I’ve written a lot about applying for a faculty job, how to give talks, and the importance of being a good writer. But I haven’t written very much about the things I’ve been doing in the last 4-5 years. All of the professional activities that I’ve been doing can be summed up in a simple word: Tenure.
I started my faculty position with the enthusiasm and excitement of someone who loves what they do and wants to see their science take off. Tenure was really an abstraction that seemed a long way off. In my uphill struggle for funding, my over-riding immediate fear was not that I woudn’t get tenure, but that everyone that worked in my laboratory would soon be without a job. Anyway, while I think that this is a reasonable approach your new status as a PI, knowing what is coming down the pike and setting yourself up with the maximum chance of getting tenure is something worth talking about. Don’t obsess about it, but educate yourself.
If you didn’t get a copy of the requirements and expectations for promotion and tenure in your department before you were hired, shame on you. But, since I know that none of you made this mistake and you possess a copy of such a document, don’t just tuck that thing away in a drawer somewhere and forget about it for the next 4-5 years. Read it now! Familiarize yourself with not only the requirements for tenure in your department and institution, but understand the process putting the packet together and what happens once you turn those documents in. If there isn’t sufficient detail on the process in writing, discuss the process with some of your more senior colleagues in your department who have already been through it. Your departmental colleagues will be an invaluable source of insight into this process as you go through it yourself.
In looking at the requirements on paper, you are going to want to know what the expectation is for the three areas that pretty much everyone in an academic position has some responsibility for: Research, teaching and service. You already know that how your working hours are divided among these three areas was formalized in your appointment letter. It is worth nothing that there might be some reasons why the percentage of your time spent in each of these areas might vary from what is written in your appointment letter. Heavy clinical service appointments may actually consume much more of your time than your letter allots for those activities. In such cases you have every reason to see if the distribution of your time on paper can be adjusted to better reflect what you actually do in real life. Talk to your chairperson about this issue, and understand that there may be some restrictions on the scale and kinds of adjustments that can be made.
Anyway- I’d like to write one at a time about research, teaching, and service as they pertain to tenure. These topics will take more than one post, starting with research.
Now, it probably seems obvious to you that for tenure you must have published papers and you must bring in external grant dollars. But those two ‘requirements’ are really pretty vague. How many papers and of what ‘level’* or ‘quality’* of publication are expected in your department/institution for you to be considered tenure-worthy? Are 3 papers in Cell required for tenure in your department? If that level publication is required for tenure in your department, having a feel for that up front is important.
Where grants are concerned the kinds of things you might think about are these: you need an NIH grant, or is any federal grant enough? What about foundation grants (American Heart comes to mind)? My sense of what kind and how many grants you will need to be considered a good candidate for tenure depends very much on the institution, college and department. Some departments have very heavy teaching or clinical service expectations, and may not care very much if you bring in an R01 or not. Research-based departments in very prestigious institutions won’t even consider putting you up for tenure unless and until you have 2 R01s.
Now that I have said all of this though- it is worth remembering that while your tenure ultimately determined by individuals in your institution, scientists in your field also have their say. Your tenure packet will be mailed out to scientists outside your institution (called ‘external’ reviewers, we’ll cover this whole subject in another post), who will evaluate your performance in either a letter or a phone call to your chairperson. I mention this because while it is critical to satisfy the requirements in your immediate environment, it is also important to develop a good reputation in your field. But that is a whole different post.
*For ‘level’ or ‘quality’ you can substitute Impact Factor or whatever metric your little heart desires. I use those terms only loosely, and do not wish to imply that the quality or impact of a paper in cell is necessarily greater than the quality or impact of a paper in, say, a society journal…
**You may have noticed that there have been some changes in some of the homes of blogs in my blogroll. I’ll shortly update the blogroll with new addresses!