Practical Tips for Surviving Academic Life (Part 3: So You Got Tenure!)

1. Throw a party. Tenure is a big deal. Invite those people who supported you in practical and impractical ways: the ones who fed you and clothed you, as well as those who supplied beverages. Included in this group are parents, siblings, partners, friends, colleagues, former colleagues, office mates, old roommates, and neighbors (especially if they helped with the kids, walked the dogs, looked after the cats, or watered the plants while you were off doing research someplace).

Caveats: Your friends outside the academy might not be able to understand why getting tenure is important; your friends within the academy who don’t yet have it or didn’t get it might not delight in your discussion of the process. Just serve a nice brunch. And don’t give anybody a copy of your book unless they ask.

2. Tell your former advisors and members of your dissertation committee so that they can kvell, too. They will be thrilled. It’s a hugely satisfying moment. These are the folks who would like copies of your book, by the way—just so you know. Signed would be good.

3. Join the AAUP. Educate yourself about the debate surrounding the very issue of tenure. If you received tenure, it means you worked towards it. Make sure others can achieve the same goal if they choose. Don’t push the ladder away from the apple tree once you’ve climbed it.

4. Speak up. If you’re not in the habit, learn how. Maybe you’ve always been able to make your voice heard—and bully for you for you if indeed that’s the case—but if for any reason you’ve held yourself back (because you’ve been worried about the reactions you might get from senior faculty or your institution’s administrators, for example) now you’re in a more protected position.

5. Make sure you’re not speaking up only for yourself. Speak on behalf of those who cannot or dare not make themselves heard. Your privilege is also your responsibility.

6. Remind yourself—often—that you received tenure not only because of what you’ve already accomplished but because of what you will accomplish. You’re not done. Now you’re just really getting started.

7. You can afford to select with more care the committees you join. Figure out what you do best and sign up for those.

8. Don’t start dressing either like a character out of Kafka or a like a hooker. For details see

9. Accept more graduate students, honors students, independent study students, students in need of mentoring, or whatever kind of other students you can best serve into your office and under your aegis. It’s part of the deal, now that you’re a senior member of the department and, presumably, a master teacher. Students need the benefit of your advice as well as your experience. And they also need your well-written and thoughtful letters of recommendation. Writing those letters—and crafting them carefully for each individual student—is another significant part of your new position.

10. Speaking of which: get ready to start reading big, fat tenure files for people who are coming up next year. If you are asked to be an “outside reader” and offered $50 in university press books for a task that will take you 21 days and nights to complete and which makes you shudder, you should still say “yes” with alacrity. Hey, five people did it for you, right? If this system is going to remain intact, we need to make sure it works.

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