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Go Directly to the Tenure Track

Anyone who has played the popular board game Monopoly is familiar with the feeling of drawing a certain "chance" card that reads: "Go directly to jail. Do not pass 'Go,' do not collect $200." Figuratively speaking, blogger Gears has taken a chance with his academic career, by going directly from his PhD defense to the tenure track — passing on postdoctoral training altogether. Over at Engineering Blogs this week, Gears says that while he's making do as an assistant professor so far, he wonders whether "skipping the postdoc stage was a huge mistake." In today's academic career climate, it seems nearly impossible that one could land a research-centric assistant professor position without having done one or more postdocs. So, how did Gears do it? He says that having had "a reasonable estimate of what I had to do to prove myself tenure-track worthy with my PhD work, rather than waiting for the postdoc" when going into his graduate program was a big help. So, too, was having previously defended a thesis as a master's degree candidate, he says. "I didn't think it was necessary to do two to three more years of research at yet lower pay to do what I had just done for four years. ... Suffice [it] to say, my estimate was correct because I did skip postdocing," Gears adds. But while he "published, got exposure at conferences, [and] did research on multiple projects" while a PhD student, Gears now wonders whether that was enough. A postdoc, he says, "would have allowed me to branch more ... and broaden my repertoire." Plus, Gears adds, it "would have eased me into a tenure track rather than just jumping into the deep end." Evidence as to whether he made the right choice by taking a chance will only emerge with time. "If I make tenure in a few years from now, it probably wouldn't have mattered," Gears says. "However, if I crash and burn, then it's likely that skipping the postdoc stage was a huge mistake."

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