Friday, 1 August 2008

Getting tenure

Time for Twenty-Four Terrific Tenure Tips for New Faculty Members: Ideas For Fostering Freedom

department hired two new faculty members who have now both arrived on
campus. Both are great! They sat down with me on Monday and asked my
advice on getting tenure here. Since we did not finish the
conversation, I created a list of ideas. It is below. Perhaps it will
help you as well. Not all of it will apply.

You might skip them
all since I was originally denied tenure and had to fight for it. I may
not be the best role model. Once tenured, however, my productivity took
off. This happened, in part, since I no longer had to sit through the
endless and quite boring teacher education reform committees which
never interested me (I was an corporate controller and CPA--interested
in nontraditional learning, open, and flexible learning; anything but
traditional learning and traditional schools and traditional teacher
education). I found myself in distance education.

Give me
anything that is not eyeball to eyeball or ear-pan to ear-pan and I am
happy as a clam. With my research on distance learning taking off since
tenure back in 1997, I now have 210 publications and have give over 850
talks. I think I had maybe 20 publications and 100 talks prior to
1997--you do the math since then. Same person I was when I was denied
tenure. Same skin. Same smile. Same concern for students and heavy
involvement in student mentoring.

The difference has been
freedom. Freedom to explore. Freedom to say no to ideas and people that
do not fit mine. Freedom to help people who need it. Freedom to suggest
things to others to help they succeed when they do not see something
that I think is quite obvious. Freedom to create unique partnerships
and collaborations. Freedom to send to a journal you are not sure
about. Freedom to write a book or an e-book. Etc. But why do we contort
our bodies for a decade to get through graduate school and then get
tenure for such freedom? If personal freedom to learn, live, and grow
is that goal, do not delay! Go for it right now!

Anyway, once
tenured, you reassume control over your life which perhaps you did not
have for 4 years in graduate school and the six years of the tenure
process. Do people realize how much of their lives they are giving up?
That is a bloody decade and for many people it is two decades. How can
one get out of this cycle of paying homage to everyone else? If you use
some of the ideas below, I think you will be assuming more control and
personal self-directedness over your life.

Many of these points
below relate to time. Life is time. Time is life. Why do we go through
routines that the media, our colleagues, our students, our family, and
our friends expect of us? We should try to take control over our time.
It is our own personal time. Once you do that, you enter a state of
flow and your productivity will skyrocket. There is a ton of time for
you to do whatever you want. Trust me.

Two dozen things to do on path to tenure and give you more control over your time amd personal freedom:
1. Teach in Bulk:
I mean, if you can, teach back-to-back courses or one day a week
courses. Free up days to write, rewrite, and reflect. Or perhaps teach
some courses online and some face-to-face. I once taught 2 sections of
undergrad educational psychology courses on Tuesdays and Thursdays
back-to-back. I also once taught a graduate course at 4-6:45 pm on
Wednesdays and another from 7-10 pm that same day. My two course load
was all completed on Wednesdays, thereby giving me 5 days per week to
write (1 day was spent prepping my 2 courses). I work every day if you
cannot tell.

2. Avoid Summer Teaching or Teach Summer Intensive Courses:
Do not teach all summer and avoid any summer teaching if you can. Save
summer for writing and some vacationing. Three week summer classes are
the best. Or even 1 week or no weeks. If you teach all summer your
first six years as a new professor, your odds for getting tenure are
significantly reduced. Simply put, look around you; chances are that
your competition is not.

3. Get Vita Line Items:
Say yes to many things that are low time that add to vita. Short time,
high payoff items are best, especially those involving fun.

4. Avoid Big Things: Say
no to most things that are long in nature and only add 1-2 lines to
your vita. Unless you are principle investigator or it is your main
interest area. If you are in charge, then sure.

5. Service Protection:
Get protection from chair from too many service committees. Find out
what are the norms and expectations and ask your chair if how many you
need to be on. If you are on 2 or 3 service committees and that is the
expectation, you can say that your chair told you to say no to anymore.
This limits feelings of guilt.

6. Doctoral Committee Commitments:
Once you are on the average number of dissertations, post a note on
your door number of doctoral committees you are on and that you are not
taking anymore. That way, if a student sends you an email to request
you to be on a doctoral committee, you can say, well, if you read my
door, you can see that I an not taking anymore. It is not you saying
no, but the note on your door. This also limits guilt and you are
telling the truth--you are not taking anymore (or at least not this

7. Schedule Student Meetings Back-to-Back: Have
student meetings back to back. If you have 1 meeting, make others
wrapped around it. Sometimes I double book appointments so as to speed
everything up (not that often--perhaps 1-2 times a year when things get
crazy). When another student is waiting, the one in my office gets to
the point faster. (Actually, as bad as this sounds, I am the one who
likes to dilly dally and socialize, so this keeps me on task too.)

8. Teach at Off Peak Times: I
like to teach late at night at 4 or 7 pm or on early mornings or
weekends. I love teaching Saturday mornings. You get access to all
equipment and resources in the building and it is quiet and informal.
It is also a chance to do whatever you want to do. The building is
yours! It is like that built the place just for you and your class. It
is quite uplifting. Makes your soul come alive! You also avoid
disruptions and meetings that were not previously planned for.

9. Publication Goal Chart: Have
a goal chart and reflect on progress. Have specific things to do on
that chart and mark them off as you accomplish them. This is the most
important point of my list of 24 items. Have goals and project into the
future. And revise and monitor them as needed! You should have at a
minimum the kernel of 4 or 5 articles on this goal chart. It should
like at least a 2 year plan or looking out 24 months. I would actually
recommend thinking 3-5 years into the future.

