Post-tenure blues or something else? Advice?

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I've been reading through the forum and I am relieved to see posts from others about post-tenure let down.  I am struggling with this now and trying to figure out where to go from here.  I want to provide some background as to where I am at the moment.

My tenure clock was graciously extended because I had children during my assistant prof days and because one of my children has a severe medical issue that has taken up a lot of my time and energy.  I also seem to be in a field that has lost its cache amidst the whole genome/whole proteome approach to science.  But I felt that I was doing the best I could given my topic, my family situation, and the crazy funding situations we've been in for the entire time I have been in this position.  We published, I did get some funding, and I did some speaking at meetings and such.

When it was time to come up for tenure, my mentors all suggested I wait until the last possible moment - partially because others HAD to come up and it was a lot of work for the senior faculty, and partially because people felt my case wasn't strong enough.  The messages from certain members of my department made it clear they felt my case wasn't going to be successful.  So I had little choice but to wait.  However, since I'd been here for so long, even though untenured, I was handed more and more things to do that were typically reserved for tenured faculty and again, felt I couldn't say "no".     

My case comes up this year and the department sent out for letters and I was told they were, "Incredibly strong".  One mentor told me everyone they asked provided a strong and solid letter - some saying I should have had tenure long ago.  This felt amazing - but yet a few members of my department said I hadn't done enough and voted "no", sending my case to the University with a split decision.  My friends and chair told me that none of the no votes were from people in my field (our department is quite diverse) but it stung, especially as the experts in my field were apparently so positive. Isn't that why you write for outside letters?  I was told the split vote wasn't good for my chances at the University.  But I recently heard I passed the University level unanimously and that the letters the university solicited were stronger than the ones the department received.  My department chair tells me the faculty are so "relieved" and ready to move on.

So can someone help me figure out why I am in the complete dumps? I am cleaning out my office (because I can't focus on anything meaningful) and looking over publications and grant applications and starting to feel like everything I have done up until now is mediocre at best and that the dissenters were correct.  If peers in my field are so positive, why are people acting like I was granted a favor instead of tenure on merit?  Is it ironic that my peers in my field were so positive but yet I can't seem to feel like that matters more than my department and my chair's opinions?

Here are the questions I can't keep from buzzing around my head:
Is there a chance to do better from here and try to have a better career?  Can I still manage to do something really amazing that will convince others I do belong in these ranks?  Should I get out of here and try to find a more supportive community?  Why am I letting the negatives completely obliterate the positives I've heard throughout this process?  I think I am an adult, so why is this so devastating to my psyche?

Any thoughts? How do I get past this and get on with whatever I want to do next?

I think these are good questions to ask yourself. I doubt, however, that outside people can give you a spot on answer. All people have set backs, or in some way bomb when they want to wow. From your OP, it appears that people best suited to judge your research wrote glowingly. The other issues seem political, so probably have many dimensions. Perhaps they resent your time to take care of your child, or other things. I would suspect it would be good to consider how to be a better department citizen, but not to obsess on it. No one is ever perfect and most of us are not as popular as we'd like. But we muddle on.

Resilience is perhaps one of the most important professional skills to learn, and perfectionists persist the longest in the delusion that they can ace every test and hit every pitch. It reads to me like you are very good at what you do, but probably a mere mortal who has weathered rough seas. That seems fine to me. If some folks don't like that, fvck them.

By the way, some of the funniest stories I have shared with my friend have been how we have screwed up BIG TIME. I had a friend who turned in a paper that he had professionally typed, but who did not proofread, which was of course, awful. The professor's grade: 'F,' and the comment "Get out of science!" Another turned in a draft of his dissertation to be told it was the worst paper his advisor had ever read. The comments on his second draft: "I was wrong, THIS is the worst paper I have ever read!" Both have had successful careers and good lives. I suspect you will too, if you can learn to laugh this stuff off.

Congratulations, it sounds like it's a rubber stamp from here on out.

With tenure, you can pretty much do whatever you want regarding research and not worry about the axe coming down. How your department voted will be but a distant memory in a couple of years. Just work on what you want now, and prove to yourself that you deserved it (that seems to the real problem here).

Also, keep in mind that not everyone can be a superstar; otherwise there would be no superstars.

And yeah I think you're definitely suffering from classic post-tenure letdown. It goes away.

Quote from: morphogenmom on March 24, 2013, 12:46:42 pm

Is it ironic that my peers in my field were so positive but yet I can't seem to feel like that matters more than my department and my chair's opinions?

This seems completely natural to me.  We think that our departments and chairs know us best, so if they are less enthused with us, we suspect they're right.  It's imposter syndrome - the outsiders who rave about us can't possibly know us as well as our work family, right?  Also, we have to look at the faces of the department members/chair every day and so they are a reminder of their damning-with-faint-praise.

Fedscholars' examples are good for a laugh.  If you are unhappy there, going on the market might be a good tonic (or it might be a drain).  I'd schedule a vacation and distract myself, knowing that when I come back, I'm more likely to know what my next project will be.  Focus on something that fires you up, instead of something that seems acceptable to the "them."  You've survived a hard slog.  Now have some intellectual fun.

First off, Congratulations!

Second off, I think I know how you feel. I often feel "let down" after some major event is over. Maybe not as extremely as you describe, but I do think what you are feeling is a bit natural.

Usually I'm so busy, these feelings get pushed aside as I focus on what I am doing.

But if they didn't, I'd probably schedule a visit to a therapist. Someone I could talk to about how I was feeling.

Also, sometimes I do get caught up in what others think of me, but really, I think we need to forget about that and just focus on doing what we want to do.  It really doesn't matter what everyone around us thinks, especially if they are not within our discipline. I realize I will probably never get the respect of many regardless of whether I deserve that respect or not.

Usually I just try to find a new project to excite me. Either a new focus on my research, development of a new course, or some new service that I think needs to be done that no one else is doing.

Focussing my attentions outward usually keeps me from focussing them inward.

But also I give myself permission to feel, both the good feelings and the bad feelings.

Then I get on with things, trying to find something new to excite me.

Talking with the colleagues in my corner helps me as well.

But if I couldn't "get on with things", I'd go talk to someone who could help me gain perspective.


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