Are research faculty positions a good career move or are they career suicide?
Our 80-year old department head is about to retire and as a result his entire lab, which consists entirely of research faculty, must move on. However, after a year of job hunting, most of them are not fairing well.
The Research Faculty (RF) in the department head's lab have been there for about 8-10 years, some of them for as long as fifteen. In that time, only one of them applied for and obtained independent funding. Most of them publish on a regular basis, but not in Science or Nature-level journals. All of them are excellent scientists with untouchable technical skills. Of course, they should have some mad skills after being at the bench for as long as they have.
The RFs started looking for new jobs about a year ago.
RF1, wants a faculty position, and while RF1 publishes regularly, s/he never applied for or obtained any independent funding during the last 15 years. RF1 wants a tenure-track faculty position, but the consensus among the faculty is that it's unlikely. Interestingly, our department is hiring new faculty and my advisor is pretty open about things the department are looking for, do and don'ts of interviewing for a faculty position, etc. From what I can gather, when looking at applications, the faculty assume something is wrong with an applicant that currently holds an RF position. This makes me wonder if you can recover from taking an RF position. I know some people do it, but is it rare or is my department weird in this respect.
RF2 has been employed in department heads lab for over 10 years, most of it as an RF. S/he taught a couple classes a semester at the local community college during her/his time as RF. S/he obtained a teaching position at a medium-sized university located about 1.5h from the graduate school. This university does not have a graduate program in the sciences. RF2 is very happy with this new position.
RF3. Again, this person has been in the lab for about 10years, but I am not sure how much of this time is as a research faculty. RF3 must stay in the US until her/his children graduate from school. It is my understanding that RF3 did not produce a first author publication during the time spent in my department heads lab, but s/he does have many middle author papers. RF3 recently took a job in another lab in our department as a research associate.
RF4. This individual published many first author papers and actually obtained independent funding. When we spoke a few weeks ago, they informed me that they were looking into truck-driving school because they felt too old to start over in another lab as a post-doc and didn't feel that there were many other options for them in science.
I am not sure about the remaining RFs from this lab.
These individuals are used in our department as a cautionary tale about what happens when you become a career post-doc or research faculty. All of the faculty in my department view research faculty positions as a dead-end job. They even remark about applications they receive for tenure-track faculty positions from research faculty. They say they wonder "what is wrong with them." Is it this bad everywhere, does my department just have a short-sighted view or both?
If research faculty positions are a dead end job, then they certainly seem like a scary option. What is an RF to do after 10-20 yrs of working in a lab and their boss decides to retire? Do all departments look so negatively at people who take research faculty positions or is it more about the time spent as a research faculty member?
Personally, I think it is unfortunate, and the attitude that the tenure-track faculty in my department have toward research faculty is disheartening to say the least. I don't particularly want to work with people like this and worse, I don't want to become someone with this type of condescending attitude. I have enough personality quarks already.