Sunday, September 02, 2007

Thoughts on the Tenure Clock

Along with keys to an office and a password for a computer, new tenure-track faculty members are also handed a welcoming gift: an invisible - yet very real - tenure clock. This clock starts ticking from the moment that new faculty sign their contracts, will be paused for very few reasons (maternity/paternity leave or serious illness being two of the top legitimate reasons) and will only stop ticking 5-7 years later, when the faculty member will either be granted tenure or asked to leave the premises forever.

Some new faculty members hear the ticking of their clocks for their entire pre-tenure appointment; they will fret over it from day one and all of their efforts will be aimed at attaining tenure. Other new faculty members either don't hear their clocks or choose to ignore them and simply do the best that they can, adopting a "I'll worry about that pesky clock later" attitude.

I don't know which approach is best, but I am certainly in the latter category. I like to think that having not worried about it for years on end means that I have been doing my best simply for the sake of doing my best. I have been striving for excellence in my academic appointment simply because that is what I do. I'm a type A who rarely settles for "second best" if there is anything that I can do to avoid it.

Because of this approach it goes without saying that the fact that my tenure application is now rolling forward has caught me off guard. How did this happen so quickly? Wasn't it only yesterday that I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed new faculty member? Apparently not, buck-o, your time has come. I now have less than a year to prove to the University that they wish to keep me on forever and ever if I don't want to face the so-called "terminal year".

Terminal year?! Who came up with that awful term?

Of course it's not only this year that matters. Everything that I have done (or not done) over the years will be scrutinized. My research, my teaching, my peer and student reviews/evaluations -- all will be placed under the proverbial microscope. And, really, I know that I have nothing to worry about because they are all very positive. Err, let's rephrase that: I think that I have nothing to worry about because they are all very positive.

But. I didn't anticipate how stressful this year would be. There's a new fear running under the surface -- a low but constant level of anxiety that is foreign to me. I don't quite understand when tenure became so important to me, but it has.

I may not understand when but I understand why. Teaching medical students makes me so incredibly and unbelievably happy. If I miss this one shot at tenure then I will no longer be in an academic appointment that allows me to teach within the pre-clinical years. That. Will. Make. Me. Very. Sad.

Bah. That's enough thinking about that for now. I need to relax, perhaps have a coff-ay and worry about the possibility of the no work, no mon-ay situation later. Heh heh.


Midwife with a Knife said...

I'm surprised that your institution has you leave if you don't get tenure on time. There's no, "Why don't you keep at it for a couple of years and then try again?"

That seems awfully foolish for them, they are risking loosing many good teachers and scientists that way, it seems.

Dr. K said...

MWAK: As a non-tenured faculty member, I have nothing further to say about this.

However, should you wish to know more ... a tenured faculty member may direct you to: