Sunday, August 14, 2011

Five Steps towards Creating a Five-Year Plan to Achieve Tenure

One of the best things you can do as a new Assistant Professor is to create a five-year plan, also known as a research trajectory. This plan will serve as a roadmap towards tenure. Knowing exactly what you need to achieve tenure and making a plan to get there can take a lot of the anxiety out of this nerve-wracking process. This post explains how to create a five-year plan that will enhance the likelihood that you will achieve tenure.

Katie Kieffer

I will focus on the research side of the equation, as this is most often the most important part. However, tenure expectations vary by institution, and you need to figure out what is most important where you work.

Step One: Realize that you only have five years to put together a tenure portfolio.

The time between your first day as an Assistant Professor and the day you have to submit your tenure file flies by. Colleges and universities vary on the procedures and dates, but in general, you have five years to put your tenure file together.

I know you are supposed to have six years, but it is actually five. Let me explain. Suppose you began a tenure track position in August 2010. By August 2011, you will have completed your first academic year, and by August 2015, you likely will have to submit some parts of your tenure file – such as the names of external reviewers. The review of your tenure case will be complete at the end of your sixth year. This usually means you have to start the review process about a year beforehand.

Step Two: Set your goals.

The first step to creating a five year publication plan is to figure out what you need to accomplish to have a successful tenure review. How would you like for your CV to look in five years?

You can find out about departmental expectations by asking your mentors and colleagues. You also should look at the CVs of people who recently have been awarded tenure both in your department and at other institutions. If you think that it is possible that you might leave your current place of employment before going up for tenure, you need to be aware of standards at other institutions. Remember, publications are a form of "portable wealth" that you can take with you to other jobs. And, even if you don’t plan to leave, you still need to be aware, as things might not work out for you at your current institution, and it is important to be marketable. Once you figure out the departmental and disciplinary expectations, you can set your own publication goals.

Step Three: Make a plan for achieving your goals

Let’s say, for the sake of this blog post, that your goal is to have one book and three articles in print by the time your tenure file is reviewed. You must now figure out how long that will take to accomplish, starting from the ideal publication date. It takes a long time to publish, so you need to plan far in advance.

If you would like for your book to be in print by August 2015, for example, you need to work backwards from that date. For your book to be published in August 2015, you need to submit the final version to the publisher by August 2014. For that to happen, you likely need to submit the original version by August 2013, which means you should submit the book proposal no later than February 2013. There you have your first concrete goal: Submit your book proposal to potential publishers no later than February 1, 2013.

You can then do the same thing with the articles, based on the time it takes for articles in your field to be accepted and published, and the number of articles you reasonably can submit in a year or a semester. Keep in mind that articles are almost never accepted upon first submission, so allow time for revision and re-submission.

Step Four: Map your plan out onto a calendar
Once you have decided, for example, that you will submit your book proposal by February 2013, your first article by February 2012, your second article in August 2012, and your third article by February 2013, then you can begin to map out the steps required onto a calendar.

For example, if your first goal is to submit an article by February 2012, then you can use the time between now and February 2012 to ensure that your article is ready for submission. You might use August 2011 to make a plan for the revision of one of your dissertation chapters, September 2011 to do the literature review, October 2011 to re-analyze the data, November 2011 to write the first draft, and December to get peer feedback and and January to finish the revisions.

You will need to do this for each of the goals you have set. However, if you have never mapped your goals onto a calendar before, it might work best for you to focus on one goal at a time. For example, once you have revised one chapter of your dissertation into an article, you will have a better idea as to how long it will take to do the others. Then, you can develop a feasible plan for the remaining articles.

Step Five: Execute the plan

The best way to meet your publication goals is to work on them consistently. If you spend at least one hour every day from Monday to Friday working on one of your publication goals, you are much more likely to meet them than if you only work on them on the weekends or only work on them over break. If getting tenure is important to you, and getting tenure requires publishing, it behooves you to do something that gets you towards publishing each and every day. Usually that “something” is writing. It also includes data analysis, reading background literature, and letting ideas percolate. However, most academics find it fairly easy to spend hours and hours reading and running data, yet find it harder to spend time actually writing. For this reason, it is important to write every day to ensure you achieve your goals.

If you have already started your faculty position and did not make a five year plan, it is not too late. You can make a plan based on what you would like to have accomplished by the time you go up for tenure or promotion, no matter how much time you have left.

The planning process can be stressful as you think of all you have to do. At the same time, it can be calming, as you come to terms with what you will and will not be able to accomplish over the next five years.


  1. Thanks Tanya! I will take this advice!

  2. Cool! Good luck with it. It can be exciting, as well as intimidating to think that far ahead!

  3. Thank you... Very sound advice and much needed...

  4. how can this be translated for an arts professor?

  5. Great to hear that, eortega!

    Anonymous: What does an arts professor need for a tenure portfolio? What are the steps to get there? What can you do today that will move you in the right direction?

  6. how can make a new plan of the first year PhD?

    1. at that point, you want to be make sure to talk to your advisor.