Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Surviving the pre tenure years

I am taking a small break from rove beetle posts to talk about something that I know very little about:  how to survive the pre tenure years. I recently (one year ago) got tenure and Pröf-like Substance had a post today soliciting opinions on how people “cleared the bar”. I am not claiming that my approach will work for everybody in a similar situation but below is what I found useful. For clarification, I work at metropolitan Master’s University with ~11,000 student enrollment. Some departments in my University have low or no research expectations but in my department it is expected that people will have an active research program.

1: Don’t be an asshole. To your students, to other faculty, to administrators or administrative assistants. Simply. Do. Not. People are willing to look the other way if you are marginally under the bar and you have been a decent human being but they will come to hunt you if you have behaved otherwise. Although I have seen assholes getting tenured in my University, it is always much harder to do so. Do not start personal vendettas with other faculty, like the year you are going up for tenure. Seriously.

2: Find out what works for you and your students in teaching and stick to it. Some faculty want to change how they teach every semester and this is not really a good idea in the pre tenure years. Find a teaching style that gets you good (or even better: excellent) evaluations and stick to it until you get tenure. Changing teaching style every other semester will result in fluctuating teaching evaluations and this is rarely seen as a good thing.

3: For the love of FSM, do research. In a primarily teaching University like the one I am working it is very easy to spend all of your time teaching, advising students and participating in committee work. Close your door, hide, turn off your light if you have to, but keep those papers coming out. And by the way, research = papers published. Invited talks, conferences, "reports" etc are nice but they do not cut it.

4: Apply for grants. Even in a undergraduate institution, having an externally funded competitive grant will go a long way towards getting tenure.

5: And finally: when I was a graduate student E. O. Wiley told me that “one shoud always try to get tenure and then solve the problems of the world”.

7/3/14 update: And if you have to talk at faculty meetings during the first years, follow the Silent Bob model: when you speak make sure it matters.