My adviser said that we could request an extension for my postdoc
appointment if I preferred—which
I did. I spent 2 more years as a
postdoc and continued to apply for
tenure-track faculty positions. After
being shortlisted three times but
only getting one interview, I finally
decided that I needed to go in a different direction.
The time seemed right to explore
options in industry, which I had been
interested in since my early days as a
master’s student but had never pursued because I enjoyed my academic
research. Happily, I landed a senior
scientist position at a small biotech
company that was doing exciting
gene-editing work—an area that is
scorching hot thanks to the development of CRISPR-Cas9 technology.
I had hit the jackpot! After a few
months of adjusting to life in the biotech world, I was pleased
to find that I enjoyed the team-oriented atmosphere and the
focus on completing projects based on firm milestones.
But 1 year in, I realized that the fit wasn’t right for me.
At the company, we had to stay completely focused on the
product we were developing, and I missed the opportunity
to pursue creative new ideas. I just didn’t find the work very
intellectually stimulating. I was also surprised to find that
the position was in some ways even less stable than a grant-funded one in academia. In industry, even if you perform
well, your job can be threatened by factors that are completely out of your control, such as weak company revenue.
The lack of job security, together with poor job satisfaction,
led me to re-evaluate my decision to leave academia.
I got in touch with my former postdoc adviser for advice,
I’ve only been back in academia
and to see whether he knew of any opportunities for me. I
was thrilled when he quickly brought up the non–tenure-
track position he had previously
offered me. At the same time, re-
cruiters for two biotech companies
also approached me. This time the
choice was easy: I returned to what
I love, academic research.
for 2 months now, but I’m confident
that I made the right decision. I
don’t feel at all like a glorified postdoc. I’m lucky to be in a supportive
environment, where I will have the
opportunity to write my own grants,
do exciting research, and teach undergraduate courses. In some ways, I
feel that my current position is better than starting out as a brand new
tenure-track assistant professor, because I get to do the research I enjoy
without the pressures of fully funding a lab. The grants I write need only
support myself and my ideas, which
may allow me to take on more high-risk, high-reward projects.
Even so, I think my desire to be completely independent
and run my own research group will never completely fade.
Only time will tell if I eventually decide to apply for a tenure-track job, but I no longer believe that my current position
will hurt my chances if I do. I know several researchers
who have made the jump from nontenure to tenure track,
and I think that the opportunities a nontenure job offers
to land independent grants and publish papers as a corresponding author can actually strengthen applications, not
weaken them. Regardless, I’m happy to have the freedom
to develop and pursue my own ideas, and I’ve learned to
not be afraid of switching tracks to find my right fit. ■
Amar M. Singh is an assistant research scientist at the
University of Georgia, Athens. Send your career story to
“I finally decided
that I needed to go in a
Choosing the nontenure track
“Isn’t this just a glorified postdoc position? Won’t taking this offer hurt my chances of landing a tenure-track professor position?” These were the questions I asked my adviser when he offered me a promotion from postdoc to assistant research scientist, the title given to non–tenure-track research faculty members at my institution. I was about to hit my 5-year mark, which was the maximum amount of time the university allowed for postdoc appointments, so we needed to figure out what my next move would be. I was grateful for my adviser’s help and pleased that
he wanted to keep me around. At the same time, though, I had just started applying to tenure-track
faculty positions and didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my chances.
By Amar M. Singh