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Old 09-25-2008, 09:36 PM   #1
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Academia career questions

I am toying with the idea of applying for a college professor position. It is an asst. prof. job that is tenure-track and I find myself wholly ignorant of all things tenure-related. So a few questions for anyone in the know:

- What happens if you are denied tenure? Are you effectively fired, or are you just stuck at whatever level you are sitting at?

- What proportion of tenure track people actually get tenure?

- What does getting tenure actually mean? Dollars? Some other benefits?

- Any other gotchas of these jobs?
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Old 09-25-2008, 09:45 PM   #2
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If you are denied tenure, you have a few months to get a new job. Or if you are lucky, maybe a year and you get put up for tenure again. But yes, you are effectively fired.

What proportion? Depends on university. It's a pyramid scheme and you climb on the backs of others.

Tenure means more dollars. It used to be job security, but if you become a slacker, then you first start teaching many more classes, then they take away your office. Then you become undergraduate advisor. Then they stick you on lots of committees. Try that while teaching lots of classes and having no office.

I'm assuming this is not for a science department.
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Old 09-25-2008, 09:48 PM   #3
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If you are denied tenure, you have a few months to get a new job. Or if you are lucky, maybe a year and you get put up for tenure again. But yes, you are effectively fired.

What proportion? Depends on university. It's a pyramid scheme and you climb on the backs of others.

Tenure means more dollars. It used to be job security, but if you become a slacker, then you first start teaching many more classes, then they take away your office. Then you become undergraduate advisor. Then they stick you on lots of committees. Try that while teaching lots of classes and having no office.

I'm assuming this is not for a science department.
Very informative. How long does it usually take before the tenure decision gets made? A few years? 5? 10?

This is for a business/accounting department.
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Old 09-25-2008, 09:49 PM   #4
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Wow, sounds like a big career change.
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- Any other gotchas of these jobs?
Though this depends on the institution and the field, some schools expect faculty to bring in grant money-sometimes to the point of "self-supporting" their own position. Applying for grants is a lot of work. This is most common in the sciences.
Also, some schools expect faculty to publish work in peer-reviewed journals.

Both of these are more common in the bigger or "big name" research schools and somewhat less important where the focus is on teaching rather than research.
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Old 09-25-2008, 09:53 PM   #5
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Wow, sounds like a big career change.
Yeah. But a job where I can make a living wage without killing myself, get 3 months off a year, not be too bored, and be in a nice area where I can pay cash for a house has a lot to recommend it vs. the high stress lifestyle I have been "enjoying" for the past several years.

Given that we are not talking about a top rank school, I would guess that publishing is unlikely to be at the top of the list. But I would probably do so anyway because I would find it intellectually stimulating to do the work.
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Old 09-25-2008, 10:06 PM   #6
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Hi Brewer:

Being denied tenure means you are fired. It means you need to find a position at another institution -- very difficult when you have been effectively terminated. By contrast, being granted tenure means you go from assistant prof to associate prof. This does not mean necessarily much more money, but it does mean that you are no longer 'on probation.' That means that your job is basically safe, and that you will not be fired unless you engage in some kind of really egregious and unprofessional behaviour.

I can't say what proportion of tenure-track hires get tenure, becuase it depends on the kind of institution you are applying to. Ivy league Universities make a point of giving tenure to very few hires. Community colleges usually give tenure to satisfactory hires. You are satisfactory if you fulfill that particular institution's tenure requirements. These differ hugely. You should find out the expectations for tenure at the particular institution and department you are applying to. It should be clearly spelled out (ie. satisfactory teaching reviews and x number of articles or books.") But tenure is also always an innately political process. YOu need to be nice to the right people. Then your chances of getting tenure are vastly improved (even if you are somewhat substandard in teaching/research perfomance.)

Being hired in one of these positions means 5-6 years of kow-towing to the powers that be and working extremely hard. Everything in those first years is geared towards tenure....it's a very stressful time. That is the "gotcha" in these kind of positions. After that, you can relax (if you still remember how.)

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Old 09-25-2008, 10:08 PM   #7
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Very informative. How long does it usually take before the tenure decision gets made? A few years? 5? 10?

This is for a business/accounting department.
Generally, you work for 7 years before your department decides to put you up for tenure. Then it takes a few months at most for the university tenure committee to make a decision. Of course, your university can decide not to put you up for tenure at all. That would be a message to you.

You are mistaken that you would get 3-months off unless you are a slacker. You would be a "rainmaker" and expected to bring in money to cover your salary, your grad students, a little bit of the department chairman's slush fund, and all the space and utilities you would use.