10. Goal Chart Mentoring: Discuss
physical goal chart with a mentor. This will help keep you on task. It
will also give you someone to share your successes and rejections with.
Mentors are very important in getting to tenure and in life.

11. Clear Schedule in Bulk: Clear days or weeks from schedule to write and only write. And then write and write and write. Smile.

12. Writing Tips: Read the writing tips in my blog. I have 4 such blog posts.

a. Ten Quick Writing Tips:
b. 20-30 Writing Tips:
c. 3 P's of Professorship:
d. 3 P's of Professional Writing:

13. Avoid Raising Hand or Volunteering to Chair a Committee: Do
not volunteer to be a chair on a committee ever. When asked, just say
when you signed up for this committee, it was with the agreement that
you would not chair it. Do not go looking for more work that is not
recognized prior to tenure.

14. Department Service: At
the department level, work on service committees that matter—search
committees, new student entrance committees, etc. These types of
committees provide the people who you will work with in the future.
Hence, they are extremely important ones to your own success. Travel or
awards committees can also be fun and worthwhile without killing you.

15. School/College Level Service: At
the college or school level, sign up for committees that usually have
modest time requirements like student appeals or ethics committee,
invited speaker or lectures and seminars committee (limited meetings
and you meet cool and important people), and outstanding dissertation
or awards committee. Committee on teaching are also worth the time
investments. Avoid faculty council committees (political and a sure
waste of time and effort--keep in mind that this is my opinion; many
faculty love this one)> Also avoid promotion and tenure committees
(political) and budget committees (boring! I know, I am an accountant.
Higher education accountants, however, take boring to the extreme).

16. University Service: One
word--avoid. Unless you like the topic a lot and it is great exposure
for you, just say no. Of course, you might sign up for one to get to
meet faculty from other departments and units or to work with your
favorite friends. Just do not go overboard. If a form comes and you can
sign not to be included in the annual voting for a particular faculty
committee, then sign away. Why have your enemies vote you on silly
committees that waste your time?

17. Grants of Other People: Do
not get on another person’s grant (unless small role with high payoff;
need to get your role specified in writing—-never just an oral
agreement, though I an a hypocrite here…smile). This is one area that I
have always seen problems. Weigh summer money and release time from
grants of other people against commitments and time away from personal

18. Writing Environment or Setting: Find a place to write that you like. This is a no brainer and everyone will tell you this.

19. Signage for Visitors:
If bothered too much, place a sign on your door about your
availability. I have an open door policy at my office so I work for
home a lot where I can get much done. Other people prefer their work
offices. If you do, try to close the door at times. At home, I have a
wondrous view of the woods and a creek at the bottom. Deer walking
behind when I work on my deck. I can write a ton. Find your setting
(see pt #19 above).

20. Get Help and Thank Help: You
cannot do everything by yourself. Get people to give feedback on papers
and thank them in acknowledgements. Have a couple of friends who are
good editors will go a long way in your success. I just found 2 people
here in Bloomington who are currently helping me with a book. Find
those people, but be sure to pay them and thank them as well as help
them out when they need it.

21. Journal Selection Process:
Look for journals to publish in. Target your papers. Think or plan
ahead. If you are in educational technology, see my technology journal
list at:

22. Conference Jumping: Do
not go from conference to conference. Try to publish your papers prior
to going (after accepted) or right after the conference. If you go from
conference to conference, you will never get many things published. I
am speaking from experience. Friends need you at conferences, but each
conference equates to 2-3 weeks—one week to get ready, one week to be
there, and a week to recover. Keep this 3 week rule in mind every time
you consider a conference. It is more like 3 weeks of time for an
assistant professor. For tenured professors like me, it is more like 1
week since I no longer have to write papers for each conference and can
come and go as needed. That being said, I still do conference papers. I
do not want to sound like a slug.

23. Annual Publishing Goals or Quotas: Publish
on average 3 good articles per year. That is the goal. If you get 2
much of the time and 3 the rest, be happy. My personal quotas are much
higher but you need to set yours somewhere and simply get started.

24. Research Strands: Create
2-4 strands of your research. Do not just have 1 strand to your
research as some might advise you to do. One strand may never be
accepted for publication and so then what do you do? Diversify somewhat.

are just 24 of my ideas. I could give you 24 more if needed. Get ideas
for 4-5 people and synthesize across them. Ok, remember this is about
YOUR time. Below is a joke about the time commitments prior to tenure.

Ten Simple Steps to Tenure (this is meant as a joke--smile):
Step #1: Avoid department meetings;
Step #2: Avoid school or college meetings;
Step #3: Avoid university functions and meetings;
Step #4: Avoid mandated meetings;
Step #5:
Avoid book publishers, book buyers (though sometimes getting cash for
books is nice), and avoid anyone stopping by just to chat.
Step #6: Avoid retreats and other such silliness;
Step #7: Avoid committee meetings;
Step #8: Avoid students;
Step #9: Avoid life;
Step #10: Review other 9 steps each week.

Much of this I say in jest. Still, it is just a way to remind yourself that your time matters and is costly.

about friends and family? Never forget them. They are the most
important. Meet them during conferences or take with you. My kids have
been with me to conferences and presentations in Finland, Australia,
and Hawaii. That was fun! In addition, my friends meet me at almost all
of my conferences. That is also great!

So now you have two dozen
ideas to help you get tenure (should you want it). If all else fails,
here is a job posting list I recently created (smile this is meant as a

Good luck.

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