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Ask a Senior Colleague- Summer 2017

Section Editor: Elaina Behounek

 Happy Summer Colleagues! In response to the query: What advice would you give a new assistant professor on the tenure track? What do you wish someone had told you before you earned tenure? Our senior colleagues offered this sage advice.

Response One:

  1. Be clear on the weight given to the areas of faculty responsibility in tenure/promotion decisions (Scholarship, teaching, service, advising, etc.). Every university is different and this is the first step.
  2. Be sure to contribute to each of the areas of faculty responsibility sufficiently and try to excel at those given highest priority.
  3. Protect yourself from saying yes to too many things that will not help you in tenure/promotion.
  4. Get advice from the most recent faculty to get tenure in your department and ask to look at their materials. I shared mine with my colleagues as a model.
  5. Last, talk to anyone in the department that may serve on tenure/promotion committees and pay attention to changing trends within the school over the 5-6 years leading up to submitting your portfolio.

Response Two:

I wish someone had told me about the importance of goal, priority, and time management, and how to keep focused on my own work and keep it moving, including how and when to say “no”. I highly recommend the programs offered by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity http://www.facultydiversity.org that helped me learn these skills finally as a full professor.

Response Three:

Be protective of your time. Do not take on too much service, even if others ask you to do so. Hopefully your department and colleagues will minimize these obligations for you but if not you should speak with a trusted senior colleague or chair to express your concerns. Service, while rewarding, can really hinder research productivity and steal time from teaching.

Response Four:

Just as graduate students often think their lives are much harder than those of their professors, the assistant professor life is also much freer than you know. While this is not true everywhere, in my experience, assistant professors are shielded a great deal from the service work of a department. Take advantage of this. You should certainly be involved in your department, and so some service. But, these early years are the time you have to really be selfish and focus on establishing your research agenda.

In the first few years, you should do work that comes out of your dissertation or work you had with an advisor. Then strike out and work on what you really want to do for the next 5-10 years. Find a data set that will take you beyond tenure, or collect good, complete, rich data that will do the same thing. You might also find someone in your department to work with. If they are publishing with you, they will be much more likely to argue for the quality of your journal outlets, and the importance of your work to a tenure committee. For that matter, if you are concerned about where to send your articles, look to see where your fellow faculty have published and try for those outlets. They will not say it is a bad / low quality / low ranked journal if they have published there!

Often after you get tenure you take a moment to breathe. That is fine since you have done something great and need a little break. But too long of a breath can mean that your research lags since you WILL get asked to do more and more service. Then you will find yourself trying to start up new projects from scratch so that you can eventually be considered for full. So, do not expend all your energy in the run up to tenure. Renew and find new ways to address some of the questions you still have.

Response Five:

I earned my PhD in 1977 and since then I have worked at academic institutions (both college and university), in government agencies (both state and federal), and for research organizations in the private sector (both for-profit and not-for-profit). Over the years I have twice been awarded tenure by academic institutions (three times if you count the New York City Public School System in 1971), and once I was promoted to full professor. Both times shortly after the tenure award I resigned and left for a less secure position. My problem with tenure is that while offering a commitment to you it also demands a commitment from you. Therefore, each time I was awarded tenure I asked myself: “Is this a place where I want to spend the rest of my professional life, and if I do stay will I be able to do all the things I want to do?” For me it is very important to believe that the place in which I work is the best place to do the work I want to do. So, despite the offers of tenure, when I did not believe the place that made the offer was the right place for me, I left. And after 40 years I am not sorry. I have had endless opportunities to do most everything I ever wanted to do as a social scientist, and actually far more, including things I never even imagined I would be able to do. Today I talk to people my age who stayed at one institution all their lives and I can understand why it gives them a sense of satisfaction. But for me that would never have worked. There have been too many intriguing opportunities and challenges. So along with all the advice that will be given by everyone else, if I have something to say to new assistant professors on a tenure track it is not that they should leave their position when they are awarded tenure, but rather that they should have faith in themselves and in their ability to be able to do what is important to them, and they should look at tenure as a decision to be made not just by the institution but by the faculty member as well.

Response Six:

It’s OK to say no to more than you can do, things outside your interest, and things that are not on your list of priorities. Protect your research and writing time.

Less is more. No one ever complained that the thesis/dissertation/article they were reading was the minimum length rather than the maximum length.

Response Seven:

Hi, I found this wonderful website, academia.edu that allows researchers and their research to be published on their site, and has been used as a tenure-awarding tool. Hope that helps. Tenure is not an issue for me anymore, but I still love getting emails telling me that someone has accessed one of my articles, where they were from (state and/or country). It’s kind of fun actually!

Response Eight:

I wish that someone would have told me to keep one folder (hard copy or electronic) for each area: teaching, research, & service.  Every time you accomplish something, big or small, put it into the folder.  Keep it well organized so that putting together your retention application is not so time consuming.

Response Nine:

Ask a lot of questions and spend time listening.  Every institution has its own culture.  Also, don't come in trying to make changes.  While everyone should be treated with respect, everyone also must pay their dues.

Response Ten:

I wish someone had told me earlier in my career the following:

  1. Learn the art of a graceful “no”.
  2. Enjoy your life along the way – it won’t wait for tenure.
  3. Academics – as an institution - doesn’t love us – our family, friends and colleagues do.
  4. The grind of classes, grants and publications buys flexibility and freedom.