In essence, you are running a small business. You rent space from the university, pay your own utilities and pay your employees. You may get paid a subsistance wage for teaching, but you will need to bring in the bucks from the outside to be successful. You do that by selling research projects to government grant agencies and to business interests who are willing to pay for your research.
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Old 09-25-2008, 10:18 PM   #8
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In essence, you are running a small business. You rent space from the university, pay your own utilities and pay your employees. You may get paid a subsistance wage for teaching, but you will need to bring in the bucks from the outside to be successful. You do that by selling research projects to government grant agencies and to business interests who are willing to pay for your research.
The above sounds like a science professorship at a research university.

It all depends on what kind of higher ed institution you work for. What is it? Community college? Four yr state college? State university? Or private? Does the institution do a lot of research? Or is it focused on teaching? The answers to these questions will answer your tenure decision question and what you need to do to get tenure.

Also, teaching experience is mandatory to be competitive for any kind of higher ed full time teaching job.
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Old 09-25-2008, 10:20 PM   #9
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[
In essence, you are running a small business. You rent space from the university, pay your own utilities and pay your employees. You may get paid a subsistance wage for teaching, but you will need to bring in the bucks from the outside to be successful. You do that by selling research projects to government grant agencies and to business interests who are willing to pay for your research.[/quote]

This is true for science departments. It is not true for humanities and many soft science departments. There are very few, to no, "government grant agencies" for the latter. I'm not sure where business/accounting fits on this spectrum, but my suspicion is that it is far less like a science department ( in terms of grants needed) and more like a humanities deparment. In other words, my supicion is that "being a rainmaker" is much less important for business/accounting departments.

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Old 09-25-2008, 10:26 PM   #10
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Brewer,

Based on responses so far, I hope you're picking up on the fact that tenure requirements and performance expectations leading to tenure can vary from institution to institution. Think of an urban community college, a large land grant university, a smaller state regional school, a school ranked in the upper few percent in your subject area, a small private college, etc, etc. Life can be significantly different for prof's from one to another of these.

Also, depending on the school, it may be difficult to obtain tenure without a PHD, even if your MBA is from a top school.

In another life, decades ago, I was a TA in the Econ dept at a regional state university while working on my MA. I just loved it and frequently regretted not going on for a PHD and, hopefully, becoming a prof. So, a tip of the hat to you and I hope it works out!
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Old 09-25-2008, 11:11 PM   #11
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I got my PhD under a brand new assistant professor (large land grant university, science department). The guy was truly brilliant, completely devoted to his research, and the hardest worker I have ever met.

His schedule was nuts. He had to make time to put together courses and teach undergraduate and graduate classes. He had to write grant proposals, invention disclosures, research papers. He had to attend conferences. He had to supervise his own research group, attend group meetings. He had to prove his ability to obtain grant money to fund his own research program (he did get a small university grant to get started). He worked 18-20 hours a day, 7 days a week, taking very few vacation in the 6 years leading to his tenure. He was a real laid back guy when I signed up to work with him. Last time I saw him he was a nervous wreck (insomnia, high blood pressure, etc...). Tenure was coming up, he hadn't raised enough money, he didn't publish enough papers, he was scrambling to keep his job. He finally got tenure and he is now an associate professor. Now the race is on to get to the next level and become a professor. Now he has to deal with department's politics. And he has to tack on administrative duties to his already heavy schedule...

We also had "stars" in our departments. Those are the professors bringing in large amounts of money (typically millions of $ every year), they have large research groups with lots of post-docs, and they measure their stardom by the number of papers they have published. Despite their tenure, they still can't relax because they are competing with each other for fame, space and money.

I have also seen what happens to professors who don't "perform" anymore. First they lose their labs, then they lose their lofty office (one of them was actually relegated to a janitorial closet turned into an office), they get more teaching duties, then administrative duties...

I realize that this may not apply to your specific situation. But I think it shows that being a college professor is not always a low stress job as some people believe...
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Old 09-25-2008, 11:30 PM   #12
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Brewer, I would highly recommend you do some research on this site, run by the Chronicle of Higher Education. There is a lot of career information here for academia, including salaries, job postings, current issues, etc.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Also, you should check out their web forum which is frequented by many professors and aspiring professors. Some people love it, some don't, but the forum will give you a pretty unvarnished view of what it takes to survive in the academic world on the tenure track...applying, interviewing, researching, publishing, teaching, etc. Also, some of the stories posted about clueless undergrads are pricesless.

Chronicle Forums - Index

I would be highly surprised if a legitimate institution would accept a non-PhD into a tenure track position. The PhD-less professors I have known in my business/accounting classes were all adjuncts.
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Old 09-25-2008, 11:47 PM   #13
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I would be highly surprised if a legitimate institution would accept a non-PhD into a tenure track position. The PhD-less professors I have known in my business/accounting classes were all adjuncts.
This is the way to go. Be an adjunct instead.
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Old 09-26-2008, 12:18 AM   #14
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I am toying with the idea of applying for a college professor position. It is an asst. prof. job that is tenure-track and I find myself wholly ignorant of all things tenure-related. So a few questions for anyone in the know:

1 - What happens if you are denied tenure? Are you effectively fired, or are you just stuck at whatever level you are sitting at?

2 - What proportion of tenure track people actually get tenure?

3 - What does getting tenure actually mean? Dollars? Some other benefits?

4 - Any other gotchas of these jobs?
My recollection from grad school:

(1) You have about a year to find another job.

(2) Big difference between schools. For example Harvard and Berkeley are both in the top 5 grad schools in chemistry. Harvard has the reputation of hiring twice as many assistant professors as they need and then denying many of them tenure. The upside to this is that frequently someone that is denied tenure at Harvard has a good enough publication record that they can leave Harvard and go to a lower ranked school with tenure. Berkeley on the other hand has the reputation of only hiring people that they think will get tenure.

(3) When you get tenure you are promoted from the Assistant level to the Associate level and get a corresponding salary increase.

(4) My observation from grad school was that getting tenure at a major research university is a grind. Think long hours - consistent 10-12 hours days plus weekends. Usually a lot more work than a typical mega-corp job although that may not be true for wall street types. You have to love your research to make it worthwhile. And there is the stress that if you don't bring in money and publish you have to start over in 5 years.

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Old 09-26-2008, 01:02 AM   #15
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I'll chime in and echo the thoughts of almost everyone else - but again from a sciences perspective. Top tier, research based means incredibly long hours until tenure is obtained.

On the other hand, an undergraduate-based teaching college or a second tier state school can provide a different atmosphere. I'm familiar with a couple of second tier schools second-hand, and the hours and publication requirements for tenure certainly aren't as painful.

Regardless of institution, professorial expectations (again in the sciences) have increased over the years. More publications, more teaching, better reviews, more grants. I'm not certain how this trend translates into the business environment, but it's certainly something to ponder.
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Old 09-26-2008, 01:09 AM   #16
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Brewer, would you rather teach or do research?

The academic extremes run from a big, prestigious university where you'll be doing a lot of research under a good deal of pressure to publish in refereed journals/write books and face a rather challenging quest for tenure on one end to a much less prestigious community college where almost all you will be expected to do will be to teach tolerably well for three years and tenure is virtually automatic.

Some CCs on the East Coast pay quite well.

Another consideration is that a PhD will be absolutely required at the university. The community colleges frequently accept Masters degrees.
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Old 09-26-2008, 01:10 AM   #17
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Brewer,

I am a newly tenured Professor at a major research University. Please heed my words.

First, rules and norms vary from institution to institution, as others have said. However, they generally follow a certain pattern.

First, one usually has between 6-8 years to apply for and get tenure. This sometimes depends on the “step” at which you are hired (e.g., if you are hired at a higher step, you sometimes, but not always, have less time available on the “tenure clock.”). The candidate is on a renewable one or two year contract until tenure. At any time, you can find your contract not renewed. However, this is fairly rare unless you are blatantly incompetent. Generally, if you are showing good and steady progress towards tenure, you will be renewed.

The tenure review process generally takes up to one year and is very involved. Your peers will vote in secret, confidential outside reviews will be sought, and every level of the administration will have its say. If there is trouble at any of those levels, you will almost certainly not gain tenure.

If you are denied tenure, you are not “fired.” Your contract is merely not renewed. In general, the institution must give you tenure or they must let you go within their 7 to 8 year limit – one or the other. At most institutions, you are not permitted to linger (a severe demotion to below that of the Academic Senate level might permit you to stay, but you won't want to).

If you are not given tenure, the norm is for a “terminal year” and often longer depending on when you are informed of the failure of your bid. This is because the hiring cycle is a year long, and any less would leave you without any reasonable possibility of finding a new job without a long period of unemployment.

The proportion of people gaining tenure varies drastically from institution to institution. At many public Universities, the ratio of success is reasonably high – let’s say something like 80%. This is because the institution is very careful when they hire you, and they are afraid of lawsuits, and so at some level they have committed, up front, to giving you tenure – it’s “yours to lose.” That said, don’t believe it!

At private institutions, the systems can be more arbitrary. A number of private Universities are famous for granting tenure to virtually no Assistant Professors. If you hear rumors like this, let’s say the success ratio can be as low as 10% or less.

At most institutions, figure on a 50% success ratio.

However, don’t believe any of it! If you are the one that is not granted tenure, it will be the most miserable experience of your life, and the administration will absolutely seem to have engaged in capricious and evil targeting of you as an individual. Also, don’t believe you can fight and win it if the tide is against you – most Universities will fight any battle and spend any amount of money to make sure you lose so as not to set a precedent that would limit their ability to deny tenure in the future.

Should you find yourself believing that you will not be granted tenure, the best advice is to leave as early as possible (e.g., year 3 or 4). Otherwise, it will become obvious to hiring committees that you believe you won't get tenure, and they won't wish to hire you either.

