A few weeks ago, I blogged a self-assessment of my progress towards tenure. It seemed like an apt time to reflect in the hours before my annual review meeting with the department chair(s) and in the months before my packet for reappointment is submitted. Reappointment is the first and only gatekeeping between me and submitting that tenure dossier in three years. I feel OK about reappointment, but less so about tenure. So that’s the focus of the navel-gazing. (I suspect such gazing will only get worse as the next few years wend on.)
In my self-assessment, I identified a number of areas where I felt I needed to improve my performance in order to increase my odds at achieving tenure at Mystery U. When I met with my chair(s), the list was shorter:
“Get significant federal funding as PI.”
Let’s break that down:
- Get = Effort doesn’t count. Who cares about 10% success rates and year long turnarounds? You have to succeed in getting the money, or you won’t succeed in getting tenure.
- Significant = supporting at least one grad student per year on a research assistantship.
- Federal = NSF or NASA, because there really isn’t much else that I can get that will provide significant funding. State grants apparently don’t count.
- Funding = We wants the money, and we wants it now.
- As PI = Collaborative work is nice and all, and we talk a good talk about cross-disciplinary collaboration. But unless you are in charge, and bringing the overhead in here, we’re not really interested.
“Oh, yeah, and while you’re writing those proposals, make sure you keep publishing at the same rate, and serve on a nationally-visible committee at your professional society. But be sure to pick one that’s not too much work. But it has to be visible – get your name out there. Oh, and by the way, due to the economic crisis, your teaching load is probably going to go up and TA support will probably go down. But don’t worry, the dean has made it clear that tenure expectations aren’t going to decrease. Keep up the good work.”
It was a rude wake-up call to say the least, but I’m glad I got it this summer and not two years from now. I’d come to think that the best solution to the combination heavy teaching/heavy research expectations, was to try to do projects that required little money, but yielded a low- to medium-impact paper. I figured that going after the big, sexy grants and big, sexy science was secondary to pumping out several papers per year. At least that’s the way our departmental evaluation guidelines seemed to read. But perhaps I was misled by standards that are different for tenured folks versus untenured folks. Mystery U strives to be an upward trajectory, so in some sense the tenured folks are apples, and us tenured folks are, well, a different kind of apple.
So the task for this year is to figure out how to keep pumping out the papers, while writing a record-breaking number of grant (successful) proposals. Anyone have a time turner?