Halloween candy, decorations, and costumes are already all over the stores (at least the ones that the glamorous GMP frequents -- grocery stores, Target, Walmart). I don't mind the pumpkinpalooza at all: while I am a person with no holiday spirit whatsoever, I love Halloween. It is my favorite holiday as I get to dress up, give away (and eat!) candy, and occasionally scare little kids.
Speaking of scary things, there are few things scarier to a newly independent academic than the tenure case evaluation. The prospect of a tenure case gone wrong for some perverse and unforeseen reason has been known to wake an assistant professor up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat. Or lead to bouts of good, old freaking out. Being nervous (panicked even!) as you are approaching tenure is totally OK; being testy is OK too, just don't call your department chair an asshole or anything else that's hard to take back. And remove sharp objects from your office. And switch to decaf.
Tenure evaluation is on many a science blogger's mind. Prodigal Academic recently wondered if she should go up for promotion early, given she'd had a very good first year on tenure track. Namnezia is going up for tenure and wondering what types of institutions the external evaluation letters will be solicited from. FSP wrote from the standpoint of a senior faculy who often writes letters of evaluation.
I am a relatively recent survivor of the tenure evaluation process, so here is my contribution to the confusion and panic among TT faculty (mwahahahahaaha!) in the form of two true stories that scared the bejeezus out of me in my 4th and 5th year.
Scary story 1:
At my institution, people are strongly discouraged from going up for tenure early, and if you want to go up early you have to be significantly better (after the shorter time) than an average person after 6 years. This actually came up in a bizzare case of a woman who was going up in her 6th year (regular time) but had 2 children during her tenure track and actually had tenure stoppage paperwork in her file (a year for each child). The thing with tenure stoppage is that you can use it if you need to, but you don't actually have to use it if you don't need it. This woman clearly did well enough that she didn't feel she needed the extra years. However, there was a smart-ass on the university level promotion committee who said: well, her tenure clock has been stopped, so she has really been on tenure track for 4 years, so she's in fact going up early now; therefore, she must therefore be much better than an average 6th year candidate! Can you belive that?! Instead of saying "Good job, two kids didn't slow you down at all!" this person said "Aha, the kids didn't slow you down, so instead of evaluating you as a normal 6th-year candidate, we will evaluate you according to even harsher criteria reserved only for Trailblazing Superstars." How's that for a reward?
Luckily, there were several reasonable people on the committee who eventually stopped the idiocy from hurting the candidate's case.
Scary story 2:
My institution is very conservative in the letter writer selection business. The candidate must not supply any information on the desired letter writers (he/she is allowed to give one or two names of whom not to ask, if animosity is involved); the list of letter writers is entirely compiled by a few designated colleagues from the department, and the letter writers should all be members of NAS/NAE, award winners, endowed chairs at very prominent institutions, and so on. Also, the letter writers are not supposed to be asked first if they are available to write or not before the formal requests are sent. Simply, a list of names is compiled, requests for letters are sent out, and then you wait. The departmet will send for many letters, 10-12, as the goal is to have at least 8 come back.
I have seen cases where this selection of letter writers without any input from the candidate results in letter writers poorly chosen (too far from the candidate's area) and too many lukewarm letters ("I've never heard of the guy"), which totally hurts the case. I have also seen one single letter sink the case at the university committee level, where people may not be from your area at all and rely heavily on what Big Wig (even if an ass) says about your work. As an example, I know of a faculty, who brought in a ton of money and had a cover GlamourMag publication, and who was denied tenure because a poor selection of the letter writers resulted in one dismissive and several lukewarm letters. He went up again in his seventh year (by which time he had raised even more money and received some awards) with a completely new dossier and a new set of letters (whose writers were now chosen much more carefully), and he sailed smoothly to tenure.
In my experience, the letter part was extremely scary because it felt completely out of my control, and I knew the university-level committee would put an extraordinary weight on them. On the upside, I do believe that most letter writers really do try to give an honest and objective account of the tenure case at hand. People on the tenure track should definitely do the "tenure tour" near the end of their tenure track appointment: travel as much as possible, meet as many people who have the potential to evaluate you if you haven't already done so, showcase your work in any venue that it may be appropriate for, even if not your favorite conferences. And all the extra invited talks at conferences and seminars at universities look good on the CV. I killed myself traveling in my 5th year, it was grueling but I think it was totally worth it.