If you are denied tenure, it’s not absolutely the end of your career, but it’s very damaging. One always hears of success stories, where someone was unfairly denied tenure and wound up somewhere better. But on average, your career will suffer a great blow. You will be hard pressed to find a job at an equally-ranked institution and will more likely have to leave academia or settle on an inferior position.

At most institutions, tenure does not mean more money. A little more, yes, but just a normal merit increase. It also does not mean that you can do what you please. At most institutions (especially public ones), you will still be reviewed frequently and can still lose your job. It just means that there are stronger due-process safeguards against arbitrary firings.

The biggest change is a sense of relief and lowering of stress – you have passed the gauntlet and at least you know you won’t likely have to look for a new job any time soon.

Now, a warning: Getting tenure is one of the most difficult and stressful goals you can imagine. It is seven years of running as fast and hard as you can, with 10 people willing to step into your shoes at any sign of weakness. At any reasonably high-ranking University, attaining tenure requires a brutally-relentless focus on the goal. “Publish or Perish” is not a joke, and it’s just the beginning! Starting at, say, the top-40 rankings of institutions (and every place that aspires to that), expect to have to write a few dozen peer-reviewed papers, gain multiple millions of dollars in research funds (the amount depends on your field), teach in a praise-worthy fashion, graduate a number of Ph.D. students, win a couple of research and teaching awards, serve on numerous committees, perform “community service,” and generally kiss butt at every level. Also, keep your mouth shut! You have nothing to add to the wisdom of those who are tenured! You also do not have “3 months off a year,” by the way. You will spend that time supervising and writing.

Of course, even gaining a tenure-track position is far from easy, as the competition is fierce. If you have not graduated from a top-tier school (with a Ph.D.), and have been out of academia for a while, and have not steadily published several dozen papers in the years directly preceding your applications, you will not likely be regarded as a good candidate. There is also a fair amount of unspoken age discrimination. Most institutions prefer younger candidates who are fresh out of top-tier schools, in cutting-edge fields that are "hot," who have written a rash of recognized papers (preferably winning an award or two), and who are willing and able to put in those years of the 12 hour days that it takes to succeed.

Best of luck.
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Old 09-26-2008, 06:38 AM   #18
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If you are in a non-science department, you will not need to publish as many papers, but you will need to publish many more books. English professors have to publish their novels or complete treatises on Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, etc. Business profs are writing books all the time as well. You might be putting out several papers a year that later get collected into a book. You can see the results of all these professors by going into any academic book store.

Oh, by the way, 'adjunct' in adjunct professor means 'non-paid'. You can do that now while you have a real job.
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Old 09-26-2008, 08:20 AM   #19
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Oh, by the way, 'adjunct' in adjunct professor means 'non-paid'. You can do that now while you have a real job.


DW was recruited onto the adjunct staff of a quality private four year college near Chicago. I began to plan for our purchase of a summer home with all the amenities..... Gotta do something with all that money, right? Turned out, this was about 10 years ago, the pay was only about $2.5k/class. Classes met 2 nights per week and required many hours of work over the weekend prepping, grading, etc. So, teaching 2 classes involved working 4 evenings per week and spending many hours over the weekend on school related efforts. 4 classes per academic year = $10k for what amounted to about a half-time job.

Not only was the pay low (no summer home!!), but I pretty much lost DW for the 6 years she did this until she finally figured out it wasn't worth it. Thank goodness!
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Old 09-26-2008, 09:17 AM   #20
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An adjunct professor does not mean "non paid." Pay is relatively low and is generally without much (if any) in the way of benefits, however. Figure about $5k per course these days in NY or CA, probably a bit less in the "flyover states."

Adjuncts are essentially untenured (non tenure-track) part-time help. They are used to increase flexibility, as they can take on courses that are without "real" faculty to teach them, for example due to sabbaticals, etc. They also allow the administration to avoid hiring tenure-track faculty or giving tenure when times are not ripe for that. There are those that gripe (with some justification) that adjuncts are used to keep the competition for tenure-track jobs high and pay low. At many institutions, adjunct faculty teach fully half or more of the courses.

Adjuncts are often not required to have a Ph.D., generally cannot be official Ph.D. advisors, do not have to publish, aren't involved in the politics of the institution, and have a much more stress-free life (if you don't count the low pay and lack of benefits). Adjuncts often love their jobs, but they lack the status of Senate members. Many have other careers and love being able to teach a course or two when they want to, but just as many would do anything for a tenure-track job. Many adjunct professors teach a high load of courses, often at a number of different institutions, in order to make ends meet.

Becoming an adjunct and teaching a course or two is a good way to see if you would enjoy the life of an academic, especially at a teaching college. Just be sure to understand that it's still vastly different from being a tenure-track faculty member.
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