now confirm that one with public info. 🙂 Jonathan is now listed on Richmond’s dept website (he wasn’t last year), but with no photo or other info, which sometimes is a sign of a recent hire. And if you google his name, you find his lab website announcing his move.

  2. Pingback: Useful links related to tenure track job searches in ecology (last update Oct 2019) | Dynamic Ecology

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