Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Advice from tenured professors for pre-tenure faculty

I recently attended a workshop put on by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University where six tenured professors gave advice for pre-tenure faculty. Here are my notes from the workshop:

There is no free lunch.
When you've arrived on campus and someone invites you out to lunch, keep your antenna up as to why  they invited you out.

  • Don't commit to anything at lunch, give yourself time to consider it.
  • Stay out of departmental politics.
  • Avoid the perception that you've joined a faction (e.g., routinely going to lunch with a prominent member of a faction).
  • Seek advice from people within your department (they are familiar with your specific department, but may give you biased advice about specific situations).
  • Also seek advice from ppl outside your University (they aren't familiar with your specific department, but they can give unbiased advice about general situations).
  • Your job is to get your work done. You can always use your work as an excuse to avoid politics. 

Find balance.
  • Don't shut yourself down at your desk.
  • Learn to say "no" constructively (e.g., I cannot commit to X, but I could do Y; or, I'm interested, but already committed to Z.).

Be a good colleague/academic citizen.
  • Serve on student committees.
  • Serve on committee for department fellowships.
  • Important to be visible. You want your colleagues to know you and be invested in thou.
  • When it comes to collaborations, seek out people in your unit first before other units on campus (pre-tenure).
  • Scholarly presence in research *AND* physical presence.
  • Look past your own CV
  • At faculty meetings, if you have an opinion, share it; it is the best way for colleagues to get to know you.

Research and Teaching first, but Service is still important.
  • Service to the department *AND* service to the profession.
  • National service >> Local service.
  • Service to the profession makes you visible (e.g., editorial boards, Symposium moderator/organizer)
  • ~10 external reviewers requested for tenure packet. If no one in the field knows you, they won't even agree to review your packet.
  • If a position is 40% research, 40% teaching, 20% service, that service component corresponds to one 8hr day (in a 40hr work week).

Mentoring you receive.
  • You will never have a mentor like your PhD mentor again (someone so invested in your future success).
  • You don't have a cohort of grad students or postdocs, but you are not alone.
  • Build your support network. 
  • Seek a multiplicity of mentors, in your field, different levels in the pipeline.

Mentoring you give.
  • You are a visible role model
  • Portray a sane work-life balance for your students and lab members (even if you're still working on it).
  • You may not feel like a professor, but people will treat you like one. Act like it. 

Think beyond tenure.
  • If all of your activities are done for the sole purpose of working towards tenure, you're going to be sorely disappointed after you get it. 
  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket AND Don't spread yourself too thin.
  • Do some research every day, no matter how small.
  • Tenure criteria an the bylaws are the minimum requirements, and are open to interpretation.
  • Do not meet the tenure criteria, exceed it.
  • Tenure extensions: Tenure clock extensions are granted (at Arizona State University) for a variety of reasons, not just having a child (parental leave, elderly care, medical condition, lab equipment delay… talk with your chair if you have concerns). If your request for tenure extension is approved, it is sealed in an envelope, and no one on your tenure committee will know the reason, only that it was approved, and the extension can not be used against you. 

Questions to ask yourself, and honestly reflect on your answers.
  • What do you want out of faculty life?
  • What is it worth to you? 
  • When is the cost too high?

Take-home:For the first time, you call all the shots. You are on your own, but you are fully capable of doing it.


ID said...

Thank you so much for the great post & advice. I am at a similar career stage right now, and it so really easy to start feeling lost and clueless during the overwhelming initial phase. These are really great suggestions!

mathbionerd said...

There is a whole series (new this year) being put on by my Uni. I'll make sure to take notes and share them here - and do please share any advice you hear along the way!

margaret said...

I'm so glad you came to the workshop and are now blogging about it! As the organizer of this series, it is gratifying to know that the audience found the information useful. One thing I would add to your excellent post is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to many of the questions our panel fielded. Although the panelists were all tenured professors, each comes from a different department with its own unique climate and culture. It is important to explore the norms in one's own department, to understand how/when/why those norms emerged. At some point, you will receive unsolicited advice (if you haven't already!), you will ultimately become involved in political/contentious issues, or you will find yourself in a faculty meeting where emotions are running high. I think an important point our panelists' made was that it is best to first explore both (all!) sides of the issue, sit with advice you've received, consider how the issue/advice aligns with your personal and professional values, and THEN act with conviction. Words to live by in any occupation! Great blog! See you at the next workshop!

mathbionerd said...

It was excellent. Thank you so much for organizing! I cannot tell you how many people have commented elsewhere on the utility of this information. I feel very lucky to have this series as a resource my first year, and look forward to the rest of the series.

Anonymous said...

Super useful advice, thanks! I am about to start a job as a lecturer (in the UK) and it's scary making the move from postdoc to "proper" research staff. Even though I now have a permanent job (so, so lucky to be in this position) and am not seeking tenure, a lot of this applies to me as well.

mathbionerd said...

Thank you, and Great point! I agrees. When I was writing these out I thought that many of them apply to any new academic.