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Preparing Strategically for a Successful Tenure Review

 

Dr. Avriel Licciardi, Research Communications Strategist

September 2022


The quest for academic tenure is often considered a daunting process, lasting approximately six years before formal review. These first six years commonly reflect the time any employee can remain employed as a non-tenured instructor or professor, compelling their institution to grant tenure or terminate them upon review of their tenure package. As a result, preparing for and securing tenure is a stressful experience for any academic.

What is academic tenure?

A tenured post is an indefinite academic appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as program discontinuation or severe financial issues. If achieved, academic tenure provides considerable job security for university faculty, although tenure systems are not universal among universities and colleges worldwide. To be granted tenure, faculty must present a tenure package for review illustrating their ability to establish a record of published research, obtain grant funding, and support (and graduate) students, as well as become academically visible, succeed in teaching, and stay up to date with all administrative and/or community service duties—all of which must be completed in the initial years of their employment.

Preparing for tenure review

Although starting a new faculty position generally comes with a steep learning curve, tenure planning should begin as soon as possible. Here, we provide advice for strategic planning to help position yourself for a successful tenure case.

1. Understand your institution’s expectations. The crucial first step in preparing for tenure is to understand the processes and expectations at your university or institution, as well as the expectations for your specific position. Promotion and tenure criteria vary considerably by institution, so it is advised to obtain the official tenure and promotion guidance in writing form your university. Review these guidelines carefully and ask questions about anything that is unclear. Solicit advice from other faculty or administrators, especially individuals who successfully achieved tenure, and attend workshops on tenure preparation if available.

2. Start preparing early. Like many tasks in academia, starting tenure preparation early—even before you secure a faculty position—is highly beneficial. If possible, establish collaborative research opportunities while you are still a postdoc; continually write and submit grant proposals; and begin development of new courses.

3. Continually build your portfolio. A strong tenure case is built on a strong research program (for research-intensive universities), and therefore your research is expected to be well-documented in the scholarly literature, independent (i.e., distinct from your doctoral and postdoctoral advisors), and financially supported by successful proposals. For any collaborative project or publication, your individual and substantive contribution should be clear; and peer-reviewed publications are often highly valued during tenure evaluation. Understand what your institution values most in publications (Number? Journal reputation? Metric-based?) and build your portfolio accordingly.

4. Remain active in your research community. Certain departmental and off-campus colleagues may be requested to provide feedback on your tenure package, so it is important to educate your colleagues and administrators on your teaching, research and service, as well as why it is important. Remain active in your scientific societies, present your research at conferences, and become an asset to your department.

5. Seek feedback (and listen to it). Seek feedback from your departmental colleagues; your Chair or department head; and colleagues outside your department and from similar institutions (teaching- or research-intensive). Finding one (or more) tenured colleagues who can serve as mentors is extremely important, as they can provide valuable answers to your questions. It is also likely pre-tenure evaluation checkpoints will be established (e.g., annual reviews, 3-year review), and it is important to take these meetings seriously and be prepared. Lastly, gain feedback before you finalize and submit your tenure application, and when you receive the feedback, be sure to take it in. Some phrases, such as “you might want to consider” may actually mean “do this task”.

6. Benchmark your progress. We suggest comparing your productivity (e.g., grant funding, publications, teaching load, number of students) against both your institution’s written expectations and any recently promoted faculty in your department. Universities are continually seeking to improve the quality of their faculty, so your performance must be on par with current and recently promoted individuals. Crosscheck your productivity against faculty CVs or profiles. We note that publications, funding and graduate students are not the only factors considered in tenure decisions, but they are important and cannot be ignored.

The above advice and strategies aim to provide general guidance on how you can plan and prepare your strongest case for tenure. Remember, each institution and department will have its own specific requirements and processes, so it is imperative that you inform yourself of the tenure expectations at your own institution and use them as your primary guide.

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