Navigating Tenure and Beyond: A Guide for Early Career Faculty
reviewed by Evans Ochola - July 11, 2019
Title: Navigating Tenure and Beyond: A Guide for Early Career Faculty
Author(s): Sundar A. Christopher
Publisher: American Meteorological Society, Boston
ISBN: 194497041X, Pages: 168, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com
Navigating Tenure and Beyond: A Guide for Early Career Faculty is a well-written and insightful overview of how early career faculty navigate tenure through service, research, and teaching, all while maintaining a balance between their professional and personal lives. The author is Sundar A. Christopher, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He explores hypothetical situations to illustrate best practices in goal-setting, developing leadership within institutional politics, and beneficial ways to navigate tenure.
Part One provides important background information on tenure, and describes how reaching tenure entails setting goals as well as managing the politics of the department. During the first year, a new faculty member needs to take advantage of mentoring programs, learn from experienced faculty, and develop course preps. New faculty should focus on best practices for proposal preparations and submissions, take care of research and publication, get acclimated to classes and become a citizen of the university. It takes time to learn how to teach at a new institution. Goal-setting is essential. This makes sense, given the resources poured into tenure-track hires. Early career faculty must establish their research and publication agenda, work diligently towards tenure, and stay focused. This means it is important to set research, teaching, and service goals. The chapter ends with best practices for proposal preparation, submission, and buffering against letdown if one projects stall or fails. Even though early career faculty are often showered with support on both teaching and research fronts, this support does not necessarily translate into tenure success.
Part Two describes empowering students and building a team for successful research. The objective of faculty should be to develop students who share the values of respect, community, professional development, and responsible stewardship, while also seeking to promote them to lead and achieve success. In other words, a mindful early career faculty member who embraces collaboration and trust propels students to greater heights. Christopher notes that students need mentorship and that it is the intersection and interaction of research mentoring networks that builds and strengthens the research culture.
In order to build successful research, a new faculty member must think systematically about building trust and giving up ownership. Students benefit from being immersed in a culture of research. Students in a culture of research who are regularly engaged in research projects stand to gain valuable experience and knowledge. As Christopher argues, training a student in research is time-dependent. Students need mentorship through distinct phases of adjustment and setting expectations. New faculty must design sustained support. Importantly, there are also genuine pressures on students. This certainly seems apparent, but he explains how this can be addressed successfully and resourcefully through several examples.
Simultaneously, faculty must foster a nurturing, caring, and inclusive team environment for all students to excel and achieve their academic, personal, and professional goals. Climate is a critical factor in retention and academic excellence. It is important to guide students in a holistic sense since everything is interrelated like a Gordian knot (p. 101). A new faculty member must facilitate the broadening horizons phase, which includes: (a) facilitating understanding, articulation, and exploration; (b) connecting students with their labs and centers; and (c) celebrating accomplishments.
In Part Three, life after tenure is explored, along with what to expect from the transition from associate to full professor. Christopher emphasizes that tenure is a single-minded obsession for at least the first few years of an academic career. Every piece of guidance, encouragement, support, and wisdom is integrated into the behaviors necessary to achieve tenure. What happens after tenure is not the focal point. Many tenure-track professors are under extreme pressure to receive tenure, then spend years in post-tenure paradise. Christopher posits, however, that being a tenured member of the department means added responsibilities and duties. Christopher accurately observes that it is important to switch gears a bit after tenure. Find your niche within the profession, he advises, because failure to do so may lead to burnout and cynicism.
The old adage about publishing or perishing does not apply to you anymore once you become tenured. The competition to publish in an academic journal is just as intense as the competition to become tenured. Indeed, the two competitions increasingly bleed into one another as many take to heart the rule of thumb that it takes a publication to get a job. In part because some places are not land-grant institutions, their tenure policies reflect teaching, research, and to a lesser extent service as expectations, with an emphasis on teaching and research. Teaching is a primary function of the university and, for tenure, one's record must reflect effective teaching. Further, research is an essential component of a university's mission, and the award for tenure must be based on a record that reflects significant research activities and accomplishments. Service is described as an important responsibility for all faculty members, and for tenure, a faculty members record must demonstrate a strong pattern of service within the department or college.
After tenure, there is less pressure to produce small and frequent articles on the minutiae of the field; rather, there is the opportunity to produce vast and innovative projects. Christopher makes a compelling argument that tenured faculty should give back to the next generation. He suggests that tenured faculty reach out and actively take opportunities to mentor, support, and be generous with their time and effort. Giving back is a wonderful cure for cynicism, he argues. This book must be read by any new faculty member who is on the tenure track or faculty who have administrative authority in the realm of tenure. Having said this, I would be remiss if I did not note that Navigating Tenure and Beyond does not discuss the use of non-tenure-track faculty by academic institutions and the implications of these trends for the tenure system. Also missing is a discussion of faculty service work. While service is minimally discussed, it is often considered symbolically important.