Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ask the Blogosphere: Going on the Job Market Close to Tenure

I have received a couple of emails from a reader, Concerned Assistant Prof, which I think may be of interest to many academic readers, especially those on the tenure track. The text below has been compiled based on the emails, slightly redacted mainly to protect the writer's identity.

Dear GMP,

I am now at a critical stage of my career and would very much like your advice and suggestions. Let me first briefly introduce myself. I am a female assistant professor in physical science STEM field in a top 10 school in  my discipline. I am up for tenure this year (the beginning of the sixth year). The tenure evaluation process is long; there are decisions by three committees (department, college, and provost/university). The department committee consists of all tenured professors (both full and associate). If the candidate gets majority votes from this committee, his/her case will be forwarded to the college committee, for which  the college Dean is the chair. The college committee consists of all department chairs plus one faculty representative from each department and several associate deans; it seems this is the most important committee. Also it seems the dean has a big power: he can support a case to move on even if it didn't get majority votes. I guess vice versa also holds... Lastly, the university committee consists of all deans plus one faculty representative from each college, chaired by the provost. 

The department committee have met and they all voted for me. So now my case has been moved to the college committee which will vote in December. The univeristy committe will vote next March. Finally the Board of Trustees will approve in April or May. 

My question is whether I should go on the market this year. Many departments have just posted their job ads; the review and interview processes will start soon. My department thinks I have done a good job (I have $1M funding from NSF and DoD, for 90% of which I am the single PI, including a Young Investigator Award; I've published about 20 papers, all on good journals; my external letters are very good - according to my chair).  My record of funding and papers are good, but I am not a super star (several assistant professors in the other departments who are up for tenure this year have funding over $2M; our university really emphasizes $$$. However, my funding is quite impressive in my field). The thing that keeps me nervous is that my Dean dislikes me. I cannot share with you the incidence how I offended him greatly, but I can tell you that he dislikes me (and he is very powerful). So my biggest concern is that the Dean may kill my case at the College Committee. I guess the Dean can always find something missing or not good enough in my CV... Nevertheless, I want to be prepared for the worst scenario. 

In such an event, should I apply to other institutions to secure an offer in case of tenure rejection? Two other top schools in my field have shown interests in me (they want to have more women and minority faculty), but they seem to want to recruit me after I have gotten tenure at my current place.  I just don't know how things would work (the timeline) out if I apply for other schools now (because the tenure decision in my university will be made till next April)....
I would very much appreciate if you could share some thoughts and suggestions. Would you mind asking the blogosphere about their opinions? I'd like to know whether I should apply this year and if so, how to apply. 

Concerned Assistant Prof 


So what say you, blogosphere? 

  • Do you think Concerned is in real danger of not getting tenure? 
  • Do you think she should go on the job market just in case, or do you think she should stay put and wait it out? 
  • If you think Concerned should go on the market, do you recommend that she apply as broadly as possible, just like most people do in order to get their first job, or should she target only those places from which she has had interest? 
  • In general, is applying elsewhere so close to tenure a good or a bad idea, and why? 


Anonymous said...

I would advise her to apply and not wait it out. If she gets an external offer at an equally-ranked school, this will only help her department put extra pressure on the dean, if he is up to some hanky-panky.

The only caveat is that many schools will want to know why she is applying, and so she may wish to have an excuse ready.

Alex said...

I think she's likely to get tenure, if her track record is very good by the standards of her field and her department recognizes this.

However, nobody ever got burned for having a backup plan. Moreover, applying for jobs around tenure time is so common that most schools will not find it strange. They might decide that they don't want to make an offer for the sole purpose of helping somebody get tenure in their current job, but they certainly won't regard it as a mystery why she is applying. It's standard practice. The best thing she can do is make a convincing case for why she wants the job she's applying for.

If they'd rather have her after tenure, well, then that is what it is. But she can't get a job that she doesn't try for.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a very similar situation myself. I put in my tenure package last week . The major difference is that I have no reason to believe that my dean doesn't like me. I feel pretty confident that I'll get tenure.

I have at least two places asking me to apply and I've already put in multiple applications. The kicker is that this is being done partially on the advice of my department head. While he's clear that he would not want me to leave (we have a good relationship), he also sees this as an opportunity for me to have some bargaining power when tenure decisions such as raises and other potential retention perks are on the table.

I would say that CAP should apply to whatever positions are interesting.

Alex said...

One other thing:

Obviously I don't know the specifics of your Dean's opinion of you or his standing in the eyes of the rest of the college. However, your department voted unanimously for you, so they obviously concur that your funding is good by the standards of your subfield. My observation from serving on and interacting with committees above the department level is that most people assume that departments know their field better than outsiders. When a department votes unanimously, and on the basis of strong external letters from people in the field, that means something. Your Dean may be evil and powerful, but that also means that he has enemies, people looking for an excuse to say no to him. He will have a hard time making a case for overturning a unanimous departmental recommendation.

It also works in your favor that the University-level decision is not the sole decision of the Provost, but rather a committee decision. A powerful Dean can whisper in the ear of a Provost. But some of those other Deans on the committee probably hate his guts. And I cannot see the faculty representatives voting against a unanimous faculty recommendation that was backed by a college committee.

Anonymous said...

I would strongly recommend applying. It is normal to be on the market close to tenure.

Anonymous said...

I will suggest to hit the job market. You can always decline an offer if you get tenure.

Clarissa said...

If I were on the tenure committee of a person and discovered they are applying for jobs elsewhere, I would do everything in my power to ensure they never got tenure. I think it's extremely inconsiderate to put people through the hard work of evaluating a tenure dossier if you are not even planning to stick around. I don't like to be used.

Anonymous said...

So Clarissa, it is fine for the institution to decide if they will kick somebody out or not, but wrong for that individual to make contingency plans...

Anonymous said...

In most Universities, you are expected to apply for jobs close to tenure, because it is understood that getting tenure is not guaranteed. In case you don't get tenure, you have to find a position in <1yr. This is why it's normal to apply, and in fact I heard of Chairs encouraging people to apply for jobs. Moreover, I would talk to the Chair, as having another offer could help him/her negotiate a better package with the Dean.

Anonymous said...

Take nothing for granted.

While it is greatly time consuming to go on the job market, and you may create some bad blood if an offer starts looking serious and then you decline to stay where you are, but it may be something you "have" to do.

You did not say whether you are at a public or private university. If you are at a private university, you can be denied tenure or not recommended by the Dean, regardless of how your department or college or P&T committee vote, or what your letters said, simply because they don't like the way your nose sits on your face. More likely, though, they can find a "good" reason if the want to-perhaps they think your department has low standards, needs to be cleaned up, or they want to create vacancies so that they can entice a new chair in a few years with salary lines. Perhaps your career trajectory is "downward", meaning that even though you are publishing and doing good work, your postdoc and grad work was so totally awesome and you haven't replicated it. Or perhaps they don't like Mondays. The point is, you never know what could go wrong.

It is very likely all will go well. It is not impossible that it will not go well. Be prepared.

Then there is this. Remember in high school when an OK but not awesome guy asked you to the prom, and you said "maybe", thinking something better might come along, and then one of the hot girls started liking him and you decided "Damn, I better say yes to that guy now, before he ends up with the hot girl and I end up with Ben and Jerry". OK, maybe that wasn't you, but it was some other girl in your class.

Well, in this scenario, your university is that girl, you are the OK guy, and the place that looks like they are going to offer you a job is the hot girl.

Seriously. Some of these people are the emotional equivalent of an insecure teen.