Should I grow up now or wait a year?
January 8, 2009 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Should I start an assistant professorship in August of this year, or attempt to negotiate an extra year as a postdoc before starting a professorship? Difficulty: We're expecting a baby in August.

More useful information to consider:

1. I am the father, not the mother.
2. We already have a 4-year-old, so we understand what it is to have a newborn in the house.
3. The professorship is in Chemistry in a department in the USA which would be considered to be in the top-50 departments, if not substantially better than that. During the first year, I'm expected to teach one semester of a the class that would be most comfortable to teach, with the other semester off of teaching (in order to focus on booting up the research program.)
4. I have not told anyone who matters in this process that we're expecting a baby (hence the anonymous ask me-fi post.)

Benefits to staying as a postdoc for a year include:

1. My work is extremely well funded, I love the environment, and my boss would give me a good raise if I stuck around a bit longer.
2. An extra year will allow my research that I plan to continue as a professor to mature further, thus increasing my chances for success as a professor.
3. We've lived in our current city for a little over a year and have made some good friends and really like our neighbors, some of whom also have small children; We would have more "community support" here with a newborn than we would have if we moved just before the baby is due.

Benefits to starting the professorship this summer:

1. The pay will be way better than I would make as a postdoc, even with a substantial raise. The pay should be sufficient that my wife would not need to go immediately back to work (after maternity leave), and would be able to work part time (rather than full time) after returning to work.
2. It's probably time for me to stop procrastinating about "growing up and getting a real job."
3. Who knows exactly how secure their offer and startup package is in these economic times? If I don't move to take the job immediately, but sign a contract and defer starting, is there a chance they would have to cut my job during a round of budget cuts? I really love the department that has made this offer (I fit in there orders of magnitude better than any of the other 8 places I've interviewed), and the city it's in has a great reputation as well -- it's hard to image a much better situation. I would not want to do anything to risk this job.

I've got a decent idea of what I'm getting into, and I'm pretty sure I can pull it off successfully, even starting this summer. Still, I really want to get started "on the right foot" as a new professor, and that could be hard to do with the amount of nightly sleep allowed to parents by a new baby.

A third way that you may consider as you answer my query, is to suggest trying to negotiate starting a few months early, like May / June to get settled before the baby comes, or to negotiate starting when the baby is ~6 months old, and therefore "past the worst" of the newborn "adjustment."
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would start mid-year, in January, at most, or suck it up and start in September if you are really worried about getting the position pulled. It will be better for your new baby's care in the aggregate (given the effect on your total salary and your wife's need to work). I would guess that your reluctance has indeed to do with making the transition to a more permanent environment, and that is almost certainly inevitable.

Dig into the info on your university's finances if you want to evaluate the risk of starting later.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:53 PM on January 8, 2009

I'd take the job and try to defer the start date until January 2010, if both your new department and your current boss are ok with it. This will give you a little more time to get your new lab up and going (setting up equipment, recruiting students, writing grants, preparing class lectures) before your tenure clock starts ticking. Also, your family will be in the familiar city for the birth and first few months so that the two stresses of moving and having a baby aren't piled right on top of each other.

Congrats on the offer - lots of departments are in hiring freezes right now. If they won't let you defer, I'd take the job on their time schedule.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 3:58 PM on January 8, 2009

As a Chemistry grad student with a newborn, I feel comfortable saying (only half-joking): are you out of your mind? You landed a top-flight academic job and you're willing to risk that because of sleep deprivation? If you've made it this far in the field with a baby around, you're obviously used to working through it (side note: tell me how you did it. Please). Surely you know by now how petty and stupid academic politics can be, so it's not like it couldn't hurt to ask about a semester deferment, but if they made you the offer they must want you around.

Are you getting lab renovations as part of your startup? If not, is the lab space currently empty? My adviser had a grad student already unpacking/organizing orders months before his visa even got cleared, so it was easier to hit the ground running. The department should be willing to give you the contact info on the incoming class; one of them will be happy to get into town and have a paycheck a month or two early, and it gives you the inside track on recruiting said student into your lab.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:11 PM on January 8, 2009

If I don't move to take the job immediately, but sign a contract and defer starting, is there a chance they would have to cut my job during a round of budget cuts?

I would seriously worry about this. Job searches are being cut left and right; there are lots of rumors about tenure denials for economic reasons (though it always seems to be friend of a friend who heard it definitely for sure, so take that for what it's worth); nothing is as secure as it was a year ago.

So a job in hand is worth a tremendous amount more than a promised job, contract or no contract.

Could you reverse the teaching/research semesters, so as to get your research time first (and perhaps not even needing to be on the campus, depending on how your research works)?
posted by Forktine at 4:52 PM on January 8, 2009

Take the job. I wouldn't bet on it being there next year or next semester.

You may be their top choice, but their next best would probably be fine with them too.

