I am a soon-to-be unemployed recent Ph.D. who was offered a prestigious postdoctoral teaching fellowship today. Hooray! I’m so excited, but I have a few job applications still pending for some other tasty opportunities. This prompts a job search question that I thought your readership might be able to help me with. I make $30,000 a year as a lecturer. The fellowship has a set salary just a shade lower than what I make now, but the town I would be moving to is a little more expensive. There are two other positions out there that I am extremely keen on. For one of them, an interdisciplinary studies fellowship, I am simply another applicant, as far as I know; I had a phone interview for the other last week, a great non-tenure track position that would give me a big pay hike and a reduced course load of only undergrad seminar courses at a great state university. I think that’s the one that I want. I have two weeks to accept the current offer. How do I approach these schools to tell/ask/suggest to them to hurry the hell up?
Just sign me “Lucky Louie.”
Congratulations, Louie! To answer your question succinctly, you should e-mail the chairs of the two active searches to inform them of your good news and to ask where they are in the process. This happens all of the time–and indeed, I’m sure they would prefer to get this information sooner rather than later if you’re at all a contender. They will understand that this is a polite way of asking them to tell you where you stand in their searches, and what their advice is on the wisdom of accepting your fellowship offer. The search chairs may or may not be able to give you much specific information, but they should at least be able to ballpark an estimate as to when they expect to extend an offer to someone. They may or may not be willing or able to let you know where you stand–but I’d be very reluctant to let this fellowship opportunity slip by for anything less than an actual job offer. (That is, they may say “Please, please, please don’t take the fellowship,” but unless the search committee and department have met and voted and the offer is just pending the Dean’s approval, I think it’s good to remember that passing on the fellowship costs you so, so much more than it costs them to ask you to turn it down. Only you would pay the price for that if no other offer was forthcoming.)
Now, if I may offer some unsolicited advice: you seem a little fixated on the salary offerings for your current prospects, neither of which is a tenure-track position. Is it possible that taking the fellowship, albeit for less money for a few years, would put you in an even better position to compete for tenure-track jobs down the line (assuming that you want a tenure-track job eventually)? Postdoctoral fellowships are so rare, and their value on your CV goes far beyond just paying your bills next year. (Of course I don’t know what your financial situation is–you may have compelling reasons–alimony, child support, an enraged mobster threatening to break your legs if you don’t pay your gambling debts, etc.–to go for the highest dollar amount.) Lecturerships are much more common than fellowships, so it might make sense to evaluate these opportunities not just in terms of their immediate rewards but also in terms of how they will help situate you on the job market two or three or six years down the road. It all depends on what your goals are, but I’d keep my eye on where you want to be not just next year, but on the next decade of your career.
Readers, what do you think? Do you have any experience yourself with juggling job and fellowship offers (lucky you!) Do you have any warnings for Louie hard won by your own bitter experience? Pass it on.