Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ask the Experts: Seven Strategies for Success on the Tenure Track

Securing a tenure track position in today's job market is a major accomplishment. Once you have one, though, how can you ensure your success and achieve tenure?

Success Ahead .. Helping others is a pillar of Judaism.  King David declares: Olam Chesed Yibane – the world is built through kindness. That is the essence of Judaism. (February 10, 2012 / 17 Shevat 5772) ...

Last week, I was on a panel where new faculty could ask the panelists questions about the promotion and tenure process. The invitation to the panel indicated that we should come prepared to answer questions and that they would end the panel by asking us to each give our single most important piece of advice to new faculty.

I decided that my single most important piece of advice would be to tell the new faculty that they could figure out the tenure standards for their department, even if no one wanted to be very specific about it. I detail how to do that in this post.

There were other gems of advice offered by the Chairs, Deans, and tenured professors on that panel, and I will share some of them with you.

  1. Write every day

    One of my colleagues told me before the panel that her single most piece of advice would be to write every day. This, of course, is a piece of advice that I fully endorse. Writing every day is one of the most important things you can do to achieve the research productivity needed for tenure.
  2. Look at the tenure documentation

    Several panelists mentioned the importance of actually looking at the tenure documentation early in your career. I remember doing that and the paperwork seeming a bit overwhelming. Now that I am on the other side, I think you should not only look at the forms you will have to fill out when you apply for tenure and promotion, but that you should actually fill them out. In fact, I think you should fill out two versions. The first version should be based on your current CV. The second version should be how you plan for your CV to look when you go up for tenure. That will give you a very accurate idea of what you are shooting for.
  3. Make a list of your external reviewers

    Now. One of the best pieces of advice I received on the tenure track was to make a list of 12 people who are at the top of my field, and to make it a point to contact them while I was on the tenure track. If you write this list in your first year, you only have to contact two people per year over the next six years. And, you can start with the least intimidating people.
  4. Network to establish a national reputation

    One of the panelists suggested a fairly easy way to do this: Organize a panel at your national conference. Organizing a panel will put you in touch with scholars in your field, and will give you increased visibility.
  5. Be mindful of service

    Another good piece of advice was to be mindful of how much and what kind of service you do. First, you have to figure out what kind of service you like. Do you like serving on review panels? Do you like curriculum development? Do you like organizing seminars? Do you want to be on the athletics committee in the hopes of scoring free basketball tickets? What do you like to do? Once you figure out what kind of service you like, you may want to be proactive and search out those kinds of opportunities. That way, when other opportunities arise, you can say that you are already occupied with other service tasks. It is, of course, crucial to know that you can say “no” to service requests, especially when your “no” is accompanied by a good explanation.
  6. Teach effectively and efficiently

    We also discussed teaching. One of my colleagues suggested mid-course evaluations as a valuable tactic. I fully agree. I often find that asking students their opinions midway through the course is an optimal way to get feedback you can actually implement as well as gives the students an opportunity to get any strong opinions they have off their chest. I also just had to mention Robert Boice’s finding that successful new faculty don’t spend more than two hours preparing for each class. My fellow panelists also suggested that new faculty seek out advice from their more seasoned colleagues as to how to be a more efficient grader and more effective teacher.
  7. Know your evaluation criteria and use them as a guide

    The panelists also pointed out that the evaluation criteria at the University of Kansas are: 40% research; 40% teaching; and 20% service, and that you cannot overcompensate in one area and expect for it to spill over into other areas. This is especially the case for service and research. You can’t do tons of service and hope that no one will notice your lack of research productivity. 

It can be overwhelming to be starting a new tenure track position. But, life on the tenure track does not have to be tortuous. Keep that in mind as you come up for strategies to survive and thrive on the tenure track


  1. I have recently accepted a TT job in the social sciences. I have reviewed your entire blog and just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your advice! You are helping me feel like I can actually do this and enjoy it (most of the time). Thank you!

    1. Great to hear that you find the blog useful. CONGRATS on the TT job!! Exciting new stage.

  2. I also just accepted a TT job to begin in the fall of 2012. Your blog is like manna from heaven! Thanks!

  3. Writing my P&T portfolio this summer and feel like I've checked most of this off the list. Thanks for the reminder, and wish me luck!

    1. Good luck! The hardest part is behind you. Now, it's time to look forward for the next steps!