It's a crappy time to be trying to get an academic job, so congrats on your success in being offered one! Don't screw it up.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:53 PM on January 8, 2009

With all of the job freezes going on, I'd take the job without a doubt.
posted by k8t at 5:03 PM on January 8, 2009

Take the job. Ask for time off tenure clock for the baby. Many R1s have this. Some let you stop the tenure clock for 1 semester, others for a year.
posted by jujube at 5:05 PM on January 8, 2009

From a career perspective, absolutely take the job. Great science positions in academia are hard to find, and there are a lot of people languishing in postdocs for the 3rd, 4th, or 5th years, desperately seeking tenure-track faculty jobs. It'll be a rough few months, sure, but you'll get through it and be better off at the end.
posted by chrisamiller at 5:05 PM on January 8, 2009

Nthing those advise you to take the job and try to get a tenure clock delay. This would not be the best year to go back on the market, with even the wealthiest universities cutting positions and freezing hiring.
posted by col_pogo at 5:06 PM on January 8, 2009

FWIW, I have never heard of someplace stalling the tenure clock for a pre-commencement birth. Even if it possible to make a special plea, query whether it is a good idea; I have heard skepticism expressed about male professors who did this even for mid-stream births. I am not defending that, just reporting it.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:10 PM on January 8, 2009

Take the job.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:43 PM on January 8, 2009

Take the job and delay to January only if it really won't screw things up. Consider asking about the delay or any other accommodations only after you have a clear offer, and only if you are not making other types of negotiations. Consider asking for a reduction in teaching load for the first semester (my university does this for new hires). I would tend to not ask for a delay in tenure clock. You may not want/need it. Tenure application is a ways away, and the sooner you can jump into the higher salary grid on tenure, the better.

(fyi: I started a tenure track position as the mom of a 3 yr old, and 8 mos old twins, teaching 3 courses each semester in social sciences).
posted by kch at 6:04 PM on January 8, 2009

Take the position. You can look at the University policy about the tenure clock for the birth of a child. See if you can negotiate that your teaching semester be switched to create some breathing space, if needed.

It would be one thing to swap post docs BUT you do not list as a benefit of staying as a postdoc the thought of getting a better tenure track position downstream than the one being offered. Unless the school offering you tenure track has some serious issues whether it is ranking; snake pit politics; track record of serious problems related to funding/investigations or not giving people tenure then reasons to turn them down are slim.

If you turn down the position, will you be kicking yourself later on if you have to take a position at a lower ranked or funded school. Also, taking a look at the supply of post-docs and newly minted doctorates will you be in a large supply situation in a small demand year? I got to be honest, it is looking grim in American academia right now in both private and public schools dealing budget.

Is it career suicide? Depends. Your mileage definitely varies and you must consider carefully all the factors including chances for tenure and after tenure do you want to go elsewhere and what path give you the most advantage in that future process.
posted by jadepearl at 6:21 PM on January 8, 2009

I was in a similar situation as you except I (not my husband obviously) was pregnant. If the department wants you as badly as they probably do, negotiate the one year leave and stay at the postdoc for another year. Chances are, they will be willing to do this; unhappy but willing. This kind of thing is very common in academia (we had a similar situation with another faculty very recently and a year leave was granted), at least in the fields I am familiar with. One other thing on your side is that the current economic situation has resulted in the canceling of a number of searches and the one's that are on-going that I know of are trying to hire before a fast freeze comes in. The department would much rather hire you with a leave than try to negotiate another hire and risk losing the line. So a cost/benefit analysis is on your side.

I did something similar myself but deferred for only a semester and supported myself on my fellowship. I was pregnant at the time of the job offer which was one of the reasons. The department was reluctant but I think understood that staying where I was given the circumstances made sense. Whether you raise the issue of your pregnancy (I know this is your wife not you) will I guess depend on how you gauge the conversation with the chair. For me, it was *the* primary reason and so it was very natural to say so. An additional complication in our situation was that my husband was also offered a job in the same department - this meant the dept. was out two faculty for a semester but agreed to our both taking a leave for one semester. Memail if you want more. Good luck!
posted by bluesky43 at 6:34 PM on January 8, 2009

Maybe chemistry is different from math; but in math, deferring for a year is completely standard. Of course, it is up to the department whether to accept this request; but for them to say no would be strange. Remember: what you are offering them is the chance to have you on the faculty but to PUT OFF PAYING YOU for a year. That's a win-win for them.

Could they say yes to the deferral and then somehow renege on your offer despite the contract? I can't imagine it. Once you accept and sign the offer, you're a professor there, whether or not you're on leave for a year; firing you would be the same as firing any other assistant professor, which is to say, not something they would do, whatever the budget problems.
posted by escabeche at 7:34 PM on January 8, 2009

I can see why people are telling you your career might be better off if you accept the professorship. But you might want to examine the implications for your family in more detail. I am sure you are thinking about that, but I haven't seen as much of an emphasis on that in the other comments.

