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Some Unofficial Advice for Tenure-track Assistant Professors

As you build your research career, which is of primary importance for tenure, you will have to simultaneously develop as a teacher, be a constructive campus citizen, and maintain a balance with your personal and family life. This page gives some specific advice, but as to everything related to your scholarship, teaching and service, start to keep a file -- of everything (!) -- so that when the time arrives for a tenure dossier you can decide what is useful.

Undergraduate Classroom Teaching
Research
Promotion and Tenure
Service and Citizenship

Teaching

  • A useful perspective is that you not only teach content, you teach students. Be aware of student needs and the diversity of their backgrounds (for example, the various religious holidays students observe.) Students from different life experiences may learn best with different approaches to teaching.
  • A good student-teacher relationship is essential for productive teaching. You should understand how to ensure positive relationships, which includes mundane things such as setting up appointments, publicizing office hours and then keeping them.
  • For help on your teaching, talk with senior colleagues, and check with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and its Faculty Fellows. You can ask to observe teaching by faculty colleagues, and ask them to observe your classes. Try to learn from the research on teaching, for example, by defining teaching objectives, and finding ways to measure teaching outcomes rather than just "testing."
  • You should meet with your chair (or the chair's representative) at least once a year to discuss teaching. Student evaluations should be discussed and used to improve performance. This meeting can be separate from, or combined with, your discussion with the chair about the teaching/scholarship relative load ("Spitzer profile"), and specific course assignments. Try to arrange with your chair to minimize the number of separate courses you have to prepare.
  • In most fields, it is expected you mentor doctoral students to succesful completion of their degrees and help them obtain good first positions.
  • Information you need to know: It is your responsibility to be aware of relevant University policies, such as the rules against sexual harassment , the law protecting privacy of student grades and other records, and the list of religious holidays students observe. In preparing the syllabus for each course, there is some standard information to include: look at the web page on Accommodations for Disability.

Research

  • Remember that your scholarly work will be evaluated for its quality, originality and impact on the field. You should be making an intellectual contribution, not publishing safe articles in mediocre journals.
  • In fields where grants are necessary to conduct your research, make sure you get off to a quick start in submitting proposals. Ask staff or senior colleagues for advice on proposal development (how to build budgets, etc.).
  • It is important to develop a national or international intellectual community that knows your work. Depending on your field, this may lead you to present colloquia at leading universities, to speak at conferences, or to serve on journal editorial boards. Consider who are the national leaders in your specialty and try to make sure they know of your work; the external referees on your tenure decision will be drawn from among that group.
  • Discuss with your chair and senior colleagues what are the expectations in your discipline. In particular:
    • Striving to achieve impact on the field;
    • Having a focused research program;
    • Demonstrating independence from your graduate or post-doctoral advisor;
    • Developing your dissertation into a first book vs. striking out in a new area;
    • Importance of research proposals and major grants (e.g., R01s as P.I.);
    • What counts as premier outlets for publishing;
    • Books vs. articles, long articles vs. short ones;
    • The expected quantity and rate of publication;
    • Being sole or senior author vs. part of a team;
    • In fields where teams are common, demonstrating your personal contribution;
    • Importance of giving presentations at other universities or national meetings.
  • Try to benefit from mentoring, so that multiple individuals help you learn the information you need, help you develop networking, and provide advice and feedback on research and publication.
  • Set targets and timelines for yourself for publications, proposal submissions, and presentations in premier venues. As benchmarks, see what colleagues in top departments elsewhere do.
  • Develop a habit of discussing and debating research with colleagues, and sharing drafts, individually and in workshops.
  • Information you need to know: Clarify the university's regulations on human subjects, which are critical for social science as well as other fields.

Promotion and Tenure

  • Clarify expectations for promotion and tenure by on-going discussions about what the top three or four peer programs look for when they promote and tenure someone. Discuss with colleagues what counts as making an impact on the field.
  • If you have a new child, promptly request the one year extension of your Tenure Decision Date which is your right, and remember your right to a paid leave. If other circumstances delay your research program, consider requesting an extension of that deadline. (See the Faculty Handbook.)
  • Information you need to know: Read the Guidelines of the University Committee on Appointments, Promotions and Tenure. Ask your chair whether your department or school has published supplemental explanations of tenure criteria. Remember that departmental advice or evaluations are no guarantee of the eventual decision; when you are praised, remember to also seek out constructive criticism.

Service and Citizenship

  • You should participate actively and constructively in the meetings, colloquia and appointment lectures of your department.
  • Beyond that, you should try to do only the minimum level of committee service activity, perhaps one busy committee a year (though that may not be realistic in some departments.) If you are in a clinical department, you should try to protect the research portion of your agreed profile from encroachment of additional clinical activity. If service assignments are pressed upon you to the point that your research program is slowed, be sure to discuss the problem with your chair, your dean, and if necessary the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. You will not receive tenure for service.
  • Try to be a constructive force in promoting a collegial academic community. Avoid getting trapped into negative interchanges or angry emails. When problems arise, talk with senior colleagues, the chair, or the deans.