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Tools for Transitions: Starting the Tenure Process, Again

Last summer, I began a series of posts here on my transition from a tenure-track job I’d held for several years to a new state, a new university, and a new tenure process. I’m now most of the way through my first year, and it’s the season for preparing progress toward tenure reports. While this is process I’ve been through many times, it caught me by surprise here. It feels very weird to have just gone out to buy a new, empty black binder waiting for me to sort the files of the last eight-ish months into the story of my new career.

I wrote about the process of preparing for the tenure progress review for the first time back in 2011. I’m now revisiting the subject from a very different perspective, so I wanted to share a few of the approaches I’ve taken in starting the tenure box anew.

  • Learn what counts and what doesn’t. From some informal surveys I’ve conducted, most universities “credit” anything that’s happened since the date you started your contract, but there may be other rules to know. For instance, both of my books were released this year after my contract started at the new university, but they don’t both list the new position and they are likely to be  viewed differently from research conducted primarily since I arrived. Make sure your narratives focus on what’s important to your current research agenda, and don’t include documentation on work that doesn’t count under the policies of your new institution.
  • Don’t try to adapt old narratives. Once I got into the rhythm of the process and paperwork required at my previous institution, it was easy to work each year from the previous document rather than from a blank slate. However, a new start demands new language and attention to possibly very different institutional priorities. I discovered quickly that trying to pull language and project descriptions from my previous documents was actually slower than just starting from scratch. I think this can even be a useful exercise if you’ve been at the same place for a while: my focuses and research have shifted over the years, and starting over is a good way to make sure that my documents reflect my priorities.
  • Still save everything. While I may be starting a new binder, I’m not throwing out my old box, which has the evidence and supporting materials for some projects ongoing now. I will gradually shift over to only digital documentation of those previous years, but for right now there are some things (like book contracts, editor correspondence, and updates on projects still pending) that I definitely don’t want to lose. The tenure process might be institution-driven, but our own stories as academics span beyond institutions, and those records may yet have value.

Switching to the policies, formats, and expectations of a new institution is an ongoing process, but it’s also an opportunity to rethink your methods of communication and personal data curation. Have you undergone the tenure-track clean slate? Share your tips and advice in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Jkfid]

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