Thinking About Tenure and Promotion: Advice from Tenured Faculty

Curated by Lindsay Fallon (University of Massachusetts Boston) 

The SSSP Early Career Forum (ECF) recently hosted a panel event to answer questions attendees submitted in advance about the tenure and promotion process. SSSP Members, Drs. Amity Noltemeyer (Miami University), Mel Collier-Meek (Teachers College, Columbia University), and Andy Garbacz (University of Wisconsin-Madison), shared their insights about the process as well as several key pieces of advice. Below, we share 10 tips provided in the session in support of those thinking about the tenure and promotion review process:

  1. Learn your university’s requirements for tenure and promotion. It’s important to know that tenure packets may “look different” depending on the institution (e.g., one university may require you to indicate your specific contribution to each article you’ve published, while another university may not). Requirements are important to know so that you understand what is expected, align your work and priorities with those expectations, and format your materials correctly. Perhaps teaching, research, and service are all considered equally, or one is weighted more than the others. Knowing exactly what the criteria are at your university will set you up for success.
  1. Seek example materials and dossiers, ideally from more than one individual. You might ask colleagues inside your department to review their tenure packets. You may ask colleagues from other universities to share their personal statements. Reading multiple examples will help you identify what you might need to strengthen in your own materials and how you might spend your time in the months or years you have before your review.
  1. If possible, build your dossier along the way as part of your annual review process. If you are asked to submit an annual review, be thorough and intentional about this process. Then, when it comes time to build your dossier, you may have written materials and evidence compiled to get you started. One idea is to have a visualization, plan or other method of organizing projects on an ongoing basis (e.g., having a white board or Excel spreadsheet to map out projects in various phases from development from data collection to manuscript development). 
  1. Have multiple mentors. As teaching, research, and service are distinct but often overlapping areas, it may be helpful to have mentors who support your progress in each area specifically. They then might be able to give you feedback on your development in each area, setting you up for maximal success.
  1. In your personal statement, tell your story. Although you will likely have distinct sections on teaching, research, and service, be sure to thread common themes throughout (e.g., areas of expertise), providing specific examples of the impact of your efforts in all areas. Don’t use the short space you have to retell your CV, but elaborate and/or integrate pieces of your story to supplement your materials. Be explicit about how you addressed any constructive feedback received previously in mid-tenure or annual reviews (e.g., lower course ratings). Ask a colleague who is not at your institution to offer feedback to ensure your story and message are clear (e.g., little use of jargon, flows well).
  1. Set professional goals early – and monitor your progress over time. Write down your goals related to teaching, research, and service early. This will help you identify exactly how you might spend your time during your pre-tenure years. For instance, you might have a goal to serve as an Associate Editor for a school psychology journal. As such, spending time conducting journal reviews in your early career years will help you get there. This may mean saying no to other service opportunities or committee work to achieve this goal, however. Check in with yourself each semester (or at regular intervals) to monitor how you are progressing toward your identified goals.
  1. Develop collaborative peer networks of individuals who are progressing through the early career stage with you. You might join or form a writing, research, or accountability group. Commit to meeting with each other regularly and build a community of support with them. 
  1. It’s never too early to think about potential external reviewers. When considering how to create your list of external letter writers, look at editorial boards, network at conferences, and/or ask colleagues to provide suggestions or feedback about your lists. There may be fewer full professors available to do reviews, so it may be worth considering saving some full professors who are experts in your area to list when you go up for full professor.
  1. Don’t wait until the end of the review period to put your tenure materials together. Instead, consider keeping a running organization system. Compiling the dossier often takes longer than one might expect, so it is a good idea to give yourself ample time in the months before it is due – and a better idea to be building your dossier as you go during your pre-tenure years.
  1. Finally, if you’re considering going up early, talk to your department or college leadership. Your review chair, department chair, and/or college dean may have good guidance about how successful individuals typically are when they submit their materials early and if you are a good candidate. Some make this choice as they accumulated time at a prior institution or think they have met the criteria and are hopeful for a successful tenure review for the additional benefits (e.g., job security, additional income). It is most helpful to check in with leadership if this is a goal, as they should be able to tell you their thoughts about if it is a good idea for you or not.

Ultimately, the message from panelists is to be organized, planful, and seek critical social and professional support as you navigate the tenure and promotion process. The vast majority of departmental review committees and external evaluators want tenure candidates to be successful in their pursuit of tenure. With this in mind, it is important to be proactive and strategic with your time, asking for support and feedback along the way, to ensure your review is a success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *