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Pre-tenure life recommendations
May 29, 2012 8:39 PM   Subscribe

Pre-tenure life: what are your recommendations?

I did it. I got the awesome R1 TT job.

The good news is that my tenure requirements aren't *horrible* (I'm coming in half-way there (and it counts), have enough things in submissions or in progress that I'll probably be able to go up early or at least I'm not worried about my tenure case.)

The bad news is that I've been working my ass off for the past 2 years getting things published, securing a book contract, going to conferences, networking, going to invited lectures, becoming co-PI on projects, writing and securing grants... all the things that "got me" the TT job. I work all the time - days, nights, weekends. I have sacrificed my family relationships (I am married and have children.) I have sacrificed my health. I have sacrificed personal time.

So how do I slow down? (And any other pre-tenure advice is welcome.)

I'm still willing to work extremely hard, but I am deeply concerned about the long term sustainability of working this hard. Moreover, my grad school faculty members - where I haven't been in a few years - have expressed concern about the possibility of me burning out. Colleagues at similar levels to me have also conveyed worry about me burning out. All of these people work extremely hard too and know what it takes to succeed. Their concern is a big wake up call to me.
posted by anonymous to Education (7 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
There's no simple answer. I assume you know that tenured academics work nights and weekends too. And yet we usually have good health and good relationships with our children and our spouses!

How does this work? I wish I had a magic formula; if I did, I would have used it myself, a long time ago. Don't freak out, but the simplest way to say it is that you don't slow down -- you speed up!

What I mean is that, with experience, everything gets faster. It used to be a major undertaking to apply for a grant. Now it's a serious piece of work, but not overwhelming; I know how to do it without having to ask for advice, I know how long it's going to take, I know what needs to happen in order to give the grant the best chance of success.

That said, I never had people taking me aside and saying "Dude, you're going to burn out." I have to agree that it's a red flag.

So let me give at least one drop of magic formula. It is now OK to say no to things. You don't have to accept every talk invitation, or every referee request. You can say no sometimes, and you should say no sometimes, and the proportion of times you say no should be increasing (because the number of requests you get will be increasing, and the length of your day stays the same.) When I go to a conference now, I usually just go to half the days; people in 2012 understand that faculty members with kids often can't be away from home for a week at a time. Half the time is totally enough to do all the networking you want to do. Like everything else, you just do it faster.
posted by escabeche at 9:01 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, and I forgot to say -- congratulations! All the work and responsibility is a lot easier for your body and brain to handle once you subtract from it the not-exactly-time-consuming-but-somehow-soul-draining worrying about "Where the eff am I going to live and work for the next thirty years?"
posted by escabeche at 9:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this seems to be a thing. In the professionalization course offered to ABDs in my department, one of the greatest luminaries in my field talked about the "tenure marriage." "You know," he said, "the marriage that happens after the 'Honey, I just got tenure' divorce."

I can share the advice he gave to those of us who wanted to avoid that eventuality: As diligent as you are in scheduling time to work on your publications, departmental commitments, university commitments, public outreach, and teaching, be just as diligent in scheduling time to spend with your family. And be open and unapologetic about defending that time, and guarding it against encroachments. Do not buy into the subtle, unspoken pressure to take on EVERY responsibility offered to you. People will respect you more, he said, if you have boundaries and articulate and defend them calmly and clearly.

Also, have hope! From watching friends who have been in TT jobs for a bit, the juggling routine does seem to get easier every year. And that year after they get tenure... you can almost see the relief in the way they carry themselves.
posted by artemisia at 9:09 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by 5Q7 at 9:17 PM on May 29, 2012

A little background: I'm just starting a permanent (not "TT", since the place I'm at doesn't have tenure) job at a somewhat unusual more teaching-focused institution. One of the reasons I chose this route is to avoid the pains of the tenure process at R1 institutions (and also, honestly, my publication record was probably not quite good enough to get a job at an R1).

I think you need to decide how important various parts of your life are. I say this as someone with a new baby at home who is just starting a faculty position. As others have said, I think you have to not be afraid to say, "No" to things. This is hard to do early on, but people are surprisingly respectful of boundaries that you set. Far from being annoyed, they respect the fact that you value your time. Now, you can't say no to everything; then you just come off as a jerk (plus, it's probably not good for your professional development). But, you can't say yes to everything too. So, choose the parts of your career that can benefit you the most, convolve that with the needs of your university/department, and figure out what the optimum number of things to say "Yes" to is.

