So you’ve got tenure…that changes things.

Anyone who has taken a casual glance at my posts, can see that I have written quite a lot about the academic job search, and all kinds of fun things that happen leading up to tenure time. I wrote about these events in real time for the most part- and since I’ve gotten tenure I find myself on the steep part of the learning curve again. I suppose that I thought that once I got tenure, I would keep on keeping on.. doing the basic things that I was doing pre-tenure, and that my job would reach a plateau of  hum drum normal stuff that I knew I was already pretty good at. NOT.

That just didn’t happen, and that even post-tenure, my life, my job and my career continue to be filled with all kinds of interesting surprises, twists and turns, new tasks that keep me out of my comfort zone. First off, seems like the instant that letter signed by the board of regents arrived in my mailbox, there was a line-up outside my office door of various people in various positions of power, requesting that I participate in this or that new service commitment. My service on committees grew exponentially, like overnight.  This is OK with me, but I have to confess that all I really want to do is interact with my lab, look at data,  write papers, and think about where I am taking the direction of our science in the future. I know the committee stuff is necessary- and sometimes it is interesting, but most of the time I wish I could be looking at data. I don’t think that I am going to become the person that re-makes the graduate program from scratch, or the person that re-writes curricula. Maybe that is wrong of me, but I’m saying that these things don’t excite me the way they seem to excite some other faculty.

Secondly- it seems like the instant I was essentially un-fireable, there was a new emphasis on political correctness. I know, I know. Right now you all are saying … .wha…..t? Because you all thought that you had to be maximally politically correct before tenure, after which point you could just let it all hang out… NOT. I’m not sure I paid attention to how politically correct I was being pre-tenure- this was mostly because I didn’t have any energy left to be politically incorrect, or give it any thought even- I was writing nearly 30 grants, trying to get papers out, blogging, and mentoring a bunch of people. I still find it stunning when I see pre-tenure faculty trying to re-make the first year curriculum, that a more senior faculty have usually developed and been tinkering on with lots of debate for years and years… I’m not sure where they find the time for that (maybe while I’m blogging!).

Now, I find that there are some silly barriers that get in the way of projects going forward that have to be solved at levels outside my lab group. My preferred way to get these issues solved has been to be the squeaky wheel. And believe me, I can be the queen of squeaky. Funny thing though, I don’t feel like I’ve been very effective at translating the message up about what we need to happen up the line, or – alternatively- I’m not finding the people who can solve a particular problem so that we can move on. Then sometimes it seems even worse than all this. It seems like my squeaky-ness about a given problem, and my personal commitment  to getting the problem solved work against me, and for the first time I am running up against all of the negative comments that are hurled against aggressive, driven, ambitious women.

‘Can’t you be more pleasant’? (read, you’re so bitchy)

‘You are too direct.’ (read, you don’t make nice)

‘You are so emotionally involved in this topic.’ (This one leaves me speechless)

‘We can’t put you in that role because you won’t play nicely with others’. (Not a team player)

To be clear- I’m making up the exact comments as examples, they only roughly approximate the literal truth- but the thrust of each of them is real. I had read all about this sort of thing when I was more junior, but I never really felt I was being dealt these cards earlier in my career. I naively assumed that because I myself had not heard these things previously in my career- that I wasn’t going to be hearing them in the future either. Wow- was I wrong about that. In my first year or two post-tenure- I’ve heard all kinds of bullshit like this. And honestly, I’m still stunned when I hear it and I’m not sure how to get around it.

And also on the topic of this issue, even though I’m pretty squeaky- I start to see those 1000 small cuts that can disadvantage women in their careers, one of which is unequal allocation of resources- in a more immediate way than ever before. Remember those women faculty at MIT who crawled around on the floors of their labs to show (with actual data) that they were being awarded less space than the male faculty?  This kind of resource inequity can happen in about thirty-thousand different ways- and many of them are not so easy to get at as using a measuring tape. There is inequity in certain kinds of specialized  space, there is inequity in $$ awarded internally for various things, there is inequity in getting stuff fixed or making certain things a priority… and the list goes on. …  It is nearly impossible to generate an accounting of such resource inequity- and they can affect a career in very real ways. Every minute I spend fighting for a needed containment device that a man in a similar situation doesn’t have to spend- is time I’m prevented from spending on grants, papers, or mentoring.

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11 thoughts on “So you’ve got tenure…that changes things.

  1. I never felt that I faced gender discrimination as a student, but now as a postdoc I feel it much more…I wonder if it’s because people realize that we are forces to be reckoned with as we go up the ladder and people want to discredit us or something. Keep on keeping on DrDrA…you are such an inspiration.

  2. PP read my mind.

    You’re expected to act like the very few women who came before you. Chances are they kept their heads down and their mouths shut just to survive the ‘otherness’. You’re not allowed to break the ‘other’ mold. Keep smashing it lady, smash it all to hell.

    Congrats! and big hugs.

  3. Trying to remember that the rock moves are the important thing- and everything else is just stuff that needs to be dealt with. Sometimes feel between rock and hard place dealing with it….hope that I can learn the lay of the land better, and identify some ways to negotiate it so that I don’t keep getting stuck in the same damn quicksand.

  4. well, last months I’ve bee hearing “you’re bossy” as well as ‘You are too direct.’ (read, you don’t make nice)” both are mentioned when I focus on the problems/potential issues and when I mention a possible solution.

    Anyway, what I wanted to say is as obvious; it’s not unheard of and I am sorry you have encountered it. Maybe because you’ve moved into the “privileage position of tenure” so ppl feel threatened??

  5. btw, they are probably right in me being a bit bossy… but I don’t see them mentioning this to the males in my equivalent position. Ah well.. just wanted to say that I’m not saying i’m not bossy… but still…

  6. I’m still trying to figure out how being “too direct” is a bad thing. Do people want to be stuck in endless meetings? Can’t we just say something is shitty, if it is? I guess those other people must still be thinking this is some kind of care bears tea party….

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