Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tenure (on a personal level)

FSP and GMP both discussed tenure, why it is important, and why it is unlikely to go away any time soon. On a more personal note, I am contemplating when I should go up myself. Since I am not a brand new scientist, when I started at Prodigal U, I negotiated the right to go up for tenure any time after my 3rd year (though I can wait the normal 6 if I want to). If I am denied early, I can go up again at the normal time (in theory with no penalty).

I was talking in the hall a few days ago to 2 of my colleagues, one tenured and one not about the issue of going up early. My tenured colleague asked "why would you want to?". My untenured colleague said "I totally would if I could."

On a personal level, I would like to have the certainty of tenure. We moved to Prodigal City, which is far from National Lab City, because I am pretty sure I will get tenure here. I have no desire to uproot my family again after 6 years, especially since the Prodigal kids will be in school by then. Going up early means fewer years of tentative roots just in case. Professionally, I'd get a 5-6% raise (which is nice, but not really a motivator). When recruiting, I'd be able to tell students I have tenure (which can be a big deal to some students).

So what are the costs to early tenure? It is true that in my department assistant professors are somewhat protected from onerous service obligations, so I'd be giving that up. I would be giving up eligibility for "young investigator" and "new investgator" awards, but I am already not eligible for any of the shiny Federal young investigator awards anyway, since I am too far out from earning my PhD (which is totally fair, since I have a lot more experience than a new grad). If I am denied early, that could put a black mark on me for future rounds.

In the short term, going up after 3 or 4 years won't really change what I am doing. I feel like I had a great first year, and would like to capitalize on that momentum. If I can get some more funding next year, maybe it becomes worth it to push for tenure after 3 years in case I have a dry spell later. So, what would you do?


GMP said...

The issue of early tenure depends drastically on the institution. I recommend that you inquire in great detail if your deparment, college, and university are sympathetic to early tenure cases.

The reason I am saying is that, at my instutution, early tenure is strongly discouraged. Basically, when you are going up early, it is not enough to be as good as an average person after 6 years: they require you to be much much better than an average person after 6 years in order to consider you really worthy of the early consideration [at my place, the main decision is at the University level -- there are 4 divisions, and one of the divisional committees (e.g. I belong to that of physical sciences, where there is also chemistry, math, most engineering, geology) makes the final decision]. So your department must make a compelling case that you are 1 in a million, or alternatively that they would lose you to an outside offer w/ tenure if they don't tenure you early.

So if you wantr to go early, the sure way is to have an offer of tenure elsewhere in hand. Barring that, make sure you have researched really well how early cases are looked upon -- encouraged or discouraged, any special requirements, and success rates.

In contrast, I know several other places where as soon as you have some papers published and 1 or 2 grants, you can go up.

I would say don't be dead-set on rushing it, but if after 2 or 3 years you have a ton of grant money, excellent evaluations, and a number of pubs from Prodigal U, and Prodigal U is not as stuffy on the early promotion issues as my place, I say go for it. Oh yeah, they would likely want you to graduate a student (or at least get one well published and close to graduation) -- that may be hard in 3 years -- see how necesary it is for promotion (it is where I am). It's probably early to make a definitive commitment right now, you have time to decide after another 1 or 1.5 years. Again, it's all about how Prodigal U views early promotions. Hope this helps a bit.

melissa's said...

Truly, I had given zero thought to this, for two reasons. One, I'd love for this to be my problem (papers and grants are the only goal I have in my sights right now), and two, because I was unaware of a down-side to going for tenure early. What with often-clueless administrators, department politics, changing priorities, and faculty turnover, I assumed that if I am ever at the point that the stars are aligned for early tenure I should just go for it. None of the drawbacks you listed are really compelling compared to the benefits, to my ears...


Ewan said...

I am in just this situation, and the request for letters is going out this week :-). So for me, the increased assurance of stability (and reduced loss of funds if for some reason it fails) are the key factors; I had not thought about increased attraction to good students, but it's valid also.

Odyssey said...

GMP makes some good points. It is important to do your research first. Having said that, if the stars truly are all aligned, go for it.

prodigal academic said...

Thanks for the comments. It is in fact, not terribly uncommon for people to go up early here. There are 2 in my department who have done so recently. After the Fall rush, I plan to talk to them about tenure and going up early.

Good luck, Ewan!

Unbalanced Reaction said...

This is a really helpful post (and the comments) to me. At my school NO ONE goes up early, even the exceptional, hire-awayable ones. This policy seems to be changing, so I've been thinking a lot about the process lately.

Anonymous said...

This blog is old but I just came across it tonight. I just met with my department chair today and he thinks I should go up for tenure one year early (next year). Part of the reason is that the department needs more tenured faulty members so that more initiatives may be started and I've been told that the department and the administration are pleased with my work so far. I'm very nervous about this only because I'm unsure of how those who don't know me would perceive this at higher levels above the department. I have as many publications as some of the tenured faculty but my focus has been in several areas versus one single area (I'm just a renaissance man- I can't help it!). I just don't know what I should do. I think I will have the college dean's support as well as the dean of the graduate school. But as we all know, one never knows what one might think about a candidate who goes up early for tenure. It wasn't my idea but I'd be more than happy to have the "hell" over with one year sooner! Any advice?