I think artemisia's advice is excellent about being diligent in scheduling your time with your family. For example, for me, this means basically always spending at least one weekend day home with my family with minimal work time (maybe responding to emails, but not much more). I try really hard to wall off my work during this time so I'm completely "there" and enjoy that time. I don't know what's practical for you, but this could be anything from always making it home for dinner (even if you go back to the lab/office after dinner) or spending a weekend day with your family, etc.

I think there's a bit of a myth that things get so much easier after tenure, however. From talking to colleagues both with and without tenure, I don't see much of a difference in their time commitments (much lower stress in the tenured faculty, though). Basically, people realize that going for tenure is a time commitment and so you tend to get asked to be on somewhat fewer committees, etc. before tenure. Those floodgates open wide after tenure.

Most important, however, is for you to listen to your colleagues. If more than one person is expressing concern about you "burning out," then I think that's a genuine concern. So, scale things back. Were you planning on publishing 3 papers this year? Publish 2. Starting 2 new projects? Start 1. Refereeing 10 papers? Referee 5. Serving on 3 committees? Serve on 2. Just dial everything back a notch and you'll be able to run the marathon rather than tiring out after the first mile.
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:22 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Work on saying no. Magic words: "I have another commitment at that time." Make commitments to yourself and your family and keep them. These don't have to be big, fancy commitments, just commit yourself to everyday things in a rigorous way. They want to schedule a meeting during the time that you have scheduled to go to the gym? "I have another commitment at that time." They want you to spend the evening gladhanding a speaker who's coming to campus, but that's the night you and your SO watch Must-See TV and eat popcorn? "I can't do it, I have another commitment that evening." If they are rude enough to question what your commitment is, just say, "Sorry, it's a pre-existing commitment."

Also, you may want to think about managing your colleagues' perception of your energy level and how frantically hard you're working. You want to be perceived as a hard worker who puts in a lot of hours, but at the moment, it seems like you're overshoothing! Don't spend all your time in the office; work at home or in the library or in the coffee shop some of the time. Let them see your office door closed with the lights out on (some) evenings and weekends. If someone asks how it's going, say "Great!" every time. Don't say, "Really busy!" or "Can't wait for Friday!" or "Bogged down with reviews right now," or anything like that. Just say, "Great!" with a big smile every time. (A nice side effect is that pretending to feel great actually does make you feel a little better, really.)
posted by BrashTech at 9:31 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

"securing a book contract" - I presume you are in the humanities/social sciences then?

Post this question on the CHE fora for tenure track people.

ESTABLISH YOUR ABSENCE. There are some times when you are just not available for other people in your dept/college/uni. These times are when you write, do work that requires concentration, and when you are with your friends and family. "Other commitment" strategy by BrashTech is excellent.

While the ideas don't convert entirely as an academic, if you have administrative or teaching assistance, the Urgent/Important-4D methodology gives you a hand if you feel overwhelmed with a sheer number of tasks to do.

Get good at quickly answering emails. Don't have email notification on all the time: maybe do emails 3 times a day unless there is absolutely something you need to stay on top of. Dont get sucked into meaningless email flamewars or circlejerks. Hell dont get sucked into them in real life. If you're a procrastinator like me, then remove web temptations when the computer is connected to the net with something like SelfControl.

Don't be an asshole. There are some people who can be superstar researchers and dicks, and still get tenure despite being despised. For the rest of us, being despised=no help from colleagues! Politeness is cheap, and builds relationships that can help you navigate the rocky shores of your R1. This is particularly true of people that who are 'lower status' than you: administrators, secretaries, maintenance people, janitors, tech people, can all make your life hell or they can make it much easier. You'd be suprised how many intelligent academics treat them like muck: be the exception and be polite.

This isn't the same as being a pushover.....articulate reasonable needs in a calm manner to people whose job it is to help you. If they appear to be useless, see if you can work around them .........there's a whole other post about determining the culture of the dept/college/unit you are dealling with hierarchical vs egalitarian, results vs relationship driven.....I've yammered on. Memail me if you want more.......
posted by lalochezia at 6:14 PM on May 30, 2012

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