Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reader Question: Progress Towards Tenure

More travel, so I bring you a question from Avid Reader. Avid has completed 3 years in a tenure-track position at an R2 institution; Avid's college is ranked about 100, department top 80, but they are an aspiring R1 instutution, so demands have gone up significantly in recent years. Please help Avid in the comments: 

I am writing to seek your evaluation of my record. I have one NSF as sole-PI (~$350K) and another as the only co-PI (~$300K). I am also a co-PI on an earmark from another agency (~$600K), and a few other small grants ($25k total):
I was wondering if I could seek your input on my track record. I have a few questions to ask. Please feel free to share this on your blog (if you feel ok about it), but please remove my name. I have the following questions, and I would appreciate your input (I know some answers are institution-dependent, but your input is fully appreciated):

1- What are my chances for tenure?

2- Which one would people value more? Grant versus publications?

3- Do they just count papers. i.e., should I maximize paper output, should I focus on Reputable Society Journal or go after 2nd tier journals too? Papers with students? Papers with colleagues, etc?

4- How important is teaching versus high-impact service (editorial board memberships, technical program committees (TPC) of conference, etc).

One thing that worries me is the significant emphasis on grants/money, and I don't see anyone caring much for the "quality" of publications (type of journals, authorship orders, etc). It seems like money can make or break a case, and everything else (including journal papers) is secondary. Of course, these are word of mouth… on paper, I have to excel in everything, quality is important, blah blah blah :)

By the way, my department chair and associate chair have been very, very nice and super supportive so far; I could not ask for more.

I have had a chance to look at Avid's CV and we exchanged a  couple of emails, so he's received my detailed opinion, but I don't want to list what I wrote here so as not to prejudice the comments or reveal too much about who Avid is. I will share that Avid is in a physical science/engineering STEM field and IMHO has published well. 

Please tell Avid what you think will be important when tenure time comes, and don't forget to say what your discipline is. Thanks! 


Ewan said...

Insufficient data. That grant level looks OK (we're in not-dissimilar places) for now - but make sure that it's at least that high when you actually come up, more importantly.

BUT: without data on publications, answering a 'chance for tenure?' Q is impossible.

As for the rest: doubtless variable, but my experience has been that for tenure, publication quantity > quality, teaching >> service. Papers with students and colleagues seem irrelevant - the former surprised me, granted.

Ewan said...

Hey, GMP: can anyone get that CV review service? :) [I'm in neuroscience, by the way.]

Alex said...

Hmm, it's an R2 (whatever that means) aspiring to be R1 (whatever that means). That usually means that the administration has decided to go for more grant money, and they have persuaded themselves that this is feasible in an environment of lower and lower funding rates. This is rather delusional. As was pointed out at another blog recently, every dean out there has decided that they want their faculty to be in the top 15%. That is mathematically impossible.

By any rational standard, I think the reader's funding level is fine, and he should focus on producing some papers from those grants. However, delusional deans are delusional, so who knows what they think?

From everything the reader says, it sounds like it's money, money uber alles. So, I think the reader should chase money, if their goal is to satisfy a delusional dean.

qaz said...

This all depends on your institution. Your chair should be able to provide you with this information. What you need, what you're missing, what your chances are. A good chair should be in your corner, helping you get past the hurdles. Ask your chair. They can tell you.

Anonymous said...

In my institution, what is important is:

The first two are of equal importance. However, upper administration will rank $$$ higher, whereas your Dept. colleagues and college will value publications as high or higher.

1. grants are funded (the higher the dollar value the better, but you can also argue that your science doesn't require huge amounts if you can show high publication output from the money you do get - e.g. you don't need millions to be successful in your field).

1. Papers published (The department usually can somewhat judge the quality of the papers, but the higher levels - college, senate, provost, etc.- don't know what is a good journal or a good paper, unless it is Nature/Science (which are considered excellent even if they are crap), so for everyone outside the department and often inside the department too, the # of publications is more important than quality. What I've seen is that # count more than quality for tenure.

For Full Professor promotion, then higher quality measurements usually come into play. But the reality is that likely you are the only one or nearly the only one at your university in your subfield, so few people probably really understand what publications of yours are big breakthroughs. They will look at other measurements like citation index, h values, etc. And what I've seen is that this leads to confusion and arguments whereas the total number of papers published ends up being something more definite that they can hold onto and thus ends up being an important factor.

3. Teaching - just don't do poorly. Ok is fine. (sadly this is the truth at "R2 wanting to be R1 schools".)

4. Service - just do minimum amount and focus your efforts at the Dept level so that your department colleagues feel you are a good colleague. Higher level university service = just do a touch to show that you did it. Professional service is a good investment in time, in that it gets you out there and more likely to be known and more likely that your tenure letter writers will know you and write you good letters.

Overall based only on the data you showed, you're very likely to get tenure, unless there are some negative things that you haven't shared with us.

Cherish said...

GMP, would you be able to elaborate on what is expected for tenure where you are?

GMP said...

Cherish, I think this old post sort addresses your question somewhat

How Much Is Enough for Tenure

Cherish said...

Thanks. That does help. And I remember reading it, but it's been a while :-)