I hope this topic is appropriate for MO. I have a tenure-track position at a US university in a location where my spouse is very unhappy, severely underemployed, and has no real prospect of finding suitable employment. I know the economy/job market is bad now and that I will likely have to stay put for a few years. But, hopefully in the near future, things will improve and I would like to test the job market.

Question One: How should I go about obtaining a teaching letter? I work in a small department and I do not think any other faculty member would willingly help me "test the market." (Things could be especially awkward if I cannot find another suitable position and decide to stay in my current position with everyone knowing I tried to leave.)

Question Two: Is it better to apply for other jobs right before or after I get tenure at my current university? (Can having tenure be detrimental in the application process?)

Thanks in advance for any advice ...

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    $\begingroup$ A related MO question: mathoverflow.net/questions/5424/… $\endgroup$ – Gil Kalai Jan 2 '11 at 6:26
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    $\begingroup$ Your question has no answer. Besides many other things, it does matter how good you are in teaching and in research. I even do not find the word "mathematics" in your post, but several times "market"... $\endgroup$ – Wadim Zudilin Jan 2 '11 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ I will address question 1. Ordinarily you can't get a sabbatical until you have tenure, although I know of some places which allow it earlier. Maybe your school does? If you visit another school during a sabbatical then you can teach a course there and get a teaching letter from someone at that other school. You could even apply for jobs while on sabbatical, or wait until you return. When I was a postdoc, a visitor to the department with a t.t. job elsewhere was applying for jobs while being there. $\endgroup$ – KConrad Jan 2 '11 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ At some universities, it's quite a bit harder to hire people with tenure than hire people about to get tenure and then promote them. So it may be easier to get a job before you actually get tenure. The drawback, of course, is the possibility of getting hired without tenure and then getting denied tenure. This shouldn't happen unless something really goes wrong. The other thing to remember is that applying to other universities when you're up for tenure is perfectly normal, and asking for teaching letters in this situation shouldn't raise any flags. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Jan 2 '11 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ In some cases trying to move to another place for justified reason is well accepted. (And trying to move because your spouce dont find a job seems quite honorable.) But this depends so much on the fine details that probably the best advice for you is to seek advice from a friend/colleague that knows the details. $\endgroup$ – Gil Kalai Jan 2 '11 at 19:19

1) It is definitely harder to get a new job if you already have tenure than if you don't.

2) Getting a tenure track position is hard enough. Getting a tenure track position under geographic constraints is really hard. You should be as flexible about the job itself as well as its location as possible.

3) If you're willing to sit tight for a few years, I would advise building as wide a network of professional friends and acquaintances as possible by giving talks at conferences, department seminars and colloquiua. Keep an ear out for job openings for which you are particularly well suited and in departments where you know your candidacy would be supported. You have to be extremely realistic and objective about which schools and departments will be willing to hire you. It will help a lot, if you know people who are willing to help you look and give you frank advice.

4) Get a teaching letter and apply for jobs only when you are really ready to leave. You don't want to do this more than once, if you can help it. But also be ready to do it more than once, if you don't get any or any sufficiently attractive offers the first time.

5) It is indeed a difficult time to do this, so I wish you all the best with this.


6) Be a good citizen in your current department in the sense that you should fulfill all of your teaching and service responsibilities as well as possible. You need as much good will as you can get from everybody including where you are now.

7) If you have any particular talents or skills (outside the usual research credentials) that a math department might find valuable, try to develop them but without undermining your core credentials. One way or another, you want to try to find some way to make yourself stand out relative to everybody else looking for a job.

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    $\begingroup$ Sage and prudent advice! $\endgroup$ – Joseph O'Rourke Jan 2 '11 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Deane: +1. Could you elaborate on 1)? For instance, does this remain true even if you are willing to consider being hired without immediate tenure? $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Jan 2 '11 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Pete: I think that a frequent assumption that is hard to fight is that someone who has tenure and is on the job market is just someone who is looking for an offer to get a raise from their home university. This is where the networking in #3 can really come in handy: people who do know you will have a better sense of how sincere one's wish to move actually is. $\endgroup$ – Thierry Zell Jan 2 '11 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ Pete, I think the answer would still be valid, but a little less so. I believe most places would be reluctant to offer an already tenured person a tenure-track position that forces the person to wait more than a year before getting tenure. The question that would (or should) be asked by the department is what will it learn about the person that it does not know already? In the end, however, the way tenure is granted can be very different in different departments, so the answer really depends on which department or school. $\endgroup$ – Deane Yang Jan 2 '11 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ At many institutions, prior tenure track experience at another university is counted in the tenure clock. e.g. if you have four years of tenure track experience at university A and then start at university B, they may tell you that you have only 3 years to gain tenure at university B rather than the usual 7 years. $\endgroup$ – Brian Borchers Feb 2 '11 at 2:48

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