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Types of Academic Positions in Biological sciences

To be inclusive in hiring and to allow individuals to progress through the ranks, academic institutions offer a plethora of "tracks" and levels. Each track (such as tenure track or research track) comes with a set of promotion levels and its own evaluation system for advancement. Being on the right track when you take your job is important because it may be difficult to switch tracks later. Each academic institution will have its own specific set of rules. These rules are not top secret, although you will find that most junior faculty don't know what the rules are or where to find them In all cases, the rules are published in some sort of guide or faculty handbook that you may receive when you take the job. Many schools now post the rules somewhere in the labyrinth of their web pages, so you may want to take a look at the web sites of the institutions you are applying to for positions.

The most important distinction between the tracks is whether they lead to tenure or not. A tenure track position typically offers the highest degree of independence and allows faculty members to pursue their own research interests. A tenure track appointment will also require the most from a faculty member when the time for the tenure decision arrives. As discussed in later chapters, tenure track faculty members will be judged on their level of excellence in scholarship, teaching, and service. Tenure track positions also come with a built-in timeline. The phrases, "publish or perish," "up or out," and "sorry Charlie," refer to the necessity to become established within a specific time frame: that is, the time frame of the "Tenure Clock."

Non-tenure research track positions are also available in many institutions. The independence and evaluation/promotion criteria for this type of position vary. In the best cases, non-tenure, research track positions allow faculty to apply for funding, run their own laboratories, and train students. In this situation, the possibility of continuous appointment does not exist and employment is likely to be dependent purely on scientific productivity, which may be measured in an individual's ability to generate funds for his entire salary. In the "least best" scenario, a non-tenure research track Assistant Professor or Instructor position allows you to pursue research funding, but does not come with academic independence. For example, a research track Assistant Professor's space may be part of a senior, tenured Professor's space. In addition, research track faculty may not have a say in the future direction of the department. This latter situation often occurs as postdocs become very senior in their positions. This type of position becomes an ideal place for young investigators to begin an independent career because it allows them to test their abilities in carving out their own niche within a larger research program. If successful in procuring funds, the young investigator is now in an ideal position to seek a tenure track position at another institution.

Clinical-track positions are often offered by medical schools and other professional schools that have substantial clinical service components. These tracks are designed for faculty who wish only to perform clinical service and to train students and fellows in the art of medicine. Evaluation of the performance of clinical positions is based mostly on the clinical service that is provided by the faculty member, rather than on the research or scholarly activities. In some cases, clinical-track faculty may wish to perform some level of clinical or basic research. Salary funding for clinical track faculty who need time for research is complex because their source of salary support usually relates to their clinical service, not research. Before a clinical scientist takes a job, the service and research time should be clearly defined (see below). This would apply to a tenure track physician/clinical scientist position as well.