This is a post that requests comments and advice from the readers. The issue is the following: Student X finished her PhD in mathematics at a highly-ranked university. Upon graduating, she was able to get a three-year postdoc position in a math department that emphasizes research, so that everything seemed to go well so far. As she was finishing her postdoc and searching for jobs, she had a couple of interviews but nothing very promising and then it was March and X had no tenure-track job offers. However, she had an offer to do a second postdoc at a different university for 2 more years. Question #1: Is it a good idea to do a second postdoc if her plan is to get a tenure-track faculty position? In the absence of another option, obviously X took the second postdoc offer. She thinks that, at the end of her second postdoc, getting a faculty position at a highly-ranked research university will be very difficult. She also likes teaching and has done some teaching as a postdoc; however, she thinks she should take action and get involved in activities that will appeal to undergraduate institutions and liberal arts colleges where teaching is emphasized more than the research (although research is also important). Question #2: Is this a good plan and, if so, what type of activities should she get involved in as a postdoc so that her file looks attractive to undergraduate institutions the next time she applies for jobs?
It is my opinion that X is doing all the right things. It has become common in the last few years to do more than one postdoc due to the difficult job market. I don’t think that this is a negative on her file as long as there is clear progress in research and teaching. Having said that, there is a rule of thumb out there that a faculty member is expected to be tenured about 8 years after their PhD (an old formula when a 2-year postdoc was the norm). This rule of thumb might be changing more slowly than reality.
The second question is the one I have trouble with. First, I thought that it is a great idea to try to expand one’s activities to become more appealing to a larger pool of potential employers. So, teaching new courses, designing a course, mentoring more students, and other activities that undergraduate institutions want to see should be sought. Then, I thought that dedicating the required time to these activities will likely reduce the research production. The end result might be that a research institution will perceive a decline in research, which translates into a poor “trajectory” that can place the candidate out of contention for a job at a research university. What is the best advice? I could say that one should get involved in more activities without affecting the research production, but this is unrealistic.