Unveiling the Secret to Tenure Expectations

picture of Tanya Golash-Boza

Professor Tanya Golash-Boza

Tanya Golash-Boza (2015 Mujeres Talk Contributing Blogger)

Imagine this: Your first year on the tenure-track, you sit down with your department chair and ask him what the expectations for tenure are. He hands you a written document that indicates that you have to publish six articles, and that you must be first author on at least four. He provides you with a list of acceptable journals and makes it clear that this is the hurdle you have to cross for tenure. You meet with other senior colleagues in your department and across the university, and everyone agrees on the research component of the tenure expectations. You know exactly what you need to do and the only thing left to figure out is how to do it.

This situation, for better or for worse, is remarkably uncommon. Most new faculty members are never told exactly what they need for tenure. Senior colleagues are reluctant to give an exact number of how many articles you need to publish, whether you need articles in addition to a book, which journals are considered important, whether or not you need a major grant, and whether or not book reviews, conference presentations, and book chapters in edited volumes count for anything. Your senior colleagues are most likely to tell you that the tenure expectations are individualized and that a wide variety of portfolios can make an excellent tenure case. They will likely tell you that they are looking for a research profile that demonstrates excellence and an upward trajectory.

As a new faculty member at a research institution, I found this very frustrating. I thought to myself: why can’t they just tell me what I need to do so that I can do it? If you are in this sort of situation, where you are not clear on what the expectations are, one thing is certain: it is in your interest to find out anyway. How do you do that?

It turns out that there are a number of ways for you to figure out what a solid tenure case would look like. You just need to approach this as you would any other research project: ask around, investigate, and look at a variety of cases. Here are four strategies for you to figure out what your research portfolio should look like.

A pen resting on top of an open journal with writing faintly apparent.

On the importance of asking for clarity regarding tenure expectations. Photo by Sebastien Wiertz. CC BY 2.0

  • Ask around at your institution. In your first semester, you should meet with your department chair and with your faculty mentor. Ask both of them to give you advice on what the publication expectations are. They might be vague, but they will communicate something to you. You also can ask other colleagues around the institution, especially if you can find people who have served on the campus Promotion and Tenure committees.
  • Look at the CVs of people recently promoted in your department. If there is anyone who has been promoted in the past five years in your department, you should look at their CV and figure out what they needed to get tenure. Tenure expectations are a moving target, so the more recent candidates are a better comparison case than your older colleagues. You may even be able to ask recently tenured colleagues to share their tenure materials with you so that you can see exactly how they put their case together.
  • Look at the CVs of people recently promoted at other comparable institutions. Most departments post their faculty members’ CVs online. And, since promotion and tenure require updating the CV, most recently tenured faculty have updated CVs online. Look at several CVs of people who were recently tenured in your field and figure out what they had that allowed them to make a compelling tenure case. If no one has been tenured recently in your own department, this strategy can be particularly helpful.
  • Develop your own expectations, and share them with a trusted mentor. After you have compiled all of this information, use it to make explicit expectations for yourself. Suppose, after this research, you determine that you would need a book published at a university press, two single-authored articles in top tier peer-reviewed journals, one co-authored peer-reviewed articles, and at least six conference presentations. Take this information back to your department chair and your mentor and ask them if that would make a reasonable tenure case in your department. Tell them that you have set these goals for yourself, and that you would like their feedback on your goals. Their responses should be enlightening.

This last step is very important. Senior faculty are often reluctant to tell you exactly what you need because they don’t want to be wrong, but also because they do not want you to limit your options. If, however, you decide for yourself what your goals are and make it clear that you want their feedback, they likely will be willing to provide it.

The quest for tenure can be stressful, and the lack of clear expectations makes it more so. Figuring out what the expectations are yourself can be one step towards achieving clarity for yourself, and, in the process, to relieving some of the stress.

Tanya Golash-Boza is a Mujeres Talk 2015 Contributing Blogger. Her academic blog site, Get a Life, PhD, has been online since 2010 and offers “how to” advice for college professors on topics such as how to write a book proposal, revise an academic article, or organize work time in a semester. Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza also leads two other academic blog sites, Social Scientists for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Are We There Yet? World Travels with Three Kids. An Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California Merced, Golash-Boza is the author of four books: Due Process Denied (2012), Immigration Nation (2012), Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru (2011), and Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach (2014). She has also written for Al Jazeera, The Nation, and Counterpunch. She has  a new book out in December: Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism.

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