Saturday, November 10, 2012

You Got Tenure …. Now What? Five Strategies to Keep Moving Forward

After spending years – sometimes nearly a decade – in the quest for tenure, it can be hard to figure out what to do once you receive that golden letter ensuring you lifetime employment.

O caborteiro

I officially received tenure in the spring of 2012. When I received the tenure letter, I was in the middle of a busy semester, so I briefly celebrated and then kept on doing what I needed to do to keep everything afloat. I had a research trip to Peru planned over the summer, so I went to Peru and worked on that project. Then, the fall semester started, and I got back into my teaching and research routines. In sum, after getting tenure, life seemed to go on as usual.

However, now that I have had a few months to reflect, I can share some post-tenure strategies that I have found useful thus far. I provide these strategies with the caveat that these strategies have worked for me because of the path I have chosen. As Kerry Ann Rockquemore points out in this column there are multiple paths you can choose once you achieve tenure.

Here are the post-tenure strategies that I have found useful.

Strategy One: Keep on writing

It is crucial to work to maintain a daily writing practice so that you don’t lose the great habits you cultivated while on the tenure track. Now that you have tenure, you have more flexibility in terms of the kind of writing you do. The important thing is that you continue to cultivate your writing skills and habits.

Over the summer, I wanted to take somewhat of a break from writing, so I maintained my daily writing practice by posting on my family travel blog. Once the semester began again, it was fairly seamless to transition back into daily writing for research.

Strategy Two: Keep on reading

I know I always advise people to write daily, but I have recently learned that many people, in the quest for tenure, find less and less time to read. Now that you have tenure, you have the luxury to also set aside time for reading in and around your field.

This semester, I have been reading a new book about every two weeks. It feels great to read the books I have been meaning to read, and to keep up with the field. I usually try and incorporate something I learn from the books into my writing, but sometimes it can be useful just to absorb the information.

Strategy Three: Experiment with teaching

Now that you have tenure, you can worry less about student evaluations. There is some debate about how useful student evaluations are for assessing your teaching, so, for now, you can worry less about them and focus on trying strategies that you think will work.

I don’t mean that you should totally revamp your classes, but try something new. This semester, I decided to introduce blogging into my classes. I could have done that while on the tenure track, but it was easier to do it once I had tenure and did not have to worry as much about my evaluations taking a dive.

Strategy Four: Be proactive with service

While on the tenure track, you should have been protected from service and hopefully chose the service opportunities that took the least time. Now that you have tenure, it is time for you to take a good look at your service profile and think about what opportunities you would like to pursue. What kind of service are you good at? What kind of service do you enjoy? It is important to keep doing service so that you can feel part of the campus community. So, why not seek out the opportunities that allow you to use your skills and feel valuable?

Since arriving at the University of California, Merced this semester, colleagues have asked me to participate in a wide variety of service activities. I have made a couple of commitments, but mostly have asked for time to consider my options. Looking at my skill set and my passions, it is clear to me that there are some service areas where I would excel – and others that I would find draining. I decided that I would like to do something on campus related to faculty development and retention. Thus, I asked around and found the people who are in charge of that and let them know of my interests.

Strategy Five: Take care of yourself!

Now that you have lifetime employment security, you need to make sure you live a long, healthy life and enjoy it! I am sure you are aware that high stress, lack of physical activity, and an unhealthy diet are linked to health problems and a shortened life expectancy. Thus, if you haven’t been taking care of yourself thus far, now is the time to make your health your number one priority. Find the time to exercise by putting it into your schedule, use meditation or yoga to reduce stress, figure out ways to eat healthier, and find time to spend with people you enjoy.

Here in Merced, I am fortunate to live in a warm, dry climate. Thus, I have been able to ride my bike to my office – which is five miles from my home. I don’t have to go to campus every day, and thus am able to eat at home most days. That makes it easier to eat healthy meals. I have not been making time to meditate or do yoga, but may incorporate that into my life.

In sum, having tenure gives you a renewed freedom to make decisions about how you want to spend your time. Of course, there are consequences to any decision you make. However, you also have the flexibility to decide where you want to focus your energies, and I encourage you to do that.

What post-tenure strategies have worked for you?


  1. Awesome blog!

    Could you elaborate on the reading? I am trying to follow your advice on writing, especially when I feel "fresh" first thing in the morning. The problem is that I then put off the reading and feel too tired then to fully absorb the complex information I'm reading.

    Again, thanks for democratizing academia!

    1. I agree that this can be a perennial problem. For me, there are two kinds of reading: 1) Books I need to read for background info and 2) Books and articles I need to cite directly in what I am working on. When I am reading for background info, I can do that in the evenings when I am relaxing. When it is to cite directly, I read during my writing time and make sure to cite while reading.

  2. Dear Tanya,
    Congrats! I just wanted to ask on a somewhat related note. Though tenure is far away and I'm ready to embark at KU on my first TT job, I am wondering: everyone tells me that the first year it's ok to get no writing done.I have not taught my independent course before and it'll be a 2-2 load though the department tries to reduce this to a 2-1 prep-wise. Would you say this is true in your experience? Did you get any writing done in the first year? I guess it also depends on if you have courses already prepared..

    1. My first year I taught the same two classes both semesters. I had taught versions of these classes before as a grad student.

      I think that, even with two new preps, it would be great if you could find at least 30 minutes each morning to write.

      People also told me not to worry about writing the first semester. But, I didn't listen. I wrote a new article my first semester and was comforted in knowing that it was reasonable to expect myself to draft at least one new article or chapter each semester.

    2. Many thanks Tanya! I had been following your blog since getting my first r&r and then as chance would have it I get an offer from KU only to find out that is where you'd been. I even met some of your colleagues during my campus visit:) One or two pomodoros a day can go a long way article wise. I will be teaching mostly upper division and grad courses that I served as TA for during my grad school days. once again congrats on the Tenure and also thanks for helping me out in all respects!