If you stick with your current projects, you're dealing with a known quantity. I assume you can jig your schedule to make yourself available for your wife and children. Having a second child is a big transition. You will not just have a baby who wakes in the night. Your four-year-old may also start waking up. Your four-year-old may want to be held or carried around and may start refusing to put on clothes or act like a four-year-old and so on. This is really exhausting for parents, especially the parent at home. And, whereas your wife could take a nap when the first baby napped, that's virtually impossible when you still have an attention-starved four-year-old who no longer naps and has had his entire world turned upside down.

Community support is critical. It's isolating to have a baby - especially a second baby. Your wife won't be able to go to all the regular mom and baby groups, because she'll have a four-year-old child, too. So all that bonding time is hard to come by. If you move to a new community, you'll have to seek out new friends for your older child. You won't have friends willing to take him for a playdate or come over and help out.

If money is an issue, perhaps you and your wide could look for ways to restructure your finances now. Or perhaps you could look at the financial impact of her staying home for a year and then working part-time, no matter what your situation. If you move, you're going to be changing your older child's care options, taking away friends, taking away your support structure and so on.

That is not to say that you should abandon the job offer! But I think that you need to come up with a plan for dealing with the above. Having a second baby is really exhausting. The baby part is easy. The parenting the four-year-old is still new to you and the parenting the four-year-old with a baby is even newer. I've seen many families struggle with the transition and I urge you to look at ways to make sure you, your wife and your four-year-old child feel well supported. If you think you can manage all those transitions and a new baby in the new eight months, then that's super. It just sounds like a lot of changes to me and it sounds like it might be harder for you to be involved in day-to-day activities, if you're ramping up at a new position. If you've rarely been involved in what goes on, it might not be such a big deal.
posted by acoutu at 9:10 PM on January 8, 2009

But you might want to examine the implications for your family in more detail. I am sure you are thinking about that, but I haven't seen as much of an emphasis on that in the other comments.

Speaking only for myself, I did, and I still came up with: take the job.

There's a recession on. Academia isn't exactly on a hiring upswing. The struggles of having a a four year old plus a brand new baby in a new location and all the social and economic upheaval that brings pales in comparison to the struggles of having a one year old, a five year old, and no job a year from now.

I agree with the need for a plan, but I think that if you start with the premise "we're taking the job" all of that actually can be planned for and overcome. With a little more money in the house from this position, for example, a babysitter for two hours a week so Mrs. Anon can go to mother and baby group should be totally doable.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:11 PM on January 8, 2009

Every academic I've ever known has complained about how hard it is to find a good job, and most of them don't like where they are but feel stuck because of a lack of alternatives. If you have found a good job with a good fit you should jump on it.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:36 AM on January 9, 2009

Public universities are usually a year behind the major economic swings. Meaning, this year is bad but next year is going to be REALLY bad. In this unprecendented recession, positions that ordinarily would have been frozen might end up cut altogether.

Take the job.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:15 AM on January 9, 2009

I just want to emphasize that "take the job" doesn't answer this question. The asker IS going to take the job. The question is whether to ask the new job for an initial year of leave.
posted by escabeche at 7:57 AM on January 9, 2009

In recommending taking the job now, I was taking family/community into account. All academic jobs have a degree of flexibility in them, it's just that with your postdoc it's a known entity. You might also consider what it will be like one year out if you take the post doc: a 5 yr. old and a 1 yr. old, and no job.

It is not necessarily a Win/Win for the department to take a year's deferral. In my university it would likely be a deal breaker as the entire point of hiring somebody is that we need an actual Some Body who will teach and participate as a faculty member. ymmv
posted by kch at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2009

I just reviewed in the OP and it sunk in that you will only be required to teach 1 course you're comfortable with in one semester and no teaching in the other, and the rest of your responsibilities are presumably at your discretion for setting up your research program? This is really a lot of open flex time, particularly if you take the no-teach in the fall. Is your post-doc really that fantastic, with that much open time? [geez, am I in the wrong field? I teach 6 courses/yr.] This seems ideal. Take the job now, not later.
posted by kch at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2009

If the department wants you as badly as they probably do, negotiate the one year leave and stay at the postdoc for another year. Chances are, they will be willing to do this; unhappy but willing.

I agree. My sense of the hiring process in a top 25 philosophy department, where I have some experience as a graduate student sitting in on hiring meetings, is that this sort of demand is almost always granted because the hiring process takes a lot of time and energy and that once a decision is made, it tends to stay made. We granted year-long deferrals to candidates twice in the last four years; we were unhappy, but willing (I shouldn't say we; I've left academia). Even if they don't want you all that badly, they would almost certainly prefer to give you your deferral than having the chair go to the dean and explain why the hire hasn't been made, herding all the faculty egos into meetings again to decide who their next best choice is, and what if that person might have another offer now oh no? and the resident aging tenured curmudgeon takes the opportunity to stump for their pet candidate who everyone else hates, and thus and so. If my experience is comparable, I see no downside to asking for the deferral, and you will get it.
posted by Kwine at 8:52 AM on January 9, 2009

« Older Can I take up a team sport at my age?   |   How can I sell my (uninsured, unregistered